Crisco, a solid white vegetable shortening, has tenderized pie crusts since 1911. Procter and Gamble originally produced the shortening as an alternative to animal-based fats that had a shorter shelf life. Crisco consists of vegetable oils that undergo a hydrogenation process to make them stable and solid at room temperature. Crisco, or one of its alternatives, keeps pie crust tender instead of tough.
Lard is the rendered fat of pigs. Pie crust recipes older than Crisco's 1911 release date called for lard or butter as the shortening agent. Although it is a saturated fat and, therefore, solid at room temperature, lard is only 40 percent saturated, which compares favorably to coconut oil and palm kernel oil, two highly-saturated vegetable fats. Substitute lard for Crisco in a one-to-one ratio in any pie crust recipe that calls for solid shortening. Despite its animal origin, lard imparts no porky flavor to food.
Unlike Crisco and other pure-fat shortenings, butter contains water in addition to its solid fats. Butter is also temperature-sensitive; bakers chill it and cut it into tiny pieces for pie dough instead of adding it in one portion as they do with Crisco. A butter crust flakes, while a Crisco crust is more tender. Butter also browns more easily than Crisco; if a baker desires a golden crust, adding butter instead of or alongside another shortening helps. As butter contains water, subtract 2 tbsp. water from a recipe that requires it for every cup of butter used in place of Crisco. Butter also imparts a rich and distinctive flavor.
Frying bacon produces copious fat that solidifies at room temperature. This solid fat can double as a shortening in pie crust. However, it has a strong smoky flavor that clashes with many pie flavorings; diners may not appreciate a bacon-flavored key lime pie. Use bacon fat instead of Crisco for pot pies, meat pies and quiche crusts. Its salty smokiness enhances a meat- or egg-based savory pie.
Crisco's hydrogenation process makes it solid at room temperature, but chefs who prefer to use monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats can use liquid oils in pie crust recipes. Substitute oil at a ratio of 7/8 cup of oil to each cup of shortening. Oil makes a softer crust than a solid fat, so account for spreading when pinching pleats in the pie crust. Mix the crust by hand instead of in a processor to keep it from turning too soft to handle easily.
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