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Jan 12, 2010 05:35 PM

Flaky Pastry Crust: Butter vs Shortening

This is really a follows-up from my last post about "Why Chill The Dough?"

The original recipe call for using shortening (Crisco) for fat in the dough. I read other recipes online call for butter, so I tried both. I didn't adjust for the fact that butter has a lot more water in it. I did a straight substitution.

To my surprise, the crust/shells made from Crisco is tighter and crispier, but NOT flakier. The butter one is actually a slightly flakier. As I bite into the butter one, it crumbles and falls apart in thin flakes. I was expecting the shortening one to be flakier because that is I am always told. Is this normal? I wonder if I overbaked, so the Crisco one dried up and the butter one holds up because of the extra moisture.

Ok, now I am onto trying different temperature. The last batch was baked at 325F for 35 min. The up-coming batch are baked at 410F for 10 min. I will update.

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  1. Butter. Always.

    The texture difference may be questionable but for flavor and moistness, butter always wins.

    1. I really like half butter and half vegetable crisco. Get the flavor and flaky of the butter, and the good structure from the crisco.

      Looking forward to your next installment of "Dough Stats."

      7 Replies
      1. re: smtucker

        Ditto on the mix of butter & crisco but I don't exactly do half & half, more like 2/3 butter to 1/3 crisco. I like the texture much better

        1. re: Cherylptw

          I agree. I like to use about 2/3 or even 3/4 butter, and the remainder Spectrum Organic Shortening, which is palm oil. A lot more expensive than Crisco, but I think it tastes better and I only use a little so it lasts a long time.

          1. re: Cherylptw

            Other advantage of using some Crisco (even 25%) in a butter crust is that it improves the workability of the dough quite a bit--seems to broaden the optimal temperature for rolling and handling the dough quite a bit. Helpful especially for beginners, for whom a 100% butter crust tends to split when being rolled out.

          2. re: smtucker

            That's what I do as well. My favorite pie crust recipe if from Baking with Julia. Really excellent crust. Recently I have switched to half butter and half lard.
            It makes an amazing crust.

            1. re: mendogurl

              I like lard also especially when making savory crusts

              1. re: mendogurl

                I just switched recently too. I won't go back. I am going to try and get some leaf lard from the farmers market when they open. Also used it to fry chicken and the chicken absorbed very little of it.

                1. re: mendogurl

                  Another vote for half butter/half lard. I was a diehard half butter/half Crisco pie baker for years, then I got scared of the trans-fatty acids, so no more Crisco. I tried a few faux Criscos, which were crap. All butter was decent (and incredibly flaky), but the butter/lard combo is the best. Just make sure you don't inflict it on veggie friends by mistake!

              2. I always thought that flakiness came from the water in the butter producing steam pushing apart layers of the dough.

                1. Ok, update from the higher temperature baking. It seems high temperature and short baking time produces marginally flakier crust, but then this could simply be a batch to batch variation. In this high temperature batch, the butter one again is flakier than the Crisco one. The difference is noticeable and this diffeence is consistent in at two temperature.

                  Actually, I am not 100% if flakier is the right word. They both crumbles, but the butter one take less force to crumble and there are larger air pocket between layers of crust. When the butter one crumbles it comes off as bigger flakes. The Crisco one crumbles but it comes off as smaller pieces. If I want to exaggerate, I will say imagine a cracker biscuit. It take much force to crumble and when it does, it comes off as very tiny little pieces.

                  Everyone told me Crisco is supposed to create flakier pie crusts. Is there a reason why Crisco can create flakier pie crusts but not tart shells?

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                    Tarts? Oh, butter all the way. Why? Cause that is what my French cousins do and it pairs really well with pastry cream and fruit.

                    1. re: smtucker


                      But I don't want to be French. :P

                    2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                      Chem, you hit on it when you said you were not sure if flakier is the right word. Traditionally, pie crust was made with lard, which (I'm guessing since I never did it that way in the past, and am now veg so it's not gonna happen) combines the best attributes of taste and flakiness to the crust.
                      You don't want soft crumbles (as you saw happen with the all butter crust) in a pie crust. You want some substance to stand up to the pie filling. You aren't making pastry which will stand on its own; pie crust is a component and you have to think of the entire product, both crust and filling.
                      I usually use straight Crisco (again, can't use lard), or a butter and Crisco combo.
                      Your diligence and reportage are to be commended!

                      1. re: mrsdebdav


                        Anyway, I have lard and I have made other stuffs with lard. I so want to make my mini tarts with lard, but I also want to bring my mini tarts to share with coworkers and some of them are vegetarians, so lard won't work.

                        You make perfect sense now. A pie crust requires more strength than my little pasty filling (which does stand on its own). I can see it now. If I had use the butter crust in a filled up full size pie, then it will probably not hold, whereas my stronger Crisco crust will hold. Yeah. Now, it makes sense. Cool. Thanks.

                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                          Hi Chemi,
                          I do use Crisco - maybe I wasn't clear?
                          But I'm glad my answer helped.
                          You're terrific!

                          1. re: mrsdebdav

                            Yeah, I re-read and realized I made a mistake. Thanks for your helpful explanation.

                    3. The most critical point for making a flakey crust has been overlooked here. Unless you make certain that the dough is kept very cold while handling it, whether you use shortening or butter makes little difference. If your dough "dried" up it could be due to the shortening melting in the dough mixture instead of remaining somewhat intact as individual bits and pieces as it should if kept cold.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: todao

                        Yeah, I froze and then refrigerated them. The butter one and the Crisco one are placed in the same muffin tin, so they should be at similar temperature during refrigeration and during baking. Thanks for making sure.