A Better Pie Crust

November 15, 2012

With Thanksgiving next week it is officially pie season. I know that there are those who would argue with me, claiming that the middle of summer when fresh produce overflows the farmers market is the height of pie season. While I do love a great cherry pie at the peak of the season, pies don’t tend to be the first thing I think to make when faced with all that fresh fruit. I don’t know why, I should make more fruit pies, but I just tend not to. My five year old son, who mostly only eats desserts I make, pointed out to me recently that he has never had apple pie in his life. Apple tarts and apple marshmallows, sure, but never apple pie. Clearly I am failing in my patriotic duty. That being said, even though the rest of the year I tend to make everything but pie, for Thanksgiving I never make anything else. My offers to make other desserts for Thanksgiving are always met with outrage by family who want all the classic pies instead. So every year, no matter how many people are coming, we have no less than three pies. One pumpkin, one pecan and one fruit based pie. (I guess this year I could make that pie apple, just to make my son happy.)

For the last several years I have been using the same pie crust recipe, a parve adaptation of Mark Bittman’s sweet tart crust. Because it is a tart crust it is a bit less flakey than a traditional pie crust, but the addition of the egg gives it a flavor boost which is needed when working with margarine rather than butter. Back when I started making this crust there were not anywhere near as many options for dairy-free fats as there are now so margarine was it. This year I decided that instead of just using the same crust recipe using buttery sicks for the margarine because that is what I have always used I was going to do a scientific comparison of two different recipes and a whole collection of different pareve fats. I tested crusts using Earth Balance buttery sticks, Earth Balance organic whipped buttery spread, spectrum organic shortening and coconut oil. I tried all the fats in the recipe with egg and in a more standard shortening pie crust recipe without egg. Since people rave about the texture of shortening pie crusts I expected those to be the best texture-wise and I added a bit of butter flavor to them to make them more flavorful (since all margarine consists of is shortening, water and butter flavor and that is what I have been using for crusts for years.) I baked all the crusts with a standard pumpkin pie filling so that a difference in fillings wouldn’t affect the results.

All the tasters agreed that there were two clear winners – the Sweet Tart Crust and the Flaky Pie Crust – and we liked both equally well. The first was the adaptation of Mark Bittman’s recipe that I have been using for years made with the Earth Balance Buttery Sticks. The egg yolk gives it a nice richness but it is still flakey enough to be satisfying as a pie crust. The second was the egg free crust made with the spectrum organic shortening and butter flavor. It was flakey with a good texture and has the added advantage being vegan because it doesn’t have eggs. That being said, I imagine that flavor would be a bit flat without the butter flavoring so if you don’t want to get butter flavoring I would recommend using the recipe with margarine and egg instead. Like all crusts, it is important not to overwork the dough with either of these recipes or it will get tough. I was surprised that we didn’t like the coconut oil crust better. I have used it before in tart crusts with great success but it comes out harder and a bit crunchier than was pleasing for a pie where the crust might be a bit thicker. I will still be using coconut oil for thin tart crusts but will stick to one of these two recipes for pie. Both of these recipes make enough for a single 9-inch deep dish pie. Double the recipe if making a double crusted pie.

Making all these crusts has inspired me to make more pies, so it just may be that pies start showing up around here more often.

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  1. that’s so amazing that you had the motivation to bake so many crusts and try the different fats in each. I’ve done a more tart crust from bittman with butter and never tried a parve one. now I know to try earth balance or spectrum shortening! thanks so much

  2. This is such a great, informative post! I tried making my first pies this summer and this would have been incredibly helpful then! I’ll definitely have to save it to look back on! I think it’s amazing that you went to such great lengths to try them all out!

  3. i loooove making pie crusts! people are so scared of them, but with practice they are so quick and easy to make! i also use earth balance shortening in mine.

  4. This sounds like a ton of work, but well appreciated. I am in charge of dessert this year and making probably 3 pies also, so I want a good dough. Can I double or triple either recipe?

    • Doubling should be no problem, I find that anything bigger than that gets overworked because it doesn’t fit well in the food processor. If you have a giant food processor or are making it by hand then it shouldn’t be a problem to triple it. What kinds of pies are you making?

    • 8 oz is the weight for a cup of most liquids but other things have a different weight per cup. I generally use 4.5 oz as my measurement for a cup of flour so that is how I got that measurement. I hope that helps.

      • I just looked at the recipe again. The flour measurement on that recipe isn’t correct. I will take a look at it when I get home in a few hours. So sorry about that.

  5. I usually use flesh man’s unsalted. I’m wondering your thoughts on that as a fat and also, have u out ever used the butter flavored crisco?

    • I don’t use fleishmans or crisco because they contain trans-fats, but if you want to use them they would work just as well as the fats I used in these recipes.

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