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can a pie crust taste good without butter?

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Hi all,

Sadly, I am butter challenged, just can't eat the stuff. My pie crusts are good using transfat free shortening, but nothing to write home about. Is there any way to improve the flavor of my pie crust (flour, shortening, salt, sugar, ice water) without butter?

Thanks for your help.

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  1. I never use butter in pie crust. It doesn't have the tenderizing power that shortening does. Just be sure to get a good quality shortening and don't forget a little bit of salt. The flavour is really in the filling.

    1. Yes, try lard.

      1 Reply
      1. re: nosh

        Oops. Sorry, I meant lard, too. I always use lard.

      2. you might want to try making one of the egg//lemon juice variations which will add a little bit more complexity to the flavor and tenderness to the dough. An awful lot of traditional american pie, including that I grew up with that won prizes at the state fair was made without butter - the crust is about crisp/tender texture as much as flavor - so if your filling is flavorful, it really wont matter so much.

        3 Replies
        1. re: jen kalb

          I have a recipe from Saveur that might be the one you are referring to, Jen. It uses vegetable oil and milk. However, i have adapted it to use part whole wheat pastry flour, and a healthier oil. It is a really, really good crust, way easier than making a butter crust, and people are absolutely shocked to find out it doesn't have butter or shortening. (I don't eat the transfat-free shortening because it's palm oil which is very high in saturated fat - and it doesn't taste as good as this crust).

          2 2/3 c. flour (I use about a cup of whole wheat pastry flour, and the rest all-purpose flour)
          1 tsp. salt
          2/3 c. oil (I use organic canola, or half canola, half macadamia nut oil)
          6 T. skim milk

          Mix the flour and salt in a bowl. Put the oil in a measuring cup, then add the milk without stirring. Dump that in the flour and mix briefly. Do NOT refrigerate. Shape into 2 balls. Flatten one ball and roll out between two sheets of wax paper. If it breaks apart, just smush it together - this crust is easily repairable. Remove the top sheet and turn the pastry over into the pie pan. Fill the pie, then repeat with the second layer. Cut vents in the top, then brush with a tiny bit of milk and sprinkle with sugar. Bake the pie at 400 for the first 10 minutes, then reduce to 350 or 375.

          1. re: sourcherry

            Here's a version of the pastry made with egg and some lemon juice mixed with the water that I referred to. It makes a good tasting pastry and is very forgiving to roll
            http://www.betterbaking.com/viewRecip...

            I looked up the composition of the transfree crisco and it is NOT made with palm oil, by the way

            The following recipe for state pen pie crust looks like the american standard (I would add a bit of salt and sugar) So much of this is rolling technique, the old light hands with pastry , and experience!

            1. re: sourcherry

              what a delicious crust. i used it last night for a raspberry/blackberry galette and was so grateful to be able to share in the seasons bounty without butter. thank you. i used homemade almond milk instead of the milk....fyi.

          2. My mother has always used Crisco. Her mother used generic shortening. Mom's grandfather (who cooked for a firestation on the weekends and the Ohio State Penitentiary during the week, so he HAD to cook well... or he'd have some dangerous and hungry men on his hands.

            But nobody in my makes pie crust with butter, and our crust is spectacular! It's not sophisticated, but it's as flaky as... well, I can't think of anything quite as flaky.

            State Pen Pie Crust
            2 cups flour
            1 cup shortening
            approximately a cup of ice water

            Get a big bowl, spread out a clean, smooth towel and a rolling pin. Flour surfaces of towel and rolling pin. Pour flour into the bowl and loosely mix shortening in with your fingers as if playing with something icky until you create marbles. Then create a little well in the center. Pour approximately ¼ to ½ a cup of cold water into the well, then bring in the side of the well like a reverse volcano, until you get a congealed but loose ball. Gather your ball and gently plop onto floured towel. Using the rolling pin, roll it into a circle. Ease it into your pie pan. Pour in filling and cover the edges with foil. Bake at 425 for ten minutes. Remove foil and bake at 350 until pie is done!

            4 Replies
            1. re: lisafaz

              This is exactly the pie crust recipe I learned growing up with the addition of a tsp of salt.

