Let's Talk Pie Crust: Butter? Shortening? Oil? Lard?

Discussion in 'Pastry' started by J13, Jul 5, 2019.

  1. J13

    J13 Well-Known Member

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    I'd like to get to the bottom of pie making :p and really discuss the differences of crust creation.

    To start, the fats:
    ~Butter:
    It's a no brainer that butter will make a pie "buttery" but what other pros/cons are there to an all butter pie? Do you think the best crusts are all butter or should be mixed (Butter/Shortening)?
    ~Shortening: The go-to of great-grandmothers, an all shortening crust is super easy to make and supposedly very flakey. What do you think are the pros/cons of such a crust over all butter?
    ~Half-n-Half: Half Butter, Half shortening...do you get the best of both worlds or just the problems?
    ~Oil: I would have never thought to use oil for a pie crust, but I just watched a video were one was made with canola oil. Super-easy to add in the fat and it can be rolled out right away. But how does it bake up? What's its texture and flavor?
    ~Lard: praised as the very best for pie crusts, lard has an almost magical reputation..but it is difficult to find the right lard and know how to use it. What makes it so good? And it is as tasty in sweet crusts as savory?

    Which kinds of fats have you used to make pie crusts and what was your experience with them: ease of making, ease of rolling out, ease of baking, flavor and texture? Pros/Cons? Flakey or tender?
     
    J13, Jul 5, 2019
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  2. J13

    Norcalbaker59 Well-Known Member

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    I think you can use fat of your preference. It really comes down to Baker’s percentages and technique. I prefer butter. My crust is always very flaky and it’s easy to roll out
     
    Norcalbaker59, Jul 6, 2019
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  3. J13

    J13 Well-Known Member

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    Is there a certain type of butter that you think works best for pie crust—as compared, say, to making puff pastry?
     
    J13, Jul 6, 2019
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  4. J13

    Norcalbaker59 Well-Known Member

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    I use Pulgra most of the time. Sometimes Kerrygold since those are the two brands I always have in my refrigerator. Lurpak is also a very nice buterr. Land O Lakes for an every day butter is a good butter for baking. The French imported butters are too hard. I’m not a fan of the French butters for c pie and laminate dough. The Vermont Creamery at 86% butterfat is a delicious butter but I find it is just rich for pie dough.


    Walmart has the best price on Pulgra and Kerrygold butter.


    ====================



    Baker’s percentages

    100 % flour unbleached 10.0% protein

    70% unsalted butter pulgra

    30% ice water

    1.5% Diamond kosher salt


    ====================

    How to calculate quantities for pie dough.


    12g per 1” pie plate area is sufficient.


    To calculate pie plate area add the pie plate diameter + sides + 1” for crimping


    Example using a 9” pie plate.


    9” pie plate + 2” sides + 1” crimping = 12” pie plate area


    12g flour x 12” pie plate area = 144 g flour for single crust.


    144g flour x 2 = 288g.


    288g flour for double crust for 9” pie plate


    I frequently just round it off to 300 g flour.


    300g x .70 = 210g unsalted butter


    300g x .30 = 90 mL ice water


    300g x .015 = 4.5 salt


    ====================


    Diamond brand kosher salt is less salty than other brands of salt like Morton kosher because of the granule size. So you made need less if you use another brand.


    If the flour is bleached and 10.5% protein (Gold Medal, Pillsbury), then water might need to drop it 28%.


    If the flour is unbleached and 12.7% protein (King Arthur All purpose), then the water might need to increase to 32%.


    ====================


    I use technique that is similar to the first steps in making a rough puff pastry. It takes me 10 minutes to make a pie dough.

    Pinch the butter into the flour
    985C2BD0-559C-41C4-9BB5-66E6747C91C0.jpeg

    Turn flour and butter onto work surface. Roughly cut butter into flour
    7DEC69EA-FE83-4495-A85C-8E96788A4D3A.jpeg


    Make well in center and add all salt water. Use bench scraper to toss flour into well and cut it in
    FEFAEF17-2145-41B8-BBAF-0A98EB720D26.jpeg

    Form dough in rectangular shape. Place a piece of plastic wrap over it. Then roll over it with a rolling pin a couple of times. Remove the plastic wrap. Then with a bench scraper or the tape knife you use for shaping bread fold the dough into thirds or do a double book fold. Then do a half turn. Repeat two or three times.

