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Nov 16, 2013 08:16 PM

Desperately seeking salty pie crust

I have tried almost every pie crust known to man: butter, lard, crisco, combo butter/crisco, vinegar, vodka, egg, baking powder, buttermilk, etc. and I am never satisfied with the taste of the crust.

I am not talking about tenderness or flakiness. But TASTE.

Am I wrong in expecting pie crust to be salty? I am NOT expecting it to be over-salted, mind you. But salty enough to resemble a pastry shop crust. I thought pie crust is supposed to taste like salted butter so that the saltiness of the crust contrasts with the sweetness of the sweet pie filling (whether it's apple pie or pecan pie or pumpkin or whatever). I don't know if this is a matter of using salted butter (all the recipes say use UNSALTED butter), adding more salt, or using a recipe that omits sugar (all of them seem to require sugar).

Any pie experts in Chowland who can solve this mystery?

By the way, I recall reading a cookbook where it said that the "fad" of using unsalted butter in all baked goods usually results in an under-salted (and UNDER-FLAVORED) product. I am gonna see if I cam remember who said that. However I always follow recipes to a TEE and I have been using unsalted butter in all crust recipes.

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  1. Now this is where I just start experimenting. Add 1/4 tsp salt to your favourite recipe and go from there. I understand wanting to test the original recipe, but if they all have unsatisfactory saltiness, why keep trying the same salt : flour ratio over and over? I mean if you want I can post one of the standard recipes with extra salt added...then you can say you followed a recipe.
    I do whole-heartedly agree that under salted baking is a travesty.

    1. There's no reason not to use either salted butter, or just to add salt if you are using unsalted butter to begin with.

      Most bakers that I know default to using unsalted butter for most baking applications because it's all about control. They like to control the flavor and salinity quotient.

      If you want more salt, use more salt. No magic. No secret.

      1 Reply
      1. re: ipsedixit

        I like my baked goods on the salty side and almost always use salted butter. I suppose I could just add more salt but I've never had any complaints.

      2. I don't expect pie crust to be salty, and am happy with one made with unsalted butter and an average amount of salt. (And it's much more important to me that the filling not be overly sweet, to my taste.) That said, if you like other aspects of a particular recipe (texture, handling, etc.) but find it lacks salt to your taste, add more salt.

        1. I use salted butter and then rarely add salt. Taste taste taste.

          You can make up your starter crust, then add a bit of salt, bake a bit of it off (like a mini cookie) and taste. Repeat till you get to where you like, and remember how much salt you added/write it down. I always taste a bit of the dough before rolling out just to be sure

          14 Replies
          1. re: autumm

            Well I'm a little concerned now that my expectations are wrong. Why is it that most pie crust in stores or bake shops are on the salty side, and most recipes are not?
            Have these commercial pies conditioned me to expect all crusts to be salty? And when I make crust at home it tastes under- flavored?

            1. re: helena143

              Make what you want to eat. If you prefer a slightly salty crust, that's fine. Perhaps as you find a home made version with a saltiness you prefer, the store bought ones will seem TOO salty. Which is my current situation. I usually use a mixture of lard and the Costco butter, so the salt level is consistent for me.

              Pie crust for me is a technique instead of a recipe. If it's a humid day, things are different, so I look at my product and use the recipe as a guideline. I usually work with Kenji's from Serious Eats/CI, but not always. I just wish I would have known to ask my grandmother her crust recipe before she died. All I know was "lard" That info with her pie pan doesn't help me too much

              1. re: helena143

                I haven't noticed commercial pie crusts are saltier, but of course mass produced food is typically saltier and sweeter. I can definitely see the advantage of salty crust with sweeter fillings. With something like pumpkin pie, though, not sure it would help since the filling is already not too sweet and with a savoury element. With apple and a lot of my other favourite fruit pies, the flavour balance is about sweet and sour, and I'm not sure how much salt is needed there (but always some, of course!).
                Now with over the top sweet fillings like pecan pie or the Canadian classic butter tart, a salty crust goes a loooonnggg way. And recipes do need to be chosen carefully (a butter tart with a bland crust is just sweetness, no complexity, yuck).
                Anything with graham cracker crust has plenty of salt from the commercial crackers, I suspect. And cream cheese has lots of salt so those cheesecake type of pies have that.
                Sorry for my earlier slightly snarky post, I had a few beers last night. And now you have me thinking in a more productive way.