              1. re: mollyomormon

                I find that the salt is critically important, not only for taste, but to keep the crust from being tough, although I don't understand the mechanism.

              2. re: lisafaz

                Lisafaz, thanks for posting this,....
                It sounds relatively easy.
                I am a good cook, but a baker, I'm not, and I have always been afraid to tackle a pie crust...but this actually sounds doable.
                Does the shoretening have to be cold, the way butter has to for a crust?
                I also assume Crisco is good to use.

                I want to try it!!

                1. re: NellyNel

                  I never chill my Crisco(I use a very similar recipe, but add salt and 1T sugar), but it certainly wouldn't hurt.

                  The real magic bullet, however, came from Cooks Illustrated. They replaced some of the water with vodka. Brilliant! The flour needs water to develop gluten, so if you remove some of the water, the dough stays much more tender and is much easier to handle. It's awesome!

              3. I use butter flavor Crisco.

                4 Replies
                1. re: Kelli2006

                  I find it too yellow.

                  1. re: sarah galvin

                    From someone who suddenly found themselves with a blocked artery at the tender age of 44, let me just say please stop eating that stuff! I regret every pie crust made with shortening I ever ate ...especially now that I make a healthy one (see above) that's just as good!

                    1. re: sourcherry

                      With all due respect, I think this condition is predisposed. My father is 82 and ate pie all his life. Pie made with lard and shortening. So I appreciate your concern but if I was concerned about my health, I would cut pie altogether. Nothing wrong with just fruit.

                      1. re: sourcherry

                        thanks for the recipe. how does it compare texture-wise to a traditional crust? I make my grandmother's butter/Crisco recipe but reduce the fat by about 75%. It makes a very thin, cracker-y crust, but my husband has been eating so long he's learned to like it better than the "greasy" kind. (not me unfortunately, but then cake is my weakness, not pie)

                  2. Many, many people feel the only good pie crust is made with lard.

                    1. Maybe it's what you're used to. I've experimented with all sorts of pie crusts, but the one I like best, in the end, is what my mom used to make -- plain old Betty Crocker pie crust, made with standard vegetable shortening, don't skimp the salt. Butter crusts taste weird (kind of good, but not right), lard feels greasy and not right, shortening tastes just right. To me.

                      I've never tried transfree. For the rare occasions (3-4 times/year) I eat pie crust, I use standard shortening.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Karen_Schaffer

                        TransFREE? Ridiculous.

                        Half butter, half Crisco. The best there is.

                      2. I use rendered lamb fat. Great texture and flavor. Believe it.

                        1. Others have already mentioned lard (although watch out for hydrogenated lard, which has trans fats -- latino markets tend to carry the natural stuff). However if you want reeeeally tasty crust, try coconut fat. Obviously won't work with all pies, but damn it's tasty.

                          1. i used to do the most complicated butter crusts all the time. until i discovered the much much easier and much much healthier oil crust. it's super duper flaky too. it's so easy it's worth trying at least once:

                            http://www.cooks.com/rec/view/0,1937,...

                            yes, genetics plays a role in heart disease, but what you eat does too.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: chartreusevelour

                              This is fascinating to me. My wife's grandmother is Sfardic, from the Turkish tradition, and she makes all these unbelievable, flaky pastries using oil and no butter or shortening. I had never questioned the idea that a solid fat was required, but this rocked my world and I've been planning on going that route for pie crusts. Glad to hear that I'm not alone in this realization. It has to be a lot less work!

                              1. re: michaelnatkin

                                hmm. what kind of oil? i use canola, but i've been thinking about experimenting with nut oils.

                            2. Thank you so much for all this fantastic information. I plan to try crusts with the egg/lemon combination, the oil recipe, and Crisco. Crisco, by the way, has changed its formula, and is now transfat free. Years ago, I used regular Crisco in the blue can and the crust was good, as long as I didn't overhandle the dough. Could have used a little more flavor. I appreciate knowing that you are making delicious crusts without butter. I'm an OK baker at best, although I try really hard to get good results from my recipes. Thank you for sharing your pie crust recipes, tips, and suggestions with me.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: addicted2cake

                                I have made zillions of pies using the now-classic recipe using Crisco and including an egg and vinegar (recipe follows). It's easy, delicious and for the 3 times a year I actually bother to make pies, I carry no guilt about the trans fat issue (Canadian Crisco has not been reformulated yet).

