pie crust (part 3) – butter, shortening, vodka, or lard?

by Patricia on November 15, 2009 · 15 comments


Welcome to the third installment of my pie crust adventure. The first round of results are in. Dan and I tasted four different crusts and ranked them from best to worst for taste and texture.

Picture 2
(the numbers are a little confusing because there were a few that were too close to call and there were ties, but I will try to decode it)…

Before I get into the results, I wanted to say that I believe any homemade pie crust is going to win you thumbs up. So use what makes the most sense for you (easiest, tastiest, whatever). Unless you are feeding a pie connoisseur, I think you’d be hard pressed to find someone who didn’t like your homemade pie because you used crust A instead of crust B. Okay, with that said, let’s get on with it, shall we?

The test setup:
I made mini-pies again. And again I used the cranberry-apple pie recipe from Gourmet (November 2009) for the filling and crumble topping (my new favorite pie. sweet and tart and delightfully fall).

The testers:
I am nothing if not a procrastinator. So I didn’t have the idea to invite others to come partake of the mini-pies (and make the results more democratic) until the last minute and by then it was already the weekend. Anyway, so it was just me and Dan. But as you can see, Dan took his job very seriously…


The scoring:
We ranked the pie crusts from 1 to 4, #1 being the best… in 3 categories and overall.

The categories:

  • flavor: We tasted the crust alone and with the filling. This was a tough category because really they all tasted good.
  • texture/flakeyness: Kind of self-explanatory. Although I think Dan liked the texture of one that was more cookie like and less flakey and ranked it higher. (we were very scientific)
  • easy to handle: There are only my results for this category. It just means which one, after being chilled, was the easiest to roll out and get into the pan… as in, which one stayed together best and did not require as much elbow grease to roll out.
  • overall: as in, If you could only pick one pie crust, which one would it be?


The Results:

  • Alton Brown’s pie crust (uses lard) –
    • flavor: 1 – 2 (Dan and I split on this)
    • texture: 1
    • easy to handle: 2
    • overall: 1
  • Cook’s Illustrated foolproof pie crust (uses vodka) –
    • flavor: 2
    • texture: 2 – 3
    • easy to handle: 1
    • overall: 2 – 3
  • Simply Recipe’s butter+shortening pie crust – *We really split on this one.
    • flavor: 1 – 4
    • texture:2 – 4
    • easy to handle: 2
    • overall: 2 – 4
  • Gourmet’s all-butter pastry dough
    • flavor: 2 – 4 (where 4 is really more like a 2.5 because the differences were so small)
    • texture: 3
    • easy to handle: 4
    • overall: 3 – 4

The results were pretty subjective. To be scientific, we may have to do another round of tests and possibly have a few other testers involved. But we did agree that the crust with a little lard in it was the best overall. It was flakier than any of the others and tasted best. I didn’t want to believe it but it did. (I used the lard in the green and white box for this test. So naturally that means I still have to try the schmaltz-lard. Round three?)



1 Angie November 20, 2009 at 9:22 pm

What if you were to combine the vodka and lard. This is a great post, I don’t have much experience with pie crusts, but taking a clue from Alton Brown’s apple pie, I now make all crusts with some sort of alcohol instead of water and a butter, shortening mix. I think all butter would make to much water in the crust, I see that you rated it further down the list too. I have to start using lard too, I know it tastes so good, but I just imagine my arteries clogging up. Oh well, I’ll just exercise more!

2 Patricia November 22, 2009 at 9:41 am

Great question Angie. Kate McDermott has been experimenting with just that.

After Thanksgiving, I might do another round and try vodka+lard myself.
By the way, lard has less cholesterol and saturated fat than butter (at least according to Wikipedia).

3 Jim November 19, 2009 at 8:28 am

I have made many pies,and as usual,some crust are great and others so-so!! I have much better crusts out of Lard,and through some posts,on the blogs,about making your own leaf lard fresh(don’t remember just where),I’m thinking about going to the slaughter house,and making some fresh,for cooking.When I was a kid,(yes 60 years ago),I was raised on a farm,and those cool winter mornings,were filled with,me getting the water boiling in a old large cast iron pot.We would kill 2 – 3 hogs,cook out the lard,make sauage,put meat in smook house.It was my job,to be in the middle of it all,and keep the smoke going for weeks.Oh,such memories,it was so wonderful.My grandmother,kept all the lard,for cooking in its place.I have a very nice slaughter house,where I could get the kidney lard,every tuesday fresh.Your post helps,and stirs memories,to get busy!! By the way,those little pecan tarts,are my favorite snack!!Angie, over at – http://southerngracegourmet.com/pecan-pie-bars/ , has posted one of my favorite also,which is pecan!!Thanks,Jim

4 Patricia November 22, 2009 at 9:38 am

I love pecan tassies! (and pecan pies… and tarts). My grandmother had a couple of big pecan trees in her yard. Oh the memories…

btw – if you can’t find the posts for rendering lard you mentioned, I’ve got one linked to in my lard post.

5 Eviedish November 18, 2009 at 11:17 pm

This really helps me decide what direction to go in for my thanksgiving pie baking. Totally awesome post!!

6 Patricia November 22, 2009 at 9:35 am

I’m always happy to help :) I wanted to find the right crust before Thanksgiving for myself and thought I should share what I found (whether scientific or not).

7 Veronica November 16, 2009 at 7:18 pm

Well, that settles it. I gotta get me some lard. Great post! (I especially love the card symbols you put on the pies to grade them–so cute and clever!)

8 Patricia November 22, 2009 at 9:32 am

Thanks Veronica. It got a little confusing when it was time to record the results, but the card symbols kept us unbiased (mostly).

9 Kristi November 16, 2009 at 6:04 pm

I just made my first pie crust last week. These posts are great! Definitely food for thought :)

10 Patricia November 22, 2009 at 9:31 am

Thanks Kristi. How did your crust come out? (Where did the crust for your apple pie come from last year? And can I have the recipe for that pie?)

11 Jenny November 16, 2009 at 11:20 am

This is a *fantastic* post!

12 Patricia November 22, 2009 at 9:30 am

Thanks :)

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