The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

So... why is a flaky pie crust so desirable?

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Maj. Paranoia's picture
Maj. Paranoia

So... why is a flaky pie crust so desirable?

Ever since I was a kid, I always heard the term "flaky pie crust" and how we should aspire to create one.  I remember commercials for Crisco extolling it's virtues as being the perfect ingredient for a flaky pie crust.  I remember flipping through magazines and seeing ad layouts for Wesson Oil as being the best for a flaky pie crust.  But, for the life of me, I've never known WHY a flaky pie crust is so desirable.


 


Personally, I don't like all those "crumbs" falling off the crust when I'm eating a piece of pie.  They're not only messy, they're more work when I'm trying my darnedest to consume my pie!  LOL


 


So, I ask again.  Why is it so great to have a flaky pie crust?  Is it just to see if people really CAN achieve one?  Is a flaky pie crust the Holy Grail for pie bakers?  Please....  enlighten me!   LOL

Kitchen Barbarian's picture
Kitchen Barbarian

Well flaky doesn't have to mean crumbly!  To me a flaky crust is tender without being too crisp (that's why I don't like butter based pie crusts, they tend to be more cookie like and crunchy)


The effect is from the many thin layers in the crust which are interleaved.  It shouldn't crumble if it's properly made.

bnom's picture
bnom

I always make pie crusts with butter and the crust is not at all cookie like or crunchy.  I find butter is the best way to get that laminated effect you talk about.

Kitchen Barbarian's picture
Kitchen Barbarian

I find butter-based crusts to be MORE cookie like and crunchier than a Crisco based crust.  Not "just like a cookie". 


I don't prefer it.  To each their own.


Traditionally pie crusts were made with lard (at least traditionally in MY family, LOL!)


But I haven't seen lard in years (at least not affordable lard) and the Crisco crust is the next best thing I've been able to find.  At this point it's been so many years since I've had a lard-based pie crust, I may not even like it anymore.

G-man's picture
G-man

I find that butter yields the best laminated effect as well. Everything I bake that I put butter in tends to have a more flaky texture...except cookies. Lard yields the same results with a different flavor.

Perhaps this is due to differences in the method used to make the dough. If I spent the time to stretch out the pie dough I make, I would wind up with phyllo dough. Same basic direction, phyllo dough is just a few steps further down the road.

bnom's picture
bnom

If you're going to quote me, please quote me accurately. I didn't say "just like a cookie." 

Kitchen Barbarian's picture
Kitchen Barbarian

Wow!  I was only trying to differentiate between "just like a cookie" and a bit more cookie like than another recipe!


I didn't quote you at all - where did it say that was a quote from you?  What you did say was "not at all" crunchy/cookie-like, which is not what I find.  Again, to each their own.


Lighten up!  LOL!

Sjadad's picture
Sjadad

Flaky pie crust is desirable if that's what you're trying to achieve.  Also known as "pate brisee," flaky pie crust typically contains little or no sugar, making it versatile for use in savory as well as sweet applications.  The fat is blended in cold.  The classic technique involves a step called "frisage" where the fat is schmeared - technical baking term - into the flour using the heel of your hand.  This creates thin layers or leaves of fat and flour that result in the flaky quality.  The resulting crust has a certain lightness and melts in your mouth (if the fat is butter since it melts at a temperature below body temperature; shortening-based crusts don't have the same melting quality when eaten because shortening's melting point is above body temperature).


Tarts, as opposed to American-style pies, are made either using pate brisee or pate sucree.  Pate sucree, or sugar dough, contains a higher percentage of sugar, egg, and the fat is beaten at room temperature with the sugar until it is fully aerated.  The method is identical to a sugar cookie dough. The resulting crust is more crumbly just like a cookie.


So it all depends on what you're going for.

Maj. Paranoia's picture
Maj. Paranoia

Thank you for sharing that information regarding the different pates.  Of course, I've heard the terms, but have never gotten that far into baking where I'd learned how to make the pate sucree. 


 


My choice of fat (yes, even for a fruit pie) is lard.  I just love the flavor of it!  Maybe because that's what Momma used to use when she'd make pies (which, oddly enough, wasn't that often - at least, not that I recall - and it was usually a blueberry pie for my dad).


