The most important item on the Thanksgiving table, besides the turkey, is the pie. Everything else is just sides. And the most important part of the pie is the crust. A poor crust and your pie will be a second-class citizen.
The role of the fats in pie crust is what makes the pie crust flaky. Flakiness is created by leaving large pieces of fat in the crust. The fat then melts causing steam and the steam creates “air” pockets in the crust and voila, flaky. For fruit pies, you will want a more flaky crust than say a custard pie. A custard pie crust should be tighter because it is wetter. So for a fruit pie, after cutting in the fats, you should have large pieces of fat coated with flour. For the custard pie, it should be a mealy crust with smaller balls of fat.
Now the debate is on which fat to use for cutting into your flour. The big three (lard, shortening and butter) have been known to create nearly violent arguments in the kitchen that spill out into the hallway. And there are the silent majority, who like to use liquid oil.
Lard, the key to the old timer’s pie crust. It has gotten a bad rap over the years, because it is considered the least healthy. Good lard actually has less saturated fat than butter, more monosaturated (good) than butter and has no trans fats like shortening. Lard enthusiasts swear it makes the best crust. And they may be correct. The larger fat crystals in lard create a fluffier crust. Try to avoid lard that is sold at room temperature as it hydrogenated, which gives it trans fats.
Butter is a favorite because of its flavor. Although, many say lard tastes better, consensus of opinion points to butter. On the downside, butter is harder to work with as it melts at a lower temperature. So it must be very cold and worked with carefully. The use of butter also creates a more visually favorable crust. The milk fats in butter help brown the crust more so than lard and shortening.
Shortening’s popularity waxes and wanes. It is easy to work with and has the highest melting point. This helps cut down on human error and creates a more consistent dough. For more novice pie makers, this is the best with which to work.
Use of liquid oils is not as popular. It is much easier to incorporate in the dough, but you sacrifice the flakiness. However, if you are looking for a crispier pie dough when making a wet pie,…