Butter vs. Shortening: the great pie crust bakeoff

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Pie crust – gotta love it, right?

Flaky and tender when you nail it, tough as rawhide when you don’t, pie crust divides all of us bakers into definitive categories: those who succeed; those who fail, but keep trying; and those who buy Mrs. Smith’s.

Why is pie crust so tough – often literally? Well, it’s all about the fat, the water, and the flour. Three simple ingredients that, together, can create a masterpiece – or mayhem.

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Flour does make a difference; but not as much as you might think. A lower-protein pastry flour, like our Perfect Pastry Blend, will inherently make a more tender crust – and will also be a bit more fragile when you’re rolling it out.

Truthfully, I use our all-purpose flour in my pie crust; I have to be careful not to work it too hard once the water is added (for fear of developing its gluten), but for me, it offers an ideal blend of good results, and ease of handling.

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Water – make it ice water. Simple enough, right?

Ah, now comes the ingredient that arguably makes or breaks a pie crust, and also creates the most debate:

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Fat.

Your grandma used lard. Your mom used shortening. You use butter. Are all fats created equal?

I decided to find out.

First thing I did was rule out lard. NOT BECAUSE IT’S NOT A PERFECTLY GOOD FAT AND CAPABLE OF MAKING WONDROUSLY TASTY PIE CRUST.  After all, our ancestors made lard-crust pies for centuries and, like lard-fried doughnuts, they were delicious.

I’m ruling out lard simply because it can be problematic for some folks to find these days. So if you love lard, and have a good supplier – stick with it.

But if butter and vegetable shortening are your choices, read on.

For years, I’ve alternated between two favorite recipes: Classic Double Pie Crust, a crust made with both shortening and butter; and All-Butter Pie Crust.

One Thanksgiving I’d go with an all-butter crust for my Chocolate Chunk Pecan Pie; the next, I’d make my Apple Pie with the shortening/butter clone.

But never had I made both crusts in tandem, and done a side-by-side comparison. Which was flakier? Which tasted better?

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This was the year. Having signed up to do a pie demonstration at a local bookstore, I decided I’d best practice both – at the same time.

And I made an amazing discovery (amazing to me; we pie geeks are easily amazed): something I’d always believed to be true was absolutely, categorically, without a doubt not true at all.

I’d always told people that a shortening/butter pie crust would have better texture than an all-butter crust, due to shortening’s higher melting point. Why?

Fat keeps the layers of flour/water “matrix” separated as the pie bakes; the longer fat is present in its solid form (score one for shortening, with its high melting point), the more flakes will form, the more tender/flakier the crust will be.

Now, that may be true. I didn’t actually count the number of flaky layers in each crust.

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But one thing was abundantly clear: the all-butter crust (above left) made a much LIGHTER crust, with more defined flakes, than the butter/shortening combination (above right).

I was totally puzzled, until it dawned on me: butter contains more water than shortening.

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As the crust bakes, that water is converted to steam, puffing up the crust (and its flakes) like someone blowing up a balloon.

And flavor? The all-butter crust tasted – well, buttery, of course. The butter/shortening crust (which was, by the way, just as tender and flaky as the butter crust, but without its light texture) tasted a bit like butter, and a bit like pie crust – that indefinable something that tells your taste buds, yes, I’m eating a piece of pie.

Both were good – just different. And one of the chief differences was looks: the butter crust produced a very ill-defined edge. My careful fluting basically went up in smoke – er, steam.

So if you’re after looks, stick with the butter/shortening combination (or all shortening). If looks don’t matter to you, I’d go with the all-butter crust.

While I was at it, I decided to test the famous Cook’s Illustrated secret to tender, flaky pie crust: using vodka in place of half the water in the crust.

The theory is that vodka, being alcohol rather than water, will develop flour’s gluten less than plain water, thus creating a more tender crust.

Is that true?

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In front, all-butter + vodka, and shortening/butter + vodka. Behind, butter and shortening without vodka.

The verdict? I couldn’t discern any difference in the flakiness/tenderness of the vodka vs. non-vodka crusts. BUT the vodka crust rolled out more easily; with its silken, smooth texture, it was a pleasure to work with.

So would I add vodka to pie crust? Sure. I think I’ll even keep a little jar of it in the fridge, so it’s handy for pie crust or a gimlet – whichever comes first!

OK, I’ve given you a map. And here you stand at the crossroads, ready to make a decision.

Which will it be: Classic Double Pie Crust, or All-Butter Pie Crust?

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Chocolate Chunk Pecan Pie, made with an all-butter crust.

May the best crust win!

There’s more to pie crust than ingredients; technique plays a big hand in a successful crust, as well. For a wonderful pictorial on making pie crust, see our blog post Pie, Any Way You Slice It.

And for more tips, check out Perfect Pie: A Baker’s Dozen+ Tips.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel was born in Wisconsin, grew up in New England, and graduated from Brown University. She was a journalist in Massachusetts and Maine before joining the King Arthur Flour Company in 1990, where she's been ever since. Author or co-author of three King Arthur ...

comments

  1. Tiara in Washington

    Thank you, PJ, for doing the test between butter and shortening! Pie crusts is the next challenge for me to take on and since my family has a severe lactose intolerance issue, butter is not always an option. Do you think if we added more water to the crust it will help with the steam and puffiness of the layers when it bakes? I definitely want to try the crust with the vodka, too. Thank you again for showing the difference between the two type of fats.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      You’re welcome, Tiara. I wouldn’t add more water; it would be difficult to add just the right amount, as too much would make it tough. How about substituting vegetable margarine for the butter? Good luck – PJH

    2. Patty

      I believe that butter is free of lactose. Check your butter package’s nutritional information; if there are no carbohydrates listed, it’s lactose free.