 


Several months ago I was reading a "cook" book (really, more about the whys and wherefores and chemical processes) and came across the term "frisage", so I do know what you're referring to.  (But I like your term "schmeared" a lot better!  LOL)


 


Why weren't basic cooking/baking techniques like these taught in my high school Home Ec classes?!  And now I feel like I've failed my daughter because I'm learning about this stuff too late in the game and can no longer teach HER.  (Well, not easily, since she's a mom now herself with 4 young'uns and has little time for cooking/baking lessons - especially with homeschooling them!)  Maybe I should schedule a day when she can bring the children over and we can ALL 'play with dough' and I can show them the proper way to schmear.  ;)


 


What was it an aunt used to say?  "Too soon we grow old.'' ?

Sjadad's picture
Sjadad

I'm a huge fan of using lard in pastry doughs. I've used it with butter, but have never made a 100% lard dough. Hmmm.

Pate sucree is really easy to make - much easier than a regular pie dough. You cream room temperature butter with the sugar until almost white (when you think it's been beaten enough, beat it some more). Then you add the eggs one at a time, scraping the mixer bowl as needed. Add vanilla, some lemon zest, and then add the flour on low speed just until incorporated (I use pastry flour but AP will do just fine). Then you form the dough into a disk, wrap in plasric wrap, and refrigerate overnight. Make a huge batch - it freezes forever. You can find proportions of ingredients on the web or in any good baking book.

MichaelH's picture
MichaelH

Lard has a bad but undeserved reputation in today's world, which shuns the foods that have sustained human life for thousands of years.


Lard and butter 50/50 makes a flaky flavorful crust. Leaf lard is the ultimate lard, and the lard our grandmothers used, although it is hard to find these days.


Michael

Maj. Paranoia's picture
Maj. Paranoia

"beat the hell out of it'.  LOL


"You cream room temperature butter with the sugar until almost white (when you think it's been beaten enough, beat it some more)."


I will definitely have to try the pate sucree.  Sounds like my cup of tea.  The biggest problem I run into is that I generally do so little baking during the heat of the summer.  Even with A/C, who wants to heat up the kitchen when it's 97 degrees with 85% humidity outside?   So, I'm hoping that the sucree will last until the next "cool spell" if I don't use it up before about mid-May.  Or maybe I'll just make a smaller batch now and then a larger one again in October to see me through the winter months.  ;)


 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

a mess of the shape of the dessert.   If the crust is not flaky, that implies solid or tough and when cutting a bite size piece of the pie with the dessert fork, the crust will not give and instead press the filling out sideways as the crust is put under pressure.  


A crust should maintain it's shape, hold a filling, yet give under slight pressure.  If it is a thick crust, it should have enough moisture as to not send the taster looking for the water glass to avoid choking. 

Chuck's picture
Chuck

The first time my father took my mother home, his brothers teased his little sister unmercifully by asking at the dinner table if "somebody could fetch the axe from the woodpile, so they could cut the pie". My mother was so horrified she almost abandoned the whole relationship.


That image has always been my definition of "not flakey".

lazybaker's picture
lazybaker

Flaky pie crust has a better texture. I've made a lot of pie crusts that weren't flaky. Believe me, you wouldn't want to eat them. Some came out so tough. 


I like biting into a good flaky crust. I don't have a problem with flaky messes.

Felila's picture
Felila

I make good, flaky pie crust with butter. (I'd like to try lard, but nothing other than wretched commercial lard is available here in Honolulu. I'd have to get leaf fat and make my own lard.)


I don't use the heel of my hand -- though I might try that, to see if it's faster. I flick my thumb across my fingers, schmearing the butter and flour together in little flakes. I cut the butter fine, then start flicking.


 


 

BellesAZ's picture
BellesAZ

Butter makes a fabulous pie crust and I've had great success with it, but I've found the key is to keep it ice cold and cut it in with your fingers, rub your palms together or use a pastry cutter.  I have used my Cuisinart and it does a pretty good job as long as your cold butter is cut into small pieces before processing.  Avoid overworking the dough because this is what makes it tough - think Biscuits.  Once it's mixed together.. refrigerate your dough for a couple of hours before you plan on rolling it out.  A cold dough with small pieces of butter layered between flour is the key.  My Mom used to add a tsp of vinegar to her crusts and they were always flaky.  She used to say that you should see flecks of butter in the dough when you're rolling out.


