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Homemade Pie Crusts - tricks and tips

 
gardener
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I've had pie on the mind today - one part Permies PIE program stuff, and one part 'I'm on the road and want a damned good slice of pie'.

So for years, I was totally a pie crust buyer. My crusts turned out tough and chewy, and younger, less patient Destiny was like 'Eff troubleshooting, Marie Calender's here I come'. I know, bad.

But once I started to really investigate pie crusts, I figured out a few things I was doing wrong, and then started to slowly hone my pie crust making skills, which are now - dare I say it - quite boss. Quite boss indeed.

So here are a few things I do every time now to get a nice, flaky crust that tastes damned fine a la cart, let alone smothered in chocolate or whathaveyou:

  • Make sure the butter is COLD - Now when I'm about to make a pie crust, the first thing I do is chop up my butter into 1/2 inch pieces, put them on a plate, and put that plate in the freezer for at least 15 minutes, usually 30.


  • Water's gotta be cold, too! - A lot of times I used ice water, before I moved to a house with a 200 foot well. Now my water's always ice cold anyway, so I just use it straight from the tap. However, in the winter, what I really like to do is use snow in place of ice water. It makes for a perfect texture! Of course, just make sure it's in a clean, animal-free area


  • I don't use a pastry blender anymore - In the past I was using a pastry blender, and with the frigid little pebbles of butter, I just could not get that sucker blended just so. I'd love to get some tips on how to do this by hand, but in the mean time, I've learned that the whisk attachment on my KitchenAid mixer does one hell of a fine job, and requires zero elbow grease on my part (there's my lazy kicking in again)


  • You don't have to use butter - Whenever I have the foresight to call the butcher up the road ahead of time, I like to pick up a big box of pork fat, and spend a few days rendering it into beautiful jars of lard and cracklins. Once I used the refrigerated lard in my pie crust recipe, and it had just the slightest hint of bacon to it, and it was positively delightful! I highly recommend giving it a try.


  • Lay down some wax/parchment paper - One of my biggest hangups with making pie crusts is a I never feel like dealing with the freaking mess, flour everywhere. Now I just wrap my cutting board in some waxed paper before I start rolling out the dough, then use that same piece to roll up the pie crust for storage, if I'm making some to freeze. I also just ordered a silicon baking mat like this one so I don't have to keep throwing away wax paper every time.


  • When I'm in the mood to make a pie crust, I make six - That's the thing, I don't always feel like making them. So when the mood strikes, and I'm making them anyway, I make as many as I can with the ingredients I have on hand, and freeze them.



  • So what are your tried and true pie crust tips and tricks? I'm always itching to learn more!
    177782_3296178842903_745672089_o.jpg
    I want a damned good slice of pie
    I want a damned good slice of pie
    901347_4639223738186_193598289_o.jpg
    bacon topped pie!
    bacon topped pie!
    478792_2815089255964_846562147_o.jpg
    chocolate covered strawberry pie
    chocolate covered strawberry pie
     
    steward
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    You got that mostly right.  LOL
    The biggest secret to flaky crust is COLD lard/butter.

    What makes a crust flaky is the fat staying solid until it melts in the oven.
    It holds the layers apart until they begin to cook, ergo flaky.

    For best results, freeze your lard overnight.  
    Then use one of those box type cheese graters (course side) to grate your lard.

    Once it has been mixed, divide in half.  Put top half in freezer while you work the bottom half.
    Remember, you want the lard still solid when you put it in the oven !!
    Cheese-grater.png
    [Thumbnail for Cheese-grater.png]
     
    pollinator
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    I use a grater too
    I also don't use my hands often  I use a cold fork
    Plus I have been known to use a pastry flute , or a egg cup to support the pastry if I am making a big pie.
    Here in France folks are amazed I actually bother to make my own pastry not buy it ready made . ( who knows WTF is in the stuff they buy frankly )
    Anyone make suet pastry or is that a British Isles thing ? Steak and kidney steamed pudding anyone?
     