                                Recently, however, I started to make the same pastry using half butter/ half Crisco. It's still easy to work with and maybe a bit more flavourful for the butter.

                                I have also heard people suggest using solid coconut oil in place of Crisco. I haven't tried it yet but I'm very intrigued. I don't like lard - I realize it gives excellent flakiness, but it tastes porky to me. And not in a good way, either.

                                4 cups all-purpose flour
                                1 tbsp. granulated sugar
                                1/2 tsp. salt
                                1-3/4 cups solid vegetable shortening, very cold (frozen, even)
                                1/2 cup water
                                1 tbsp. vinegar
                                1 egg

                                In a very large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, and salt. Cut the vegetable shortening into chunks and add to the flour mixture in the bowl. Now with a pastry blender or two knives cut the shortening into the flour mixture until it is very crumbly and resembles coarse oatmeal.

                                In a smaller bowl, beat together the water, vinegar, and egg until blended. Stir into the flour mixture, tossing gently until everything is evenly dampened and it forms a soft dough. Don’t stir and don’t mash - you want the whole mess to stay lightly mixed.

                                With well-floured hands, form the dough into five equal pieces, patting them into flattish disks and flouring the outsides well. Wrap individually in plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour or two, or freeze to use some other time.

                                Makes enough pastry for 5 individual 9 or 10-inch pie crusts.

                                1. re: Nyleve

                                  Thanks, Nyleve. This recipe is similar to one I cut out several years back from the Boston Globe. The woman using this recipe won some blue ribbons for her pies, so it must be good. Thank you, also, for your frozen berry pie recipe from last week. I needed help making a frozen berry pie that wasn't so labor intensive and your recipe was a charm! I had very little of it as my husband and son polished it off in no time. A delicious pie!

                                  1. re: addicted2cake

                                    Great to hear. Enjoy!

                                    Oh and by the way, I always make a full recipe of that pastry dough, divide it into 5 disks, wrap tightly and freeze. That way there's almost always some pastry in the freezer if I happen to want to make a pie for some reason and I don't feel like messing around with making dough.

                              2. I haven't tried it, but the mother of the olive oil vendor at a local farmer's market wrote a cookbook where she uses olive oil for the crust. I don't have the cookbook readily handy, but I could dig it out if you are interested. The other recipes in the cookbook that I have tried were lovely, and the vendor says the pie crust is wonder. He's someone whose food opinion I trust.

                                Anyway, I googled to see if there were online recipes and there are ... including this Chow article about olive oil pies.
                                http://www.chow.com/media/3891

                                Then again, this article by a website devoted to olive oil talks about how the crust will be crumbly rather than flakey if you use olive oil ... or any oil rather than a solid fat.
                                http://www.oliveoilsource.com/SCRIPTS...

                                If you are interested, I could ask the vendor what type of olive oil to use. I've been a little curious about that.

                                Thinking about liquid vs solid fat in a pie crust, I started to wonder if anyone used mayo. Don't know how it tastes or works ... but here you go (I didn't link to the recipe that used Miracle Whip ... This uses Hellman's
                                )http://www.cooks.com/rec/view/0,1737,...

                                6 Replies
                                1. re: rworange

                                  Thank you for the olive oil info. I'm really going for flakey as opposed to crumbly for my crust. Mayo for crust? Hmm. It's oil, eggs, & vinegar, so maybe??

                                  1. re: addicted2cake

                                    I think the oil crust I posted above is pretty flaky, rather than crumbly. Did anyone try it? You will be surprised how good it is!

                                    1. re: sourcherry

                                      Sourcherry, I tried your recipe in the Fall with a pumpkin pie, subbing soy milk for the milk. It was delicious. I meant to thank you for passing the recipe along ages ago. Thank you for sharing. It was very tasty and flakey. YUM!!

                                    2. re: addicted2cake

                                      Try coconut oil, it's solid at room temperature.

                                      1. re: piccola

                                        Just may give this a try as I love coconut and I know I can purchase this at Whole Foods.
                                        Thanks for the suggestion!