    96E01B87-144F-4167-96E8-FDDEB9BA50A1.jpeg


    After two or three turns you’ll have a cohesive dough. Shape it into disk, square, or rectangle. Wrapped in plastic wrap. And refrigerate. I usually refrigerate overnight. But you can use the dough the same day. Let the devil sit on the counter for about 10 minutes before rolling.
    D64E8BC2-AF83-43E1-A092-273981D05856.jpeg
     

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    Norcalbaker59, Jul 6, 2019
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  5. J13

    J13 Well-Known Member

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    But butter has way more water in it than oil, lard or shortening. And beyond giving the crust a decided flavor that can't be gotten from the others, that water trapped in bits of butter is what creates those all-desirable steam pockets for a particular crust. I don't see oil doing that however you alter the percentages.

    And come to that, would you make a lard or shortening crust the same way as an all butter crust—with bits of lard or shortening dotting the crust as we do with butter? I mean, if you made four pie crusts: all butter, all shortening, all lard, and all oil, using the same percentages and techniques—or even altering the percentages to accommodate the demands of each type of fat...how alike would they be?
     
    J13, Jul 6, 2019
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  6. J13

    J13 Well-Known Member

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    Thanks so much for those percentages and pictures! As someone who has experimented with a lot of pie crust methods, this one looks wonderfully easy...and I certainly like that! And did you mean "leave the "devil" on the counter" there :D Works for me whether either way. Pie dough is certainly a devilish pastry to work with.
     
    J13, Jul 6, 2019
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    Norcalbaker59 Well-Known Member

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    Sorry for the delay in responding, but I was out all yesterday afternoon and evening.

    They are all alike because fat is cut into dry flour. The flour coats the fat. The flour on the outside of the fat is dry. That is a very important to note. When the water is added to the flour, that dry flour forms a cohesive dough, which is a gluten network over the fat. So when you make pie dough essentially what you are doing is forming a sheet of gluten around pieces of fat. And when that happens all those pieces of fat are held together by that gluten.

    When the dough is rolled out, the pieces of fat are flattened into thin sheets in and between the layers of gluten.

    When the dough bakes, the fat melts leaving a space. That’s what creates the layers. It doesn’t require a steam to create that space.

    BUT: if insufficient water is added to the dry flour, the dough is dry and crumbly. A gluten network does not form. The dough doesn’t hold together. The dry flour on the outside of the fat must be hydrated properly to create a dough.


    Oil pie crust is really no different in concept. Oil is added to water but not whisked to ensure the fat and water remain separate. Then it’s all added at once directly to the dry flour and gently distributed into flour with a fork.


    So it’s about the hydration levels to form that gluten sheet around the fat. And that’s the problem with American pie crust, the use of American volume measurement and the idiocy of using a couple of tablespoons of water for 2 1/2 cups flour. Worst is the Instruction to a little bit at a time until a dough forms.
     
    Norcalbaker59, Jul 7, 2019
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  8. J13

    Norcalbaker59 Well-Known Member

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    Lol. I can I get an internet dish at my house because the mountain blocks the signal. So I have to use my phone to access the Internet. Since the screen is so small I use the record feature to text. My new iPhone takes really terrible dictation.
     
    Norcalbaker59, Jul 7, 2019
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  9. J13

    J13 Well-Known Member

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    I have always hated those instructions as (you're right!) they never seem to work (especially the tablespoon at a time one). But American volume measurement aren't going away any time soon I suspect, so how would you adjust such to reflect the reality of required hydration levels for a successful butter pie crust?
     
    J13, Jul 7, 2019
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  10. J13

    Norcalbaker59 Well-Known Member

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    There really is no adjusting an American recipe And unfortunately the vast majority of recipes out there reflecte the American use of little water pie crust. Even J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, a food scientist nerd of nerds uses a paltry 25% hydration. He uses a food processor to cut the butter in and to disburse that little bit of water into the flour. And then of course he cannot get any layers because it grinds the butter into tiny bitty pieces. So then he uses this weird convoluted method of folding the dough with a spatula in a bowl to create layers. Whole thing is utterly ridiculous.