The Canadians will tell you that the secret to the best and flakiest crust is using a non-hydrogenated lard - Crisco is a hydrogenated vegetable fat and the crusts have always been sub-par in comparison.. I've tried both.  There is a big difference in American Lard and Canadian Lard - in taste alone!  The lard to use is Tenderflake and can only be found in Canada or online at a Canadian foods site like Canadian Favourites.  The recipe is on the back of the can, but I found the recipe online, just in case:


5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 2 tsp. salt, 1 lb. Tenderflake lard, 1 tbsp. vinegar, 1 egg, lightly beaten, Water


Mix together flour and salt. Cut in lard with pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse oatmeal. In a 1-cup measure, combine vinegar and egg. Add water to make one cup. Gradually stir liquid into flour mixture. Add only enough liquid to make dough cling together. Gather into a ball and make six portions. Each is one shell. Freeze portions seperately if not required immediately. Thaw at room temperature to use.

Maj. Paranoia's picture
Maj. Paranoia

I never knew that there was such a thing as leaf lard.  I guess, like most people, I thought lard was lard. 


I thank you very much for the link to puchase the Tenderflake lard.  Going to order a 3-pounder tonight to make sure it gets here before the heat sets in (I don't want to be wanting to buy it in mid-summer and not able to), then I can just store it in the deep freezer.


I think it was that link that led me to lardy cake.  What a difference in photos (when I Googled what it looked like) between a professional's photo  and what Martha Stewart has on her web page!   LOL


 

BellesAZ's picture
BellesAZ

I think Tenderflake has a long shelf life, but I also keep mine in the freezer/refrigerator and I too, have the bucket.  I have friends in Canada that come to Arizona for the winter and they always bring me my list of goodies.. tenderflake is always on it.


I appreciate that it is far healthier for you than other shortenings.  It makes pie making and eating a bit more enjoyable! 


I think you'll be pleased with the results.  The recipe on the back of the container is a perfect blend for a great pie.  I don't make pies all that often, but when I do, I love Tenderflake if I have it.  If I don't, I use butter, but there is a distinct difference in flakyness, or is that flakiness?  Either way.. good luck!


Also, the recipe on the back makes six single crusts, but I just wrap them individually into thick discs and freeze them.. and pull one out whenever I need one.  They freeze well.

EvaGal's picture
EvaGal

GG Jones was the piemaker for my paternal grandparents' boarding house in Oklahoma during the western expansion of the railroads in the US.  She was so good, they never lacked for tenants! Three generations removed, I recently discovered leaf lard and strive to keep the piemaking tradition alive in my home and pass it onto my homeschooled teenagers. 


I bought some pork fat from a butcher and watched him pull it right out of the rib cage and toss the kidneys aside.  I thought it expensive at $2.50/lb since I then took it home and simmered it all day to turn it into useable leaf lard. (hint: don't pour the liquid fat into a small mouth canning jar. When it is refrigerated, it is tough to scoop out the amount you want.)


EvaGal

Maj. Paranoia's picture
Maj. Paranoia

Well, after many phone calls, I finally found a place where I was able to gt some leaf fat.  I was only able to buy about five pounds of it, but that was good enough to make about 4 pounds of lard.


 


After letting it cool, I "packaged" it into plastic freezer containers and got them into the freezer as soon as possible.


 


I haven't had time yet to make a pie - been too busy getting my veggie garden planted and getting the flower beds cleaned of the weeds (and all the oak tree babies!).  We still have about two more yards of mulch to spread.


 


It looks like, once again, I won't be making a fresh peach pie.  Every one of my little peaches (plus the baby pears, apples, and nectarines) has been hit by some kind of insect that bores holes and lays eggs.  It's not plum curculio.  I need to call the extension office and see if they can tell me what it is and how to avoid this happening next year.


 


But if I can't grow my own organic fruits, those trees are coming out!  If I want fruit that's been sprayed with insecticides, I'll buy it at the grocery store!


 


Thanks to all who talked about leaf lard.  And to those who mentioned making their own.  You gave me the incentive to make my own.  :)


 


 


 

BellesAZ's picture
BellesAZ

Farms nearby might sell them?  What a shame on your peaches.  Sounds like that's a regular visitor to your trees.  I know at my local costco you can buy sliced frozen organic peaches.. they do make a better pie than those store peaches that never seem to ripen up or taste like some mystery fruit.  Hope you have success and if not, you always have a buttermilk, lemon meringue or some of the cream pie or custard pies that could use a beautiful crust.   


Good luck!