    3. Bridget

      I’m so sorry that you left out lard, because I would have been interested in how it stacked up. I have never, ever, ever had any pie crust that was better than my mother’s lard crust. I don’t care from how fancy a bakery or what renown the baker had. No crust had the wonderful flavor and flakiness (I am alarmed that so many people confuse crumbliness with flakiness) of my mother’s pies. There is no doubt that her crusts were not as beautiful as some, but who cares? I’m not in it for the beauty, I’m in it for the taste. That’s why your concern over losing the beautifully fluted edge to your butter pie bothered me. I have learned that the crusts that look the best taste the worst. Just saying.

    4. The Baker's Hotline

      To each their own, Bridget. You can have a bad looking crust with a bad taste or a great looking crust that tastes wonderfully or any combination of the two! It all depends on the baker and how they handle the dough. Jon@KAF

    5. Prudence

      This is an encouraging experiment. I stink at crusts, which have proven a 50/50 proposition for me. And yes, I do resort to store-bought crusts to reduce the risk. But VODKA? What a revelation! I will give it a try.

      Thanks for all you do. And greetings from Wisconsin, PJ !

    6. PJ Hamel , post author

      Enjoy the crust, Prudence – and stay warm out there! Say hi to all my Badger family in the Madison area… PJH

    7. LC

      Depending on your taste buds, I have made a vegan pie crust with coconut oil that turns out wonderfully. I have used it in pecan and apple pies. I wouldn’t recommend using it with a vegetarian pot pie. I tried that and didn’t like the coconut flavor mixed with the vegetables.

      2 1/4 cup ap flour
      1/2 cup coconut oil (should be solid not liquid)
      1 tsp salt
      1 tbsp sugar
      1/3 – 1/2 cup water (i suspect the vodka substitution would work here too)

      Good luck!

      p.s. smart balance makes vegan butter which i believe is lactose free

  2. Shirley

    I used the recipe from the previous post. Used butter and shortening and rolled it out between 2 layers of parchment. It was the easiest roll out I have ever done and I will continue to use it if it tastes as good as I hope it does. They are in the freezer now
    I have tried the vodka addition and didn’t like the flavor, believe it or not.. I have had difficulty rolling out all butter crust but it sure did taste good.

    Reply
  3. Anneedelweiss

    I have been gathering ingredients and emptying freezer space to make half a dozen pies this weekend – and then I saw this post by PJ. Look at those amazing pictures of those amazing crusts, all four different versions! I’ll take any one and all of them, please.

    The virtue of a pie is how accommodating this pastry could be – just about any filling could be fashioned into a pie. Or, in the case of ‘pie fries’, no filling is called for. Inspired, I think I’ll just do that – make a few extra and reserve them for ‘fries’ later.

    (The ready-made crusts are fine for ‘fries’, but with justifiable bias I think homemade is better. Ready-made pies? I remember they are rather good, but I haven’t had one for years.)

    Many blog readers sent in comments about how they learned to make pies from their moms or grandmas. How precious, and enviable! Fond memories of favorite foods aside, ‘watch and learn’ is a sure way to get the gist of making a good pie. Short of that I really appreciate the many KAF posts on making pies and crusts. PJ, I am glad you ‘practiced’. What a fun saga in the discovery of making a good piecrust!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Thanks so much, Anne – your kinds words are truly appreciated! Have fun making the pies this weekend – you actually get into a rhythm when you’re making that many, don’t you? Sounds like a festive Thanksgiving is in your immediate future… :) PJH

  4. Patty

    I wish you hadn’t ruled out lard! I’ve never used it before but I’d love to know how it works in baking. I only use natural fats so for me it’s all butter unless I give lard a try.

    I assume coconut oil would not be a good choice for crusts with it’s low melting point.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Lard is more difficult to find, but some bakers think it’s worth the search! There are some great recipes out there for coconut oil. We hope you find the pie crust recipe (and pie crust fat) that meets your taste and texture expectations. Happy Baking! Irene@KAF

    2. member-nancylanderson37

      I find lard in the ethnic food section of the supermarket, more toward the Hispanic area of food. I think it is the best!

    3. auggy

      You can render your own if you can find a good source of leaf lard. Ask your butcher. I get raw leaf lard from the Farmers’ Market and I render it myself. Be careful of buying shelf stable lard in the grocery store, it’s usually hydrogenated. There are also places on line you can buy it in bulk if you like deep frying: This stuff is pretty good – https://www.prairiepridepork.com/products/index.php?catid=20&utm_content=Ad-2-Already_09-2011&gclid=CN7P-JiJs70CFTIV7AodHRoAMQ

  5. Cactusneedle

    I recently purchased some as I heard it is better than the chemically preserved stuff available in stores. I am looking forward to trying it out to see if there is any difference. I have homemade butter made from raw cream. Do you think there will be any difference in that and storebought, processed butter? Maybe I need to do a side by side like you did!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We’d love to see (or hear about) those side by side results! BTW, if homemade butter was good enough for the first Thanksgiving – won’t it work for us? Happy Baking! Irene@KAF

  6. "Mandi F."

    I LOVE the vodka crust. I still use traditional crusts from time to time but only b/c I really want to learn how to do it the way my grandma did. But when I need a crust that is no fail, I turn to the vodka crust.

    PJ, have you tried the overworked pie crust? It was developed by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt who developed the vodka crust for Cooks Illustrated. You can find the recipe and a very interesting article about it on the Serious Eats site: http://sweets.seriouseats.com/2011/07/the-food-lab-the-science-of-pie-how-to-make-pie-crust-easy-recipe.html. I haven’t tried it yet but it’s on my list of must tries.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Mandi, I haven’t tried that. But the article is fascinating; I’ve printed it out and am trying to figure out how I can shoehorn it into my baking schedule before Thanksgiving! Isn’t it fascinating how many ways there are to make a great pie crust? PJH

  7. Shirley

    I always use all-butter crusts, and my fluting never stays intact! No matter how much resting time I give it in the fridge. I have a bias against shortening, but now I’m reconsidering.