    David Livingston
    pollinator
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    Also usually I use butter since neither lard nor suet are readily available here in France . Anyone use any other fats or oils . I've tried solid palm oil - not impressed by the outcome honestly . Marge is ok ish  if I have too

    David
     
    gardener
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    I always mix my pie crust by hand. I start off with a fork to break the butter in to smaller pieces and then start grabbing handfuls of flour and 'squishing' it into the butter until the butter has been pressed into small construction paper thick slices that are surrounded by flour. At this point I add the bare minimum of water to make the dough stick together. Frequently this is less than two table spoons. Breaking the butter with a fork first is probably key, as it lets the final squishing be fast enough to not melt the butter.
     
    pollinator
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    This summer, I started making little hand pies and single-serving pies in tiny tins. That way I can pop one out of the freezer and into the oven just for myself without having an entire pie at my disposal.

    A few additions:

    1) Always measure by weight.  It makes a huge difference.  And you can save yourself the mess of using measuring cups.  Just dump into a bowl on a scale until you have the exact right amount of flour.  

    2) I use a food processor to pulse the butter into the flour.  A few pulses and you have perfect pea-sized butter bits.  Then add the ice water and just a few pulses more to bring it together.  

    3) As soon as the ice water is added and the dough just barely, barely comes together, I pat it into discs and put it in the fridge for at least an hour.  The flour gets further hydrated without making the dough tough.  And the cold dough makes rolling out a lot easier.

    And if anyone is looking for a puff pastry, the galette dough over at SmittenKitchen is amazing.  I use it to make and freeze little hand pies.
     
    Destiny Hagest
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    Oh, I love the idea of grating the butter - somehow that never occurred to me.

    Casie Becker wrote:I start off with a fork to break the butter in to smaller pieces and then start grabbing handfuls of flour and 'squishing' it into the butter until the butter has been pressed into small construction paper thick slices that are surrounded by flour.



    I thought of doing this, but I was concerned the heat from my hands working the bits would cause the butter to soften too rapidly? But the last time I tried it was in the bog of Indiana, where it's much warmer and more humid than where I am now.
     
    Casie Becker
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    I think it's a combination of breaking it with a fork first, handling the butter through an insulating layer of flour, and working fast that lets this work. Of course, I also give it an hour rest in the fridge immediately afterwards, which until someone mentioned it above I had never considered not doing with dough.
     
    master pollinator
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    Today it was the first time in my life (I am 60) I used a blender for the pie dough. Before I always did it by hand. With the blender it's a lot faster and better! I knew the butter and water need to stay cold, but my hand is too warm ...
     
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    I have read (although never tried) that using vodka for all/part of the water makes a very flaky crust. Has anyone tried this?
     
    pollinator
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    David Livingston wrote:I use a grater too
    I also don't use my hands often  I use a cold fork
    Plus I have been known to use a pastry flute , or a egg cup to support the pastry if I am making a big pie.
    Here in France folks are amazed I actually bother to make my own pastry not buy it ready made . ( who knows WTF is in the stuff they buy frankly )
    Anyone make suet pastry or is that a British Isles thing ? Steak and kidney steamed pudding anyone?



    I recently made a steak and rhubarb (yes rhubarb) pie with a suet crust.   When I made the crust I mixed the suet, flour and salt in a bowl, gently mixed in cold water until there were no more crumbs, then pressed it into a ball using plastic wrap.  I chilled it in the fridge for an hour or so, then keeping it in the plastic, I gently flattened it into a shape to fit my pyrex pudding bowl, slapped it on top of the steak and rhubarb (precooked), pierced it, and baked it--no steaming.  It was heavenly.  So light and tasty.  I want to try it for a sweet pudding next.

    Note:  even though I live in Britain, I'm not British.  Husband and son are though
     
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    David Livingston wrote:Also usually I use butter since neither lard nor suet are readily available here in France . Anyone use any other fats or oils . I've tried solid palm oil - not impressed by the outcome honestly . Marge is ok ish  if I have too

    David



    I use a Betty Crocker crust recipe that calls for a liquid oil. I typically use grapeseed or some other mild tasting oil. We avoid any vegetable or corn oils in our house. It's a very good recipe and makes a delicate, flakey crust. It is harder to work with though, and really needs to be rolled and handled between two pieces of waxed paper. I've learned you need to roll it and flute it immediately or it dries and crumbles. It's harder to work with in that you need to use the waxed paper and form it immediately, but easier in that you don't need to remember to chill butter/lard and then work that in. In mixes up quickly without any prep.
     
    K Putnam
    pollinator
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    @Gail, a tablespoon of vodka is great, if you have it on hand. I'm more of a bourbon drink so....hahahahahaha...

