A Tale of Two Pies

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Thanksgiving has finally arrived, but what pie crust recipe will yield the most flaky, delicious crust for all the pies I am going to be making? Pie crusts can be a big hassle. I have tried countless recipes with varying combinations of shortening, butter, oil, eggs, and even the odd ingredient such as vinegar, that promises to be “the best” or “the easiest.”

So this Thanksgiving, I decided to do a little test of my own. I made TWO pecan pies – identical except for the crust – and subjected them to rigorous double blind testing to determine which had superior taste and texture.

For the test, I decided to try out an all butter crust versus an oil crust. (Crisco shortening no longer has a place in my kitchen…med school has taught me that hydrogenated palm oil is very, very bad for you. Trust me, don’t eat it!)

Pie #1 was the clear winner on taste and texture. It was an all butter crust based on a recipe from simply recipes

Butter Pie Crust

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
8 Tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, very-cold, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
4 to 6 Tbsp ice water, very cold
  1. Cut the butter into small cubes and place it in the freezer for at least 15 minutes. This is quite important in putting together a pie crust that will be flaky and tender.
  2. Combine the flour, salt, and sugar
  3. If you have a food processor, feel free to proceed as in the recipe that I linked to above.
  4. As for me, I got out my pastry cutter (you could use a fork or couple butter knives) and went to town. With the flour mixture in a large bowl, add the frozen butter and begin cutting it into smaller pieces. Many people will tell you to get the butter “pea sized” or make the mixture resemble course crumbs. Well, some of my butter was pea sized (even larger) and some was more crumbly. It doesn’t really matter – just get most of the butter broken up and incorporated into the flour
  5. Add 4 tbsp of ice water and mix it in with a fork. DO NOT overwork the dough. We aren’t kneading bread here and do not want to develop the gluten in the dough. You’ll probably need to add another tbsp of water but this depends on the humidity of your kitchen.
  6. When the dough is JUST beginning to hold together (it is still going to be crumbly) put it in a large plastic zip bag. Form it into a ball and place in the refrigerator for about 15 to 30 minutes (this will give you time to make the filling).
  7. Roll out your dough with a rolling pin between two sheets of wax paper and a little flour if needed to keep it from sticking. Flute or crimp the edges.
  8. Fill as desired (I recommend pecan pie filling!) and bake according to recipe.

For those interested, Pie #2 was an oil crust from king arthur flour in which I used canola oil. Don’t get me wrong – this pie crust went together quite easily, looked great, and tasted good. But it lacked the caramely flakiness that only a butter pastry can provide. I’ll definitely pull this recipe out when I want a healthier, quicker alternative. But that day is not today…on to the pecan pie filling!

Pecan Pie Filling

1 cup Karo Corn Syrup
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups pecans (optional – save about 10 nice looking pecans to decorate the top)

Pie crust (use the butter crust!)

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
  2. Mix together the first 5 ingredients in a large bowl.
  3. Stir in the pecans.
  4. Pour the filling into crust and arrange the extra pecans in a circular pattern on the top.
  5. Bake for 60 to 70 minutes

And here is the end result…

It is a far, far better pie that you see here than I have ever made before (sorry, enough with the Dickens references). But truly, the crust is flaky, the filling is SOOOOO sugary and ooey gooey. Happy holidays and enjoy!

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