    Here’s another question: does the use of butter vs. shortening impact crust shrinkage? Shrinkage is another problem I have (only with partially prebaked, single-crust tarts; my double-crust pies don’t shrink) no matter how much resting time I give it in the fridge between rolling and assembly and baking.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Shirley, shortening should help with shrinkage, as shortening’s melting point is higher – thus the crust will stay in place longer, hopefully until it’s set. And yes, all-butter crusts don’t hold their shape as well; it’s just a fact (for the same reason mentioned previously – butter’s melting point is quite low, so it melts before the crust’s shape is truly set. All you can do is make a plain flat fork-tine edge; or accept that looks aren’t everything! :) PJH

    2. debzy

      I have found with blind baking that it’s important to not stretch the crust too much. When rolling it out make sure you use gentle strokes, rolling it out but not pressing too hard so it stretches. When you put it in the pie plate keep pushing gently towards the center and make sure there’s a little sag in the sides. Then flute it. I use foil in mine and I fill it right up to the top with dried beans which I keep in a jar and use over and over. Then I bake it until it’s nearly done before taking out the foil and beans to finish letting it bake and brown. Since I figured this out my pie crusts don’t shrink! I hope I explained that correctly…

      I sometimes use a butter/shortening mixture in case you’re wondering. 2/3 shortening 1/3 butter.

    3. Shirley

      This is enlightening. You might have converted me to the combo butter/shortening dark side, PJ! Or at the least, convinced me to try it. I won’t lie … looks do matter. :) Thanks!

    4. "Dianne Price"

      I use shortening sometimes, butter sometimes and lard (when I can find it these days). I usually use butter when making squares or turnovers or dumplings, something that doesn’t depend on “the flute appearance”, but when I do use it for pies, before fluting, dip your fingers in flour – it adds flour just to that fluted edge and helps hold them up better.

  8. Deborah

    I have been making butter pie crusts for years . The important thing is I am lactose intolerant now so I have to make my own butter to make butter pie crusts . I tried the crusts with vodka and Wow. The crust was better even with my butter. Thank you so much for the tip!
    With all baking its the tips that make anyone a good baker.

    Reply
  9. Haley

    Thank you so much for this post! It’s something I’ve always wanted to try but never had the patience to actually compare all of the options side by side. For the butter, is there a particular percentage of milk fat that should be used? I normally can only find 80%-81% but I know that 84% milk fat is ideal for some recipes. Thank you!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      There really isn’t a “best” option, but I personally prefer a higher fat percentage for my crusts. Just keep in mind that you may need to add a little more water when using a butter with a higher fat ratio. Jon@KAF

  10. Pamela Newberry

    I make my own lard…don’t rule it out! My SIL uses vodka in his pie crusts (made with butter) and they are awesome!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Sadly the lard used for crusts is not easy to find everywhere. However, I hear it really is the fat of choice for pie. Jon@KAF

    2. Tresa

      So, is leaf lard the only kind that’s good for crust? I was going to try the Field brand which is not hydrogenated.

    3. PJ Hamel , post author

      Leaf lard is the “creme de la creme” of lard, but you can certainly use other types in your baking, Tresa. PJH

  11. Sue

    I am one of the pie geeks. I don’t consider myself a great cook, but I do like to bake, and pies are one of my favorites. Looks DO matter. I have always used all Crisco shortening…am wondering-to try butter/shortening combo, can I simply swap half the shorting 1:1 with butter? or would I be better served to use the recipe that is specific to the combo? Thanks for this pie testing, PJ!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Yes, you will need to use a 1:1 ratio or shortening to butter. Just keep in mind that the butter will add more moisture to your dough so you may not need all of your water. Jon@KAF

  12. AZSobyrd

    My question is how does atmospheric humidity factor in making a crust? I am always successful with my crusts when in MA and have the experience to make my measurements without having to measure using cups, simply ‘eye’ my measurements. I fail miserably when in AZ. Our house is in the high country elevation 5000 ft. However, I suspect humidity is the factor. When I have followed recipes or added extra shortening or attempted to add more water, it is then hard to work with to roll and plate and ultimately it is dry. From your research, i should likely use butter (for steam effect and humidity) and typical water amount? Thank you!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Yes, humidity plays a large role in most baking and pies are no different. I imagine you have a very dry climate in Arizona! In that case I would certainly suggest butter and more water in your dough. Also, a 30-60 min rest in the refrigerator should help it roll a bit easier. Also, as PJ mentioned, vodka did make for a crust that was easier to roll. Jon@KAF

  13. Peggy Ann

    I have always used olive oil (or canola oil) and I get my water very cold, ice cubes in it, then add the tablespoons of cold water to a bowl with the oil in it and whip with a fork until it is thick and bubbly. Then add it to my flour. Everyone asks for my recipe and raves about my flaky crust. Its just the way mom always did it.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Ahhh an oil crust, another type I have not tried. I’m glad to hear that this type works so well for you! Jon@KAF

    2. Clay Pendleton

      Very interesting! After you form the ingredients into the pie plate, do you then chill the crust so the olive oil will form into a solid so when it comes out of the oven, it will be more flakey?

    3. Linda

      For 50 years I’ve also made the crust my Mom taught me and it always turns out flaky and golden. It is a bit more work and you have to get the hang of it!
      1/2 cup oil ( I use canola)
      1/4 cup milk
      2 cups flour (more or less as needed)
      Combine and then gather up into 2 balls. Roll each out between waxed paper and then peel away one side and flip into pie dish. Fit and peel off the other waxed paper. After top crust is on flute edges.
      I’ve had lots of people ask for this recipe and I would never make any other kind of crust!