    But yes, just a bit of vodka can really help, especially if you're not 100% confident with your crust-making skills.
     
    pollinator
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    Here's the vodka/water pie crust recipe.  I guess I'll go with less-than-perfect all butter, and skip the Crisco part ;)  

    http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2007/11/cooks-illustrated-foolproof-pie-dough-recipe.html
     
    David Livingston
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    I forgot to mention I wash my hands in cold water first to cool them down

    David
     
    Destiny Hagest
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    I've never tried vodka before - I'm curious, why does that make for a flakier pie crust?
     
    Gay Hullar
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    Destiny Hagest wrote:I've never tried vodka before - I'm curious, why does that make for a flakier pie crust?



    According to the author it keeps the gluten from developing to much. Very interesting. I may have to give it a try.
     
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    Good to see the pictures of the lovely pies. However I noticed that all the pastry appeared to be using white flour. If you want to make pastry with wholemeal flour it is very important to use warm water to mix into the flour. The temperature of the fat/oil is not so important, but if you use cold water then the pastry is very hard and  cracks easily. Warm for wholemeal!

    Charmian
     
    nancy sutton
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    Apparently, with minimum water plus vodka, you can add more liquid than the typical "use the minimum amount of water" warning allows, letting you 'work' and 'handle' the dough more easily, and as much as you need to.   The vodka doesn't affect ('develop') the gluten like water, and it evaporates away in the heat... neat!  
     
    Destiny Hagest
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    How cool, I'll have to give that a try next time!

    I'd love to make pie crusts with a richer flour, but I've always steered clear of whole wheat flours because I assumed they wouldn't flake like a typical crust should - is that not the case?

    Alternatively, I've been doing the sweet potato "crusts" lately for quiches, and they are so delicious! Just baked sweet potatoes, mashed with butter and salt, then pressed into a springform pan.
     
    pollinator
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    Gail Vance wrote:I have read (although never tried) that using vodka for all/part of the water makes a very flaky crust. Has anyone tried this?

    Yes, Ice cold vodka subbed in for part of the water (not all -1-2 tablespoons worth) does a great job. It evaporates, so the moisture leaves adding to flakiness, and there is no residual taste. Freeze the vodka before using for best results, it will still be liquid.
     
    pollinator
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    I was raised on Crisco crust and told that nothing else would do.  I switched to coconut oil a couple of years ago and haven't looked back.

    I use this style of pastry blender and love it: https://www.amazon.com/Kitchen-Innovations-Perfect-Pie-Blender/dp/B00MU9KHGG/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1472868225&sr=8-1  It's very robust, and the blades come to a V, so it can be crammed right into cold butter.
     
    Roberta Wilkinson
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    Popping in to add some pie porn


    Peach pie from earlier this summer.


    You can't see the insides, but this one was apple.

    Both made with my home sprouted wheat flour.  The top one is coconut oil, but I think the bottom was an experiment with a fancy online recipe for "the flakiest pie crust ever" or something like that, with butter and a bunch of careful chilling and folding.  I didn't think it was worth the hassle over my regular instant gratification recipe.
     
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    Easy pie crust:
    2 cup flour
    1/4 teas. Sea salt
    1/4 teas. Baking powder "aluminum free"
    10-12 T. Crisco or coconut oil solid stat
    4-6 T. Very cold water
    Mix all dry ingredients together until mixed well, cut in veggetable shorting until well combined, add cold water until dough will hold together without crumbing when squeezed by fingers " you will figure it out" not sticky to touch, add a tablespoon of flour if necessary. Form into a ball and place in a plastic baggie of wrap it in plastic wrap, place in refrigerator for about 20 minutes or so to let it chill. Cut out two sheets of wax paper and place in rolling board lightly flour the wax paper or dust it with flour. Remove chilled dough and cut in half and place between the 2 pieces of wax paper. Press down and roll out with rolling pin until dough spreads to the size or thickness wanted remove the top layer of paper and lift the other over the top of the our dish or plate and place in dish pressing down to shape or in dish, remove the bottom layer of paper and cut the edge off with a sharp knife. You should be able to do the same thing over again to make the top of another dish if needed. This is a very flakey crust that can be used for any kinda pie or pastry items you like. Hope you like this recipe it is my mom's that I have been using for years and my kids love it too...enjoy
     
    Roberta Wilkinson
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    That's a lot like my own recipe, Craig, passed down from my sainted grandmother: 2 cups flour, dash salt, 1 cup Crisco (now coconut oil), 1/4 cup ice water.  Does the baking powder make it more cakey?  I've never seen a crust recipe with baking powder.