                                        1. re: addicted2cake

                                          It helps if you keep it cold, just like butter. Let me know how it goes!

                                  2. There are some good butter substitutes like Earth Balance that even come in buttery flavor.

                                    4 Replies
                                    1. re: lgss

                                      Do you mean the Earth Balance Buttery Sticks? I've seen them at Whole Foods. Have you tried this? I tried some time back with the Earth Balance in the tub, and my crust was a greasy mess. Probably spread wasn't cold enough, I added too much liquid, or I mishandled the dough. I love EB on toast and I use it for cookies (tub) with good results.

                                      1. re: addicted2cake

                                        Yes, I mean the sticks. I don't think the crust recipe we use calls for butter but we've used it in other recipes. The nut crust we use doesn't get rolled out, just patted into place in the pie pan.

                                        1. re: lgss

                                          Thanks for getting back to me on this. I'll pick up some EB buttery sticks next time I'm at the market.

                                          1. re: addicted2cake

                                            I almost always use EB and I love it! It is helpful to use so that I can share with my dairy-free and vegan friends, too, without having to make recipe changes.

                                    2. Lard -- gulp.

                                      1. Not sure the source of your butter challenge, but if you can eat dairy, try binding the crust with buttermilk or sour cream instead of water.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: Erika L

                                          Thanks, Erika. I'm dairy challenged, too. Butter is the worst for me. Sadly, way too rich.

                                        2. I'm sorry, but you can't beat butter for flavor. Shortening and lard are great for texture, but you need the butter for flavor. I have seen a bacon fat crust. I don't know how it would taste. I've done every type of crust with different combos. Butter is really the best flavor. For cream pies, a pure butter crust would be a waste. I think things like pumpkin and cream pies do better with shortening where you really would not be able to taste the crust and you need a certain texture that only shortening can provide. However, for fruit pies, the butter crust really stands out.

                                          1. Have you tried Earth Balance? They have a butter flavor variety.

                                            1. Substitute the full amount of butter with Earth Balance Buttery Sticks, all except for a tiny bit of butter. I am butter sensitive and if I just reduce the amount way down, I can get by. Start with one tablespoon (for the whole pie). That will give you some butter flavor. Then add my secret ingredient - 1 to 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar to substitute for some of the liquid. People go wild for this. Let me know how it goes.
                                              Cheers!

                                              8 Replies
                                              1. re: ESBW1

                                                Maybe I could get by with the tiniest amount of butter. I have apple cider in the fridge. I'll think about this. Thanks ESBW1 for your input. I thought this thread was out to pasture. It's nice to see it's made a come back among all the new posts.

                                                1. re: addicted2cake

                                                  Just curious why you keep apple cider vinegar in the fridge? I never have and it has never gone bad.

                                                  1. re: pilotgirl210

                                                    I'm sure you're right about this. Not sure why it's in there, as I keep other vinegars in my kitchen cabinets, opened and unopened. It might have been a space issue at the time and I never moved it. I should check the best by or expires by date on my fridge bottle. Probably time to get some new vinegar!!

                                                    1. re: pilotgirl210

                                                      My apple cider vinegar is organic and has a "mother" in the bottle. Refrigeration is necessary to keep it from souring.

                                                      1. re: ChefJune

                                                        I know I'm missing something here. A "mother" in the bottle? I hate to sound dumb, but what do you mean? I've never heard of this.

                                                        1. re: ChefJune

                                                          I have Bragg's, with the mother, and I leave it out. Off to google this souring thing...

                                                          Addicted, it is mother of vinegar- a cloud of the microorganisms that produce vinegar. 'Regular' vinegar it is already removed.

                                                          1. re: rohirette

                                                            Thanks, rohirette, for explaining. Just learned something new!

                                                      2. re: addicted2cake

                                                        I usually do half earth balance and half organic palm shortening, EB has a tendency to shrink, so the shortening helps. Also use the sticks. They work better!

                                                    2. Coconut oil, if you don't mind a slightly coconutty taste.

                                                      1. A couple of people I know swear by mayonnaise pie crust. Here's a recipe link: <http://www.ifood.tv/recipe/mayonnaise...>

                                                        1. I once learned how to make a simple Provençal pastry dough, which uses olive oil and no butter, for a quiche recipe...but I liked the crust so much I've used it for other pies as well. It's delicious - here's the recipe, from Simple French Food by Richard Olney.