    The Europeans get it. They simply cut fat into the flour. Mix water into it. Form the dough. And then they’re done with it. They’ve been doing this for a couple hundred years. It’s really that simple.
     
    Norcalbaker59, Jul 7, 2019
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  11. J13

    J13 Well-Known Member

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    But doesn’t too much water cause a problem? And by that I mean, it’s one thing if you grew up with a European grandma showing you how much water to use, it’s another if you’re someone who never learned to bake and you’re trying to create a pie dough from scratch using a recipe. If someone had told me, use as much water as needed when I’d started with pie doughs I’d have probably dumped in a cup-and-a-half. :D
     
    J13, Jul 7, 2019
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  12. J13

    Norcalbaker59 Well-Known Member

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    Only American say use as much water as you need and use volume measurements.

    The rest of the world uses baker’s percentages and metric measurements. They’re not saying use as much water as you need. They’re actually calculating the hydration needs. Open Elizabeth Prueitt’s Tartine and look up her recipe for flaky tart crust and you’ll see she uses 33% hydration!!!!

    The notion that you don’t need water to make pie dough is crazy.

    A tough pie crust is not a result of too much water. A tough dough is a result of too high a protein content in the flour and over working the dough. You can put 100% hydration into the flour and if you just leave the dough sit there, do nothing to it, it’s just going to turn to a slurry. No gluten is ever going to develop. It’s about the protein that’s in the flour and building gluten. Leaving part of the flour dry it’s not quite to make a tender pie crust. But for some reason Americans think that’s the way to do it.
     
    Norcalbaker59, Jul 7, 2019
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  13. J13

    J13 Well-Known Member

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    To be fair, a lot of the newer, U.S. recipe books and such have bakers use a scale and weigh ingredients metrically.

    However...there are a lot of people out there who wouldn't be able to calculate amount of water to put into that crust even if you told them it was 33%. No, not even if they had a phone or computer and could ask the phone/computer to give them the answer. And I can't imagine that this is a problem only in the U.S. I flunked almost every math class I ever took. I never *got* it. That ⅓ Cup water is easy to understand. There is a measuring cup, it says ⅓ on it, fill it with water till it hits that mark. I can do that. I can also put the cup on a scale and weigh out x number of grams.

    But there isn't any measuring cup or scale that says 33% on it. Honestly, every time I see a percentage here, my mind goes blank. I don't say "oh, tra-la-la! Piece of cake!" I say... "I'm going to flunk this exam..." :D Yes, facts are facts, and if you need to use percentages to be the best baker/get the best results, then you do. But it's also a fact that a lot of people, like me, find percentages daunting. I'm not sure how to change this perception, how to make bakers, like me, encouraged and excited by the percentages rather than worried. But I think the novices and students need to be given more than "33%" in recipes. They need to be shown how easy and fun it is to calculate that 33%. Re-programmed, if you like, so that all those math class failures no longer stand in their way.

    Do that, and volume measurements will be a thing of the past.
     
    J13, Jul 8, 2019
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  14. J13

    Norcalbaker59 Well-Known Member

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    It does seem a little daunting at first, but it’s really just about the decimal point.


    A percentage is just portion of 100.


    So you just put a zero and decimal point in front of the number


    33% = 0.33

    28% = 0.28

    13% = 0.13

    5% = 0.05

    1.5% = 0.015

    1% = 0.01


    Baker’s percentages are calculated based on the weight of the flour.

    So you multiply the percentage of that ingredient against the weight of the flour.


    To calculate hydration (or any other ingredient) multiply the percentage it against the weight of the flour.