    4. PJ Hamel , post author

      Interesting, Linda – I have a friend who makes an olive oil/milk crust, and it’s wonderful, and she never seems to get around to giving me the recipe (it’s her mom’s), so I’m definitely going to try this. I tried figuring it our on my own, and my crust was greasy; so thanks for sharing this. PJH

  14. liv

    thank you for this incredibly informative and in depth look at pie crusts! pie is my very favorite thing to bake and i’ve gotten pretty good at it over the years. i usually do a butter/butter flavored shortening combo crust or, when cooking for my vegan pals, all shortening. i’ve never actually done an all butter crust before. after seeing your results, i may have to experiment with a combo of crusts – butter/shortening for the base with all butter for lattice tops and/or simple decorative cut outs. yay new kitchen projects!

    dear fellow lactose intolerant people,
    i’m seriously confused about why you live with this. just take lactase pills (lactaid). they’re in the drug store with the other upset tummy remedies. one or two pills taken with dairy containing foods and you’re fine. honestly. i’ve been using them for years. if they don’t work, you’re not lactose intolerant and may have an allergy or something but, for plain old intolerance, they’re great.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      I find that it is sometimes easier to go without the dairy as I don’t always have the pills on hand! I still need to try my hands at a lard crust, just have to find and render it myself. Jon@KAF

  15. Janet

    I also experimented before. I found the Vodka advice from CI not as good as my butter/ shortening crust I was already was using, but I don’t use hydrogenated shortening I buy palm shortening from the health food store and like it much better, think it works better than the standard brands and healthier; it may be that it has higher water content it seems a lot less dense and creamier then hydrogenated. I did all butter crust and had the same issue of it not holding it’s shape and did not work for trying to bake a pie shell; yikes a blob of dough in the center of the pie plate. I am careful not to overwork the dough and make sure everything is really cold and have great success every time.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Interesting! Maybe the palm oil shortening is allowed to have more water than butter…for the next test! Jon@KAF

  16. Susan

    I use shortening, but I also add 1 tsp. baking powder, 1 large egg and 1 tsp. apple cider vinegar; my pie crust gets raves reviews and is a “no-fail” for all those beginning bakers.

    Reply
  17. Cindy Crowe

    I have followed KAF for years and love and appreciate all the testing that you do, but my question is …. how temperature controlled was this test? I mean as far as the temperature of the shortening/fats that were used. Were they used as close as possible to the “same” temperatures for accuracy? I am in no way trying to be disrespectful, but for my scientific side, I would really like to know :) , Thank you

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Cindy, the butter was cold for both recipes; the shortening was at room temperature in the butter/shortening recipe. But it didn’t really matter, as both crusts were thoroughly chilled before baking, so there was plenty of time for all the fat to become the same temperature. As I said, both were the same as far as flakiness goes; but the butter crust was lighter textured, revealing more of its layers. Hope this helps – PJH

  18. Clay Pendleton

    I know that French pastry chefs always use butter but their butter has a higher fat content with less water than ours, that we use in the states. I would think that if you wanted to make a nice flakey pie crust or have some pastry dough on hand to make croissants or butter horn rolls it would be better to look for European style butter instead of the regular grade butter that you can buy. Also the secret is layering and cooling the dough to achieve flakey layers.

    Reply
  19. Gina

    Great article. I prefer a lard crust but, you are right, it is so hard to find! My nephew found a source, a local meat market, and bought a batch. My crust was fabulous. But the next time I purchased from the same shop and it created a wet crust. There was too much water in the lard. I was so diappointed! I find a lot of shortening has the same issue. I often do not have to add water, to the pastry. I use KAF all-purpose flour and carefully measure. Any suggestions?

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Gina, you could try our Classic Double Pie Crust recipe, using a combination of butter and shortening; it makes a nice crust. And use good-quality shortening, like Crisco; that should help with the “too much water” in the shortening. Good luck – PJH

  20. Kristen

    Thanks for sharing the comparison! I have to admit: I’m an all shortening kind of gal. Shortening, flour, and cold water, hand mixed. It makes for a flaky but firm crust – the kind of pie slice you can pick up with your hand and know it’ll hold up. …what? Am I the only person who likes to grab a slice on the run? ;)

    Reply
  21. k.g.mom

    Love crust made with lard. Really makes a difference IMHO.

    Racheal Ray gave a great tip last week. She uses a cocktail shaker for her ice water. A great way to keep ice out of your dough!

    Reply
  22. Kattrinka

    Good to know since I’ve been using all butter for many years. Since we’ve found out how deadly Trans Fat (hydrogenated fat) is!

    Reply
  23. Melissa

    Even after all these centuries of pie crust making with basically,a handful of ingredients, and we are all still excited to see if we can make a ‘better’ pie crust! What a crazy FUN bunch of people! I am TOTALLY intrigued by the Vodka replacement!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      I rarely see two people make pie crust the same way, just one of those baked goods that have a 100 different versions that all seem to work. Jon@KAF

    2. Anneedelweiss

      ONLY 100 versions, Jon? Sometimes I sneaked in a tablespoonful of almond flour or a dash of this or that spices into the flour, just to break the monotony. Did that create any break through, bring out the ‘wow’ factor? Probably not. But it was fun and I was delighted that I could do a crust in more than one way.

      My mom didn’t bake – we didn’t have an oven. But she used to make her own lard by rendering a piece of fatty pork. This homemade lard turned out snow-white in color when cooled to room temperature and had its own distinct aroma, something prized in her cooking. Is this the same kind of lard that could be used in making pie crust?