                1. re: julesrules

                  I added Kosher salt to a graham cracker crust recipe for cheesecake.... and it was AWESOME! It's become my new crust for cheesecakes.

                  I haven't tried it with other types of pies, but I bet with a chocolate/nut pie, it would work.

                  I love the salty/sweet combo.

                  1. re: luvcubs

                    They put pretzels in with the graham crax for their cheesecake crust on the Chew last week.

                    1. re: sandylc

                      Thanks everyone for your advice. I think what I am going to do is use salted butter and reduce the salt amount add to the recipe and see how that goes.

                      1. re: helena143

                        Sounds like you'll be right back where you started.

                        Simply add more salt.

                        1. re: helena143

                          I am also confused...why don't you just add more salt?

                          I find that about 1 tsp for a 2 cup flour ratio is fairly salty using salted butter. Why would you use salted butter, then REDUCE the salt? That doesn't make sense.

                          1. re: sedimental

                            because I am afraid of adding too much salt

                            i am thinking of doing salted butter plus 1/4 teaspoon salt

                            i may do this plus make another batch with unsalted butter and increased salt and see which one i like better

                            1. re: helena143

                              keep the amount of salt in your recipe but also use salted butter. before the dough comes completely together taste it. then you can still add even more salt and still work the dough.

                              1/4 tsp is totally a drop in the bucket.

                              1. re: helena143

                                ?? it's pie crust FGS. Do you think there are 'pie crust police' waiting for you if you make a 'mistake'? Oops, maybe your internal critic is alive and well - so many of us have one, me too.

                                Autumn had the practical suggestion: make a batch, with salted butter, divide into X amounts. Leave one untouched add increasing (by 1/4 tsp.) kosher salt to each. Use a different cut-out form for each and write it down (circle = 1/4, triangle = 1/2). Keep tasting till it seems good. Taste it.

                                sedi mental and sandylc below and others have solid observations.

                                Mario Batali said it best (bluntly) to a visitor on his old Molto show who asked why his cooking wasn't as tasty/good as M's:
                                "your food doesn't taste (like mine) because you don't use enough salt, it has too much water in it and you're scared of


                                1. re: helena143

                                  That won't be enough salt. Like I said, look at recipes with 1 tsp of salt. Go from there. You already know that 1/4 tsp is too little...why keep making the same mistakes?

                                2. re: sedimental

                                  I'm confused, too. There is a very simple solution here.

                        2. re: helena143

                          It's likely more a matter of EVERYTHING you eat actually. Our taste buds get used to the amount of salt they taste all the time. If you lighten the salt in your diet they will also adjust down and you will also be able to taste flavors that you couldn't before. Salt really gums up their sensitivity to flavors.
                          You can use salted butter and then add more salt if you like.
                          Just be aware though a crisco crust that tastes salty is death on a stick. I'm the opposite of you trying to decrease the salt and not lose the flavor. My pie that can yield 10 full size pieces has less than 96 mg of salt in each piece and 8/10ths of a tablespoon of butter in each piece, and 45 calories from refined sugars. It's nearly a perfectly yummy and healthy way to get a serving of fruit! I make a butter crust that takes some skill to make it remain flaky.

                      2. I prefer lard crusts with salt. Flakey, dry and "short"... light salt when you lick your lips :) They are "old fashioned" tasting to me. I like a butter/lard mix too. I think the old recipes using some lard may contain more salt.

                        I think modern American pie crusts have devolved into being overly sweet, overly moist, flabby, and bland. I use the same pie crust for sweet and savory pies. I don't like sugar in a sweet pie crust either.