Butter & Shortening Pie Crust
Some people are really passionate about their pie crust. You have your all-butter people, your all-shortening people, your food processor people or pastry cutter people or cream and milk or maybe cream and water or all-water people or people who swear by vodka -- I'm getting carried away. But no matter how you slice it (lol), there are many, many ways to achieve a "perfect" pie crust.
I could go on for hours about pie crust, but I'm not going to. Instead, I'm going to quickly walk us through what makes this pie crust different from the all-butter pie crust recipe on this blog, and what you can expect from the dough once it bakes.
First and foremost, fat content. Shortening is 100% fat, whereas butter is usually 80-85% fat and 20-15% water. When you bake an all-butter pie crust, you're going to get lots of gorgeous flaky layers when you do it right, because the water evaporates as the pie bakes, which turns to steam, which then separates into layers and gives you that puffed-up crust that we all know and love. There's so much to love about an all-butter pie crust, and that's why it's my go-to recipe the majority of the time.
But there are some downsides to an all-butter dough: It's infinitely finicky. Its temperature must be absolutely perfect when you're working with it -- if it's too warm, the dough will stick to your surface and the rolling pin, and it will tear when you're rolling it out. If it's too cold, it will crack into pieces while you're rolling, and you'll have to wait and shape the dough again once it reaches room temperature. And because of the water content and the "puff effect" (maybe I should trademark that), your beautifully-crafted crimps and cut-outs are going to expand and lose their shape.
Wow, I really sold the all-butter crust.
In all its difficulty and diva-ness, all-butter really is, in my opinion, the very best. It's the flakiest and the tastiest, and the hard work you put into it is going to pay off. I promise.
But the second best -- and I mean second best by a smidgeon, it's a very close call -- is a half shortening, half butter crust. It's much softer and less flaky, more crumbly; it's almost like a melt-in-your-mouth shortbread. The dough is not as finicky temperature-wise -- though it is very soft, so it requires very gentle rolling and handling -- and because of the shortening, your crust decorations and crimping will hold their shapes much better.
That said, deciding on dough is totally your call. It may take a few pie bakes to figure out which one you prefer, and if you're like me, you'll welcome an excuse to spend hours in the kitchen with butter and flour.
Shortening & Butter Pie Crust
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 1 tablespoon sugar 1 teaspoon salt 1/2 cup unsalted butter, very cold and cut into cubes 1/2 cup shortening, very cold and cut into cubes 1/2 cup water (you won't use all of this)
DIRECTIONS Pour 1/2 cup water into a measuring cup and plop a few ice cubes in there. Place in the freezer while you make the dough. In a large bowl, whisk flour, sugar and salt until combined.
Add the butter and shortening cubes. Using a pastry cutter, 2 knives or your hands, blend the butter and shortening into the flour mixture, picking up pieces of fat, rubbing them between your fingers and letting them fall back in the bowl. You should still have pieces of shortening & butter in various sizes, ranging from small crumbs to the size of a cherry. Do not blend completely -- you want chunks!
Grab the water from the freezer, and pour a very thin, steady stream of water into the bowl for 5 seconds. Using your hands, toss the water into the dough until you have a slightly shaggy, very slightly tacky dough. It should not be too sticky.
If dough is too dry, add water by the teaspoon until desired consistency is reached. If dough is too sticky, add flour by the tablespoon. Shape dough into 2 balls, roll balls into discs, and wrap in plastic wrap for 2-3 hours or up to overnight until ready to use. Be sure to let your dough discs rest on the counter until they reach room temperature before rolling.