    Example:

    Flour weight 373g
    • If you want 28% hydration
    • Input 373 x .28 = 104.44
    • Use 104 mL water

    • If you want 33% hydration
    • Input 373 × .33 = 123.09
    • Use 123 mL water



    Process is the same for all ingredients


    • If your sugar is 70%
    • 373 x .70 = 261.2
    • Use 261 g sugar

    • If your salt is 1.5%
    • 373 x .015 = 5.59
    • Use either 5g or 6 g salt round up or down

    • If your baking soda is 4%
    • 373 x .04 = 14.92
    • Use 15g baking soda



    ===================


    Yes cookbook authors are beginning to include the metric weight in part because that is the correct way to bake, in part because volume measurements produce inconsistent results. Also food scales have become more common in homes due to increase popularity of calorie counting apps.


    It is a daunting task to convert a recipe in grams/mL to cups. Converting dry ingredients is somewhat easy, it’s the liquids that are difficult. Converting the liquid equivalent of 84ml to cups is an impossible task. Since cookie recipes do not have added liquid other than eggs they’re easier to convert. So I’ll convert cookie recipes. But if I’m asked for a cake recipe, I won’t do it.

    A recipe developer who uses baker’s percentages can easily write out a recipe in metric and scale it to whatever quality desired.

    In the US all the commercial kitchens and culinary schools use metric/us weight measurements. And commercial baking is done in weight measurements and baker’s percentages. The reason is production changes throughout the week based on demand. Demand on weekends are going to be considerably higher for some products so production increases on those days. And the only way to accurately increase/decrease production and maintain quality is to use baker’s percentages.

    Every baking class I’ve taken associated with a professional program has used baker’s percentages and weight measurements. The one cake class that I took at Sur La Table used volume measurement. That instructor also swiped the cake recipes from Rose Levy Beranbaum Cake Bible and didn’t credit the recipes to her.

    At a cake class at CIA, one of the participants asked the instructor to convert the cake recipes from weight to volume measurements and scale them down to one cake; he told her no, that she needed to learn to do the math. The recipe included all the information to scale the recipe, so it really was just a matter of her learning the steps. He seem to be of the mind if you are going to bake you should bake by weight and should know baker‘s percentages.
     
    Norcalbaker59, Jul 8, 2019
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  15. J13

    J13 Well-Known Member

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    I'm sure. But few people think "I'd like to bake a pie...I should go to CIA and learn how..." :D They pick up a recipe book and/or check out some recipe handed down from great-grandma. Or they go online and check out the dozens of videos of grandmothers making their famous, award-winning pie crusts...all of which involve dented old measuring cups and spoons.

    I certainly can't argue that this is unprofessional and really inefficient. It certainly doesn't help you to easily alter a pie crust recipe for a 9" pie plate to a 12" pie plate. But as right as the professional baking model is, it can't infiltrate home kitchens if it feels like it's meant only for professional bakers. I mean, it's one thing to tell a student in a professional class that she needs to do the math, it's another to say that to someone wanting to make their very first apple pie. Kinda harsh and why should they believe it? There's grandma in the video scooping Crisco into flour and making a perfectly good pie crust, no percentages needed. Grandma isn't telling them they have to learn math (which they're convinced they can't because they flunked math class).

    Until baking videos, books and popular baking sites demonstrate—with understanding and empathy—the beauty of using percentages, and how easy it is to use them, home bakers in the the U.S., at least (and all those wanting to sell recipe books to them), will remain in the thrall of grandma and her dented measuring cups ;)
     
    J13, Jul 9, 2019
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  16. J13

    Norcalbaker59 Well-Known Member

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    Thats what I’m saying—the standard in the industry in the US is in fact metric/us weight measurements and baker’s percentage. Cookbooks in the US should not be written in volume measurement because that is not the industry standard and it is not taught in culinary schools. And even when non-professionals go into these schools to take a non-professional class they are taught to industry standards.


    And there are no commercial kitchens in the United States that uses volume measurement. So it’s ridiculous for a graduate of CIA or any other culinary program to turn around and write a cookbook using volume measurement.


    And when they continue to write cookbooks in this antiquated and inferior system, American home bakers are reluctant to change. And the change really is not that difficult.


    But the problem is grandma’s way of making pie crust is not perfect—far from it. She doesn’t use enough water. Her crust is dry and crumbly. It turns out tough and chewy. That’s why there’s a billion google searches on how to make flaky pie crust.
     
    Norcalbaker59, Jul 9, 2019
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