    3. PJ Hamel , post author

      Yes, you can really use any type of rendered fat in pie crust – including bacon fat, chicken fat, etc. Just let it harden first. And be aware that each will add its own distinctive flavor. Funny, I never thought of spicing my crust – I think cinnamon would be awesome with most pies. Thanks for the tip! PJH

  24. Marni

    I’ve tried them all and I have always come back to lard. It has always garnered the most compliments for its flaky, light texture, wonderful flavor and ease of working. It’s a superior product for pie crust. I have always been able to find it and I do think it’s well worth the search. It’s sad that more people don’t even try it.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      It has been dragged through the mud for many years, which is unfortunate. Hopefully it will come back into our kitchens if it becomes easier to find. Jon@KAF

  25. Deborah Evenich

    I have gotten away from using shortening because of the transfats, so I have gone to the non-transfat shortening. Used by itself the crust is not very good. Adding 2-3 tbs of unsalted butter makes the difference. So, I combine the two to make 1/2 c. of shortening altogether, then cut it in. I always use ice water, and my crusts turn out great every time.

    Reply
  26. Bernadette

    This is actually going to be the first year I will be making homemade pie crust (sad to say I’ve been using the pre-made one to save time and effort) so I am very thankful you did the test of butter vs shortening. My aunt always used lard for her pies, but as you said it is really tough to find it readily available. Those were the best pie crusts though. Over the last couple of years I have been making an effort to make everything from scratch and pie crust is next on the list so I’m looking forward to having entirely homemade pumpkin and apple pies for the holiday!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Well I bet your crusts will turn out great too! If you need any help, please feel free to contact us. Jon@KAF

  27. Shelley

    I LOVE making pies and now use my grandmother and great aunt’s variation for a nice flaky pie crust. I use the butter crisco, all purpose flour and my liquid is carbonated liquid like sprite or gingerale. It always works us so well. Not sure of the science behind it but it works :) Thanks for all the information. I may try the vodka sometimes.

    Reply
  28. Tom

    My first good pie crust was the CI vodka recipe. Since then, with some discussion and help from Susan Reid, I’ve been able to use a variety of recipes (it turns out that I wasn’t adding enough water to my dough). I made a pie yesterday with a crust that was half coconut oil and half butter. It’s flaky enough to shatter into shards, but the shards are a bit too hard for my taste. The next pie will be butter/canola oil. I’ve made canola oil pie dough, and it’s wonderfully flaky – but I don’t like the taste. I will just continue on, making pie after pie, trying to get it right. That’s such a burden! ;)

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Sometimes trial and error is the best (and sometimes only) way to know what works best for you! Keep on going until you find the perfect blend for you. Jon@KAF

  29. Linda

    My mother taught me with all Crisco and Betty Crocker. It makes what I see as a traditional New England crust and I no interest in broadening my pie making horizons. I will enjoy the pies of others who like to venture out and try different things!

    Now that I think about it I have no idea how long Crisco has been around so maybe it’s not really a traditional pie crust. But I don’t care, if you come to my house you’ll get homemade pie from my kitchen, never from Mrs. Smiths. I did enjoy seeing your test results!

    Reply
  30. Paula

    I have used orange juice as the liquid in my pie crust for years. Before that, I made shoe leather crust and had about given up on making pie crust, until a friend clued me in to that little secret. But I have always used shortening- ready to try the butter or part butter recipe! Thank you, KA!

    Reply
    1. Julie

      I’d bet the acid in OJ does the same thing as the vinegar in my shortening/egg/vinegar crust. I think I’ll have to try this variation myself.

  31. Jamie Jo

    Perhaps because I am in the south, lard is so easy to find. I’ve used shortening and lard and I have been told NEVER use shortening again by those who eat the pie. :-) I also love the vodka tip. I bought a small hip flask full of vodka from a liquer store that holds exactly the right amount and keep refilling it.

    Reply
  32. Cheylyn

    I am disappointed that you did not compare an all shortening crust to. However I have my No-Fail crust recipe (that calls for an egg and vinegar) that I will always use.

    Reply
  33. Steve

    I personally use half butter and half shortening due to butter adding a little more flavor too the crust and with my liquid it is always 50/50 water/ vodka. This combination allows me to roll out the dough a bit easier plus when baking the vodka will evaporate off quicker then the water allowing the dough too bake with less liquid and it at least too me seems too be more flake.

    Reply
  34. carmenfehn

    I made this crust today and I am SO PLEASED!! Flaky, light and a beautiful golden color. I very much enjoyed the tutorial and will probably never use another recipe. Happy Holidays and thank you for making mine. <3

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Ah, so wonderful to hear about your successful crust, Carmen – we love being able to add great new recipes to people’s collections! Happy holidays – PJH

  35. Libby Howting

    I’ve rarely used butter in pie crust, feeling that it would be too difficult to handle. I always use lard, which is commonly available in most areas today. But I’ll try the butter/shortening version. I woulds be great in pecan pie.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Libby, I think there’s room in our lives for different types of pie crust – lard is good, butter is good, shortening, a combo… just like I don’t make chocolate chip cookies all the time but also make peanut butter, or shortbread, and enjoy them all. Branching out into different areas keeps our baking lives interesting, doesn’t it? :) PJH

  36. Mary

    I use a combination of butter & shortening. The butter adds flavor, the shortening helps make it flaky. Plus I’ve been making it with 50/50 water/vodka & always have a tender, flaky, delicious crust.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      That’s exactly how I made our Classic Double Pie Crust last time, Mary – using half vodka for the water. As I said, I didn’t notice a difference in texture of the pie, but did notice a difference in ease of rolling. Thanks for sharing here – PJH

  37. Beth Bilous

    Now I’m really confused as to which one to make, but I’m leaning on the all butter and vodka one. Or mabye the butter/shortening/voda one. Now i’m not sure. I need to be sure by tomorrow. I wish to know which one will be the easiest to get a pretty edge on, since that is my nemesis.And I might add, that living in south Florida, its way too hot to make any decent crust anyway.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Beth, if you want a pretty edge, definitely go with the butter/shortening combination. To get ahead of the game, make and roll out your crust today, put it in the pan, and refrigerate until you’re ready to fill/bake. And turn up your AC! Hopefully south Florida is at least somewhat moderate, temperature-wise, right now… PJH