                                                          Provençal Pastry for pie crust

                                                          2 cups flour
                                                          1/4 cup olive oil
                                                          1/4 cup tepid water
                                                          1 egg
                                                          1/4 tsp salt
                                                          (plus extra flour for working surface)

                                                          Place the flour, salt, egg, olive oil and water in a mixing bowl. Mix it together with a fork, and then knead it together with your knuckles until mixed through. Form into a ball, cover the bowl with a towel, and let rest for at least an hour.

                                                          After resting, roll out pastry. Line the bottom of a pie pan, put in pie mixture of choice and cover with another piece of rolled-out pastry. Roll in the edges and press with a fork. Cut a V in the middle to vent. Brush top lightly with additional olive oil if desired.

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: senorverde

                                                            Thanks so much for the recipe. I was very pleased with the oil crust I made for a pie back in the Fall. This recipe looks very good. I'm putting it on my list of crusts to try. I've been lazy, lately, making graham cracker crusts or no crusts. Time to whip out my rolling pin! :)

                                                          2. Coconut oil makes the best pie crust I have ever tasted! Plus it is very healthy and slimming to cook with. I use it for everything! I use organic for all my ingredients, mostly. Here is my apple pie recipe........
                                                            Crust- 2 cups flour-1 cup coconut oil-pink salt-water
                                                            Apples-cinnamon-sugar-flour, mix and set aside while you make the crust.
                                                            My pies turn out so darn delicous, but I must admit the crust tends to break apart before cooking, but i just pat it together and once it bakes it is awesome. I think that i need to work out the oil and flour ratio, to get it to roll out better, but the end result is so good, I haven't bothered yet......Do some research on Coconut oil. I could go on and on about this amazing oil, we use it on our popcorn, to cook eggs, and wow baked french fries in coconut oil, and add an onion to the mix, it is out of this world delicious and healthy even.......

                                                            3 Replies
                                                            1. re: Janay

                                                              I was under the impression that coconut oil isn't healthy.

                                                              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coconut_oil

                                                              "The United States Food and Drug Administration,[2], World Health Organization,[3] International College of Nutrition,[4] United States Department of Health and Human Services,[5] American Dietetic Association,[6] American Heart Association,[7] British National Health Service,[8] and Dietitians of Canada[6] recommend against the consumption of significant amounts of coconut oil due to its high levels of saturated fat."

                                                              Not to say it doesn't work well or taste good. I was just surprised to see it described as healthy or slimming.

                                                              1. re: rworange

                                                                Here's a link pro coconut oil.. .http://www.thaifoodandtravel.com/feat...

                                                                Coconut oil has been misunderstood, for many years, I have come to understand so much more about it and have used it and seen the positive effects, I feel comfortable suggesting it's use, since I have done much research, but I always tell everyone to do some research, so that they can decide for themselves.

                                                                I don't really look to the agencies you have listed above, for one, the FDA will not approve the use of coconut oil, because they have deemed it a drug and cannot regulate it. and with the information online these days I think that an intelligent person can do some pretty in depth research. I do feel it is important to consider the negetive as well as the benefits, and since there is an abundance of Doctors who endorse coconut oil, such as Dr. Mercola, and Dr Oz, just to name two. here is a link on that subject. .http://healthybodydaily.com/dr-oz-in-....

                                                                Hope this helps

                                                                1. re: rworange

                                                                  There is a huge 'movement' lately that claims coconut oil has anti inflammatory properties, plus plenty of claims that saturated fats aren't the demons they've been made out to be.

                                                                  Mary Enig is all about this.

                                                              2. In my experience, my grandmother, mom and aunts all made their pie crusts with lard and tart crusts with butter. Lard gives the crust a flakier texture, and adds its excellent flavor. Butter crusts tend to be less tender, and that's important for a tart, which generally stands alone, while a pie has the support of the pie pan.

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: ChefJune

                                                                  I think that really good (leaf lard specifically) makes the best pie crusts.

                                                                2. No, not to me. Unless you get really excellent lard.