    I roll it without chilling, on a floured muslin, which makes it easy to pick up.
     
    Destiny Hagest
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    Roberta Wilkinson wrote:

    I roll it without chilling, on a floured muslin, which makes it easy to pick up.



    Ohhh, floured muslin, what a great idea!
     
    nancy sutton
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    I hope someone gives a complete explanation of how to make and use floured muslin.... I think it is heavily floured (probably gentle shake out excess), used and then folded and put in freezer til next use.  In other words, almost never washed.  
     
    Roberta Wilkinson
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    Correct.  I don't wash mine unless there's a spill or something.  I also don't freeze it - just keep it in a baggie in a drawer.  It's really just a piece of muslin, washed and cut to size.  I dust some flour on it, less than you'd need to flour a counter, and then roll out the dough.  I lightly flour the top of the rolled dough and then use the cloth to lift one side to fold the rolled dough lightly in half or sometimes quarters so it's easy to move to the pan.  When done, I go outside and give the cloth a few sharp snaps from each end to get most of the flour off, then fold it and put it away for later.
     
    Craig Carter
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    The baking powder makes it light and flakey Without using lard.
     
    David Livingston
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    suet pastry should always have bicarb or other raising agent  http://www.atora.co.uk/
     
    master steward
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    Easy Pie Dough

    Why It Works:  
       All-butter gives this pie crust extra flavor.
       Combining the flour and butter in two distinct phases creates a dough that is tender and flaky yet extremely easy to roll out.

    Mix all of the fat with 2/3 of the flour, then cut in the final third of the flour to make pea sized balls coated in flour. Then mix in the water using a spatula to repeatedly flatten.


       2 1/2 cups (12.5 ounces; 350 grams) all-purpose flour
       2 tablespoons (25 grams) sugar
       1 teaspoon (5 grams) kosher salt
       2 1/2 sticks (10 ounces; 280 grams) unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pats
       6 tablespoons (3 ounces; 85 milliliters) cold water

    Directions

    Combine two thirds of flour with sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse twice to incorporate. Spread butter chunks evenly over surface. Pulse until no dry flour remains and dough just begins to collect in clumps, about 25 short pulses. Use a rubber spatula to spread the dough evenly around the bowl of the food processor. Sprinkle with remaining flour and pulse until dough is just barely broken up, about 5 short pulses. Transfer dough to a large bowl.

    Sprinkle with water then using a rubber spatula, fold and press dough until it comes together into a ball. Divide ball in half. Form each half into a 4-inch disk. Wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before rolling and baking.

    For a Blind-Baked Pie: Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat to 350°F (177°C). Line chilled pie shell with a large sheet of aluminum foil, pressing so it conforms to the curves of the plate (a second sheet of aluminum may be needed for full coverage). Fill to the brim with sugar, transfer to a half sheet pan, and bake until fully set and golden around the edges, 60 to 75 minutes. Fold long sides of foil toward the middle, gather short sides, and use both hands to carefully transfer sugar to a heat-safe bowl. Let sugar cool to room temperature. If needed, continue baking crust a few minutes more to brown along the bottom.

    http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2011/07/easy-pie-dough-recipe.html

    Below the recipe is this article:  The Food Lab: The Science of Pie Dough

    How to explanation of a Blind Baked Pie:

    http://www.seriouseats.com/2016/10/how-to-blind-bake-a-pie-crust.html
     
    pollinator
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    John Polk wrote:For best results, freeze your lard overnight.  Then use one of those box type cheese graters (course side) to grate your lard.

    Once it has been mixed, divide in half.  Put top half in freezer while you work the bottom half.
    Remember, you want the lard still solid when you put it in the oven !!



    Brilliant! Thank you. No need to cut the fat into the flour that way. But when I do, I use 2 table knives or a sturdy table fork which I find works better than a pastry blender.
     
    master gardener
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    Try switching out the water, in favor of vinegar or spirits, for an even more tender, flakey crust. Some add flavor boosts, that are amazing, too! Vodka and white vinegar work with anything; acv is amazing, for apple pies; bourbon is beautiful with pecan pies, custards, pumpkin, sweet potato, and chocolates; brandy for cherry, blackberry, mincemeat, elderberry, or even strawberry.

     
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    you ladies can make me pie anytime you like
    there widow lady down the road brought me an apple pie yesterday, and, truth be told, its kinda yuckey,
     
    master gardener
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    OK, I admit, the rest of the world seems to be totally focused on "flaky pie crusts", but I've never been much of a fan myself. I'm *much* more concerned with what's inside the pie.

    That said, people like my pies because either they're just *never* going to make their own or *rarely and only with a store bought crust*. Pie does not get stale in my house!

    I use the above mentioned muslin cloth. I use it to lift the rolled dough gently over my rolling pin, and use my rolling pin to slide the dough into the pie plate.

    I figure that often the "fat" in the crust is the least healthy part and swore off Crisco or marg long ago. Since we raise our own chickens and ducks, I'm known to use 50% chicken/duck fat along with butter but our chicken fat is almost liquid at room temperature, so I wouldn't suggest a beginner try that. I don't do a bunch of fancy rendering - yeah, for pie crust aficionados it would be better, but I've always got more crises on my list than rendering. I put water, bones and skin in my pressure cooker with a bit of vinegar, give it 20 min at pressure, pour off the liquid and refrigerate then just take the fat off the top when it's cooled. I'd trust just about any fat I can produce on property myself over store-bought.

    I got this recipe from my mom:

    Madame Benoit's Lemon Tang Pastry -  sort of

    3 c whole wheat flour
    2 cups unbleached flour
    1/2 tsp soda
    2 tsp sugar
    2 tsp salt
    1 lb butter or butter alternatives or a mix

    Cut together in a large bowl.

    Mix in a 1 cup measuring cup:
    1 egg
    3 Tbsp lemon juice
    cold water to fill cup

    Add liquid to dry ingredients. Stir and knead to form a ball - *don't* over work it. Divide in 4 parts (approx 1 1/4 cups each) and form them into round patties. This recipe makes 4 single crust pies or 2 doubles depending on the size of the pie plate. This is the part I really like - I make the mess once, and let the extra dough sit in the freezer till I'm in the mood for pie.

    Now for the *important* part:

    Pumpkin Pie

    Mix together:
    1/2 tsp nutmeg
    1/2 tsp allspice
    1 tsp cinnamon
    3 Tbsp flour

    Stir in:
    2 cups of mashed cooked pumpkin (I bake my 1/2 pumpkins on a cookie sheet with the skin on, mash the insides which I do with my vegetable ricer, then I dehydrate it overnight in my oven.)

    Then stir in:
    1/2 cup honey (thankfully provided by neighbors who are really nice to their bees.)

    Next prepare and stir in slowly so you don't get lumps:
    3 eggs, slightly beaten (I use a duck egg as one if my ducks cooperate.)
    1 1/4 cup of milk (I often use just one cup if my eggs are large or it won't all fit in my large pie plate.)

    Pour into a 10 inch pie crust. Bake at 450 F for 10 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350 F for 50 minutes. If it's not quite set in the middle, turn off the heat and let it just sit in the hot oven for another 10 min. You do have to use your judgement. Commercial "canned" pumpkin is much thicker than most homemade mash, so it cooks faster. Usually I grow my pumpkins with "just enough" water, so that encourages a denser fruit, but sometimes Mother Nature has other ideas.

    Enjoy! I baked one Tues evening and my husband ate the last piece as part of breakfast this morning. Luckily, I've got more pre-mashed pumpkin which my son thoughtfully moved to the fridge to thaw!
     
    gardener
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    I'd say just about the only tip I have that isn't covered (or that I missed if it was) is that I find the absolute best crust is made by going half and half between butter and lard. Using either one alone has benefits, but together they each lend their unique benefits to the crust.

    As to the alcohol, I find that if you use anything but vodka for this, pick an alcohol that matches what you are baking. Doing apple pie? Try some apple jack. Doing a berry pie, consider a blackberry brandy. You can do all sorts of interesting things as well if you infuse your own alcohols into extracts. Cinnamon sticks in vodka for a while can make a nice touch for an apple or pear pie crust.
     
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    Ok, a couple of questions I have that weren't address in the previous posts..
    One, I rendered beef tallow and have used