  38. Lynn

    Thank you for a most insightful and enjoyable read. I was raised in Canada on the very best ‘bar none’ never fail pie crusts my Mother consistently made with lard, an egg and apple cider vinegar. My Mom was specific on the brand of lard she used. I have difficulty finding lard in my area so stock up if I make north of the border. I dislike the taste and feel of Crisco pastries. Butter has a nice flavour but lacks that exquisite richness and flakiness I crave from the lard recipe. In your experience, are there differences in the types of lard available? I am not sure if my Mom was sold on a brand or if there may have been a significant difference. I would be very interested to what insight you may have on lard specifically. Thank you.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Lynn, I’m sorry, I don’t have any insight on specific types of lard at all; it’s very hard to find where I live, so I just don’t use it. Readers, would anyone like to chime in here? PJH

    2. Martin Thompson

      Yes there are significant differences in types of lard.
      The animal used makes a difference Pork and Beef fats are quite different, Most modern lards are a blend. However Kosher Lard is beef fat only.
      Then there is the part of the animal used, The best fat was always what was known as Leaf Lard, this is a harder fat than the general subcutaneous fat on the rest of the animal and is found around the internal organs. Within Leaf Lard there is one specific fat that stands alone… Suet… this is the perinephric fat found only surrounding and protecting the animals kidneys. This has a higher melting point than any other fat, and is very firm. This is why it was treasured for making dumplings and puddings as it did not melt until after the temp was high enough to set the structure of the dough, thus leaving behind lots of airy holes. Suet is also more healthy than regular lards as it’s fat constituents are those considered less harmful. If you can find a butcher that still breaks down full carcasses you can buy suet there, it is also available on the internet, frozen it keeps indefinitely, and while frozen it can be grated or chopped to the coarseness you need in the recipe, no cutting in needed just mix in to the flour so that each piece is coated with flour before adding any wet ingredient.

    3. PJ Hamel , post author

      Martin, I confess I never thought of using suet in baking, though it absolutely makes sense. Thanks for all the great information you’ve shared here. PJH

  39. Sue Conrad

    Learned how to make piecrust in 7th-grade Home Ec class and have stayed with the Crisco/flour/ice water formula ever since (use the Butter-Flavor Crisco now, however). Come Thanksgiving, my contribution to the feast is pies ~ apple, mince, and pumpkin. Somehow, there’s always room for pie, even if it’s a small sliver!!!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      I’m with you, Sue – despite how full everyone feels after the feast, there’s always room for pie! (And yes, I remember that home ec formula…) :) PJH

  40. Debby

    For years I only made the “no fail” pie crust. 1lb veg shortening (Tender Flake brand) 4.5 cup flour. Then you mix an egg, 1tbs of vinegar ( I used lemon juice) and enough water to make a 1 cup measurement. I was told that its the vinegar that was the secrecy to a fluffy crust that was workable. This made 4-5 pie crust. I usually use butter now and the fact I also own a food processor made making crust as easy as pie. Thanks for your research. I found it very
    interesting.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      And thanks for sharing your recipe here, Debby – I’ve seen variations of this for years. so clearly it’s something that works! Happy Thanksgiving – PJH

  41. DD

    what about the vodka content is it harmful for children or does it evaporate or is it considered a minute amount after it’s cooked

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      The alcohol dissipates during baking to a minute amount; you can’t taste it, and you certainly can’t feel its effects. The kids probably get more alcohol from rinsing their mouth at the dentist’s… so no worries. PJH

  42. T.K. Whalen

    My only problem with using shortening is the trans fat – Hydrogenated oils are very bad for you – so I will stick with butter. Lately I have been using a hybrid butter/canola oil from Land o’ lakes – It does a pretty good job and contains less cholesterol than real butter.

    The pastry flour from King Arthur and their recipe on the back of the bag are both just great!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      I don’t believe shortening contains trans fats anymore – at least Crisco doesn’t, and hasn’t for some years. But sticking with butter is a tasty path to choose! PJH

  43. Mitch in Memphis

    About 4 years ago at Christmas, I got fed up buying pie crusts already rolled out. Yes, I’d do that to make French Canadian Tourtiere (meat pie) at about 6 at a time. Too much work to make that many pies by hand with any consistency. My sister visited and brought my late mother’s recipe for the tourtiere and 100% lard crust. I failed miserably at making it, hence, the use of the store bought shells. The costs just became too much one day for these miserable tasting shells and one of my issues of Cook’s Illustrated magazine made reference to that same article PJ Hamel refers to, vodka and all, and I made my first blueberry pie that tasted out of this world. However, I do have access to lard and do mix it at 1:1 ratio with butter and ever since then, my children fight over the last piece of tourtiere; and blueberry pie. I read this blog with great interest including all comments and encourage people to use lard over shortening; the flavour is worth the effort.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts about lard,Mitch – it really does make a distinctive crust, both flavor- and texture-wise. I think a lard/butter combination would be wonderful – I’m definitely going to try that one of these days. Happy Thanksgiving! PJH

    2. Rick and Sue

      I am curious. I have made homemade pie crusts for years using a Martha Stewart pate brisse recipe. Living in the South, finding lard isn’t a problem but have never tried it, opting for 100% butter. Do you take the total butter amount and divide it by 1/2, half butter and half lard?

      Thank you.

    3. The Baker's Hotline

      This fat combination will give you the best of both worlds – the flavor of butter and the wonderful flakiness of using lard. Happy Baking! Irene@KAF

  44. Bridgid

    For the person who was wondering when Crisco hit the stores – it was the late 1940s and it was the mid 1950s when people began having enough heart attacks that it attracted national attention. I have read there is a direct coorelation between the two.

