Pie crust: battle of the fats
Last week I wrote a whole post about fats in pie crusts and why they work and which one makes the best pastry and all that jazz. I even made you an explanatory table! But much as I love knowing exactly how the fats measure up by the numbers, even I have to admit that we really need to just step away from the books and the computer and head into the kitchen. So here we go: a good old-fashioned crust battle pitting lard, shortening, and butter against each other to see who takes the cake. Or the pie, really.
The method: I made three recipes of basic pie crust, identical in every way except for the kind of fat (see below for more details). I baked some of each as pie crust strips with cinnamon sugar and made the rest into mini apple-pear pies, and then I ate way too much pie.
The verdict: butter wins. Of course.
For all my brave words about workable temperature range and zero water content, I just couldn’t get past the amazing flavor of the butter crust. Especially in the cinnamon-sugar crust bites, with no yummy filling to make up for a lackluster crust, the butter really shone.
In terms of texture, butter and lard both created really nice crispy, layered, flaky crusts. They browned to golden on the edges and puffed beautifully with distinct layers and a crunch on top. The shortening had a soft, melt-in-your-mouth texture, with less snap and more crumble. It also had a noticeably softer texture as a dough, even after refrigeration.
So I guess the result of this experiment is that it took me a whole afternoon of mixing, rolling, criss-crossing, and baking to prove to myself what everyone else knew all along. As I make the rest of my summer pies with nothing but the good stuff (butter, baby!), I just have to find new uses for my supply of lard. I’ll keep you posted…
More details: I made the pie crust with the classic 3:2:1 ratio of flour to fat to water (in this case, 200 g flour, 134 g fat, and 67 g water), plus 1/2 teaspoon of salt. I kept the fat at fridge temperature, used ice water, and refrigerated the dough between mixing and rolling out. I baked the pie crust strips at 350 degrees F for 12 minutes (until golden on the edges), and the mini pies are slightly adapted from the apple-pear pie found in Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. You can read more about the 3:2:1 pie crust in Michael Ruhlman’s Ratio, which is all about the math behind everyday recipes.