    I use a tart crut recipe from Maida Heatter – made by hand, food processor or stand mixer, and everyone raves about it. It uses flour, salt, 1 egg, 1 stick of butter and 2 tablespoons sugar. It rolls beautifully and holds its shape.

    I would love to try an all lard recipe – I know my grandmother (who was known for her cooking & baking) used that but alas, there is no recipe that was handed down. :(

    Many thanks for the comparision!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      You can always rely on Maida for excellent recipes, Bridgid. As for an all lard crust, why not try our Classic Double Pie Crust recipe, and substitute 3/4 cup lard for the butter and shortening? I think that would work out nicely. Good luck – PJH

  45. Sue Trone

    I decided to try homemade pie crust two years ago. My first pie out of the gate was a smashing success. Crusts after that were awful. I’ve grown to be a fan of America’s Test Kitchen and my crusts have improved with some predictability since I learned about the vodka trick that helps prevent the gluten bonds but lets me, the slob, get a wetter dough! The last frontier for me and pie crust is my angst over butter vs. shortening (I am too pragmatic to consider lard!). Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Sue, I find pie crust an ongoing learning experience – unlike yeast bread and some other types of baking, I’m never QUITE comfortable with pie crust! However, after baking so many crusts to write these last two pie crust blogs, I’m a whole lot better at it than I was before. Sometimes it’s as much the journey as the destination – keep on rolling! PJH

  46. Gail

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! (Note that I haven’t read all the other comments so this may be repeating–who knew we were ALL so concerned about butter vs shortening.) After searching dozens of recipes, worrying about flakiness (the crust’s and my own) and wondering whether to spring for real butter or Crisco or just give up and get ready-made, you solved the eternal question. Butter or shortening? I love the taste of buttery crust, but worried about achieving that light, airy crust. Now I can go with the butter and lose the worry. Thanks again! Gail

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      And thank you, Gail, for connecting with us here. As I said, the only thing I have against that butter crust is its failure to hold a “sharp” crimp; it puffs up. But I think the loss in looks is more than made up for by the awesome flavor and texture. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving – and a delicious pie(s)! PJH

  47. Chau

    Hopefully you can give me some tips on perfecting an all-butter crust. I have made 7 different pies leading up to Thanksgiving (all-butter vs butter/shortening). The butter/shortening crust comes out great but flavor is not as good compared to the all-butter. I followed the Cook Illustrated (without vodka recipe) and the Martha Steward’s recipe. Each time I blind bake the all-butter crust for my pumpkin pie there is a layer of butter on top of the crust when I remove it (20 minutes with weights and 15 minutes uncovered). I even tried to bake the crust longer, had less butter, but still had the same problem (had to dab the butter with a napkin). Then I baked the pie with the filling for 40 minutes (I noticed a layer of melted butter on the bottom of the crust). Each time, the pie crust is tough, chewy, and can’t be cut with a fork. I tried different methods (vitamix, pastry blender, and by hand) and always cut the butter refrigerate another 30 mins, and refrigerate the pie crust once rolled out for 30mins-1 hr. Can you please help? Thanks!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Chau, please use our All-Butter Pie Crust recipe; and the preparation techniques in this blog post (ignoring the reference to Crisco); I think you’ll make a wonderful pie crust. Also, make sure you’re using King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour, as the recipe directs; and top-quality butter (we recommend Cabot). Finally, if you have any questions along the way, please call our hotline: 855-371-BAKE (2253). We’ll help you through this, one way or another! Good luck – PJH

  48. Rita

    Pie crust (& yeast breads) and I have never gotten along so I’ve always used premade. I went to my niece’s to “help” the day before Thanksgiving and was given the task of making pie crust. Needless to say I was more than uncomfortable especially when the little girls wanted to help. The recipe she gave me was different but not totally foreign….flour, shortening, vinegar & egg. I’ve never made this one before but had heard of using vinegar. We mixed the dry ingredients and worked in the shortening, then added the vinegar & egg. Water last and let it rest. I’ve never made such a tender, flaky crust! What did I do right?
    (P.S. The joke is that my niece uses premade but didn’t think I’d approve!)

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Probably not using very much water (I assume) kept the crust from becoming tough, Rita – congratulations! Since you’ve found a recipe that works for you, stick with it. It’ll be wonderful to never fear pie crust again, won’t it?! PJH

  49. Red @ Adventures of a Hungry Redhead

    Thank you PJ for convincing me to try pie crust again! For so long I’ve feared pie crust and was never satisfied with the end result. I try the vodka theory and wow! The dough was so much easier to work with then I remember and it was the flakiest dough I’ve ever had! My apple pie (first attempt at lattice ever) was a huge hit at Thanksgiving. So I blogged about it immediately :) http://hungryredhead.com/2013/12/04/apple-pie/

    Thank you so much!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Red, so glad you had a successful pie crust experience at last! Love your blog about it… PJH

  50. Dee

    I have made a lard pie crust for as long as I can remember – and never had a soggy bottom issue until recently. I chill my crust before I had the fillings – I put the pie in the freezer while the oven is heating. My pie pans are ceramic. I do not grease the pan before hand.

    I use flour and lard – mixed by hand – then add water (iced with lemon juice) and mix by hand until it feels right. I make a disc and refrigerate overnight – then roll out on parchment paper.

    Any insights to help me?

    I will try the vodka recipe soon – it sounds great!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Dee, if you’re using the same pan, same recipe, and same oven as always, then it sounds like maybe your lard has changed, which can happen. Like any product that started as a living thing (apples, rice, lard), there are bound to be variations due to climate, season, food, etc. If everything has remained the same except the lard, then you’d have to assume lard is at the bottom of it – unless your oven has started malfunctioning and you don’t know it. Make sure you use an oven thermometer, and don’t rely on the oven temperature dial, OK? PJH

  51. Guy Huettel

    I was just watching an old episode of Good Eats where Alton Brown was making his pie crust using 6 oz. of butter and 3 oz. of lard, both quite cold. In addition, he also used a spray bottle with water and ice cubes, to moisten the dough. Here in Pittsburgh we do have stores that carry lard, so I think that will be the next recipe I try.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Sounds like a plan, Guy – lard definitely adds that “old time” flavor, and the spray bottle is a big help, too. Good luck! PJH

    1. MaryJane Robbins

      Peter, are you looking to blind bake an empty, but full sized crust? or are you literally trying to bake squares? Sounds like a good time to contact our hotline at 1-855-371-2253. ~ MJ

  52. Tibyan

    is it okay to use butter only? because we don’t have shortening in my country :(
    i am 15 years old and I want to make pie crust for first time because I want to try to make Apple Pie for my family =D

    Reply
  53. Michelle

    Having a soy allergy, I can’t bake with shortening (unless I get the super special, expensive non-soy version). I have made pies with lard, butter, and lard and butter. I found the all-butter pie crust tastes the best hands down. I also use frozen butter in my food processor. The flakiness is divine and is surprisingly super easy to work with.

    Now, my question is SHRINKAGE! I have yet to find a flaky pie crust that doesn’t shrink too much. I never had much problem before I moved to the mountains. I’m trying hard to believe that altitude (8,000 ft.) isn’t affecting my pies like it affects everything else. Could it be the water content and the lack of humidity? I’m grasping. PJ! Help!

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid

      Michelle, are you resting the dough after rolling it out and putting it in your pan? That’s the single most effective way to counteract the dough shrinking. It lets the gluten relax and stay put better. Susan

  54. drunogluten

    I hope that one of these days you will find time to test principles of pie crust baking, using gluten free flours/starches. Pie crusts remain my only challenge after years of GF baking. GF flours are delicate and difficult to transfer to the pan without breaking, consequently I use 1.5 x the recipe, roll it out, and transfer it, which makes a thick crust. I’ve tried various recipes and combinations with varying degrees of success, but have never been completely satisfied with the outcome. There are now becoming available frozien pre-made pie crusts in pans, most of which are tolerable, a couple of which are downright awful. My discouragement with pie crust baking process has led me to pay the high price for the Whole Foods Bakehouse GF crust, which is the best of the pre-made lot. However, their crusts are usually cracked in the pan, so after defrosting them, I knead the cracks together with my fingers. I’ve purchased the new KAF pie crust mix. I’m waiting for KAF to develop a GF pie crust mix, as all of their mixes are far and away the best on the market, and most especially their Baking Mix. I have read the GF pie crust recipe using Clear Jel on your website, and for the same reason I don’t like xanthan gum (texture), I’ve resisted using CJ, but this will be the next recipe I try. Thanks for all your GF contributions to our community.

    Reply
    1. Amy Trage

      I think you’ll love our GF pie crust recipe. I’ve made it many times and NEVER had trouble with breaking or cracking. I will add your suggestion for the GF pie crust mix to our customer wish list. We really appreciate your feedback- keep the comments coming! ~Amy

  55. anam

    Hi there! Please tell me can i use butter or vegetable butter instead of shortening or wax to make candle at home?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Save that butter, vegetable butter and shortening for baking and use the wax for candle making! Happy Baking – Irene@KAF

  56. Gambles

    This is a fascinating, informative blog so thanks very much from someone who has previously had NO success with pie crusts.

    I do have a question though. I was actually sitting here reading my latest KAF catalog with the tv on when I heard a viewer question to a cooking test kitchen show. The viewer was asking a general question about GF flour. Part of the answer was that GF flour can’t be used because you end up with just dry crumbles with no structure for a crust. That makes perfect sense since it seems that one of the tricks to a good pie crust is minimal manipulation so you don’t form much gluten.

    But it made me wonder: Has anyone ever tried using a combination of gluten free and any flour that contains gluten to end up with a crust with more flakes but enough structure to hold together???

    Thanks,
    Suzanne

    Wow!! I just saw my very first KAF commercial/sponsership while I was typing this question. Is it sad that I found that very exciting?? I’m truly addicted to KAF.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Gambles – It is possible to make a completely GF pie crust using the same technique you just learned. The texture is not identical to a crust made with a wheat flour but comes close. We have a recipe on our site called Gluten free Pie Crust. Please take a look! An addiction to King Arthur Flour is not a bad thing! Happy baking! Elisabeth@KAF

    2. Gambles

      Thanks Elisabeth, but I guess I wasn’t clear. I’m not gluten free. I was just wondering if GF flour would lower the gluten in the pie crust dough to make it flakier. I’m fascinated by the science behind baking so it seemed a small amount of GF flour added to regular flour might make it easier to prevent too much gluten from forming during the process of making the crust which, of course, makes a tough crust..

      I thought perhaps someone at KAF might have tested that hypothesis at some point. I just realized that could actually make an interesting science fair project for any young bakers out there….

      If the quest is to lower the protein, the best thing to do is to use a flour with lower protein in it, like pastry flour. The GF blend, while finely ground, can give a gritty texture if mixed with a low-water formula. While it’s tempting to use ingredients as the ticket to a desired result, technique is really the key, as in not mixing any more than you absolutely have to, and giving the dough a chance to rest/chill/hydrate evenly. Susan

  57. Patissiere

    All pie makers know there are few things as rewarding as a well-made/good-tasting pie crust. Look, smell, feel, workability and ultimately taste, all come together to create that “just what I was wanted” experience. And when baked and eaten, it’s a sensory experience capable of creating a one-of-a-kind in-the-moment delight, or transporting us to the plates of our youths. As a professional baker, to this day I often still experiment with my pâte brisée (pie dough), tweeking here, trying different ratios and raw materials there. Good luck to all. Chef Dave Galasso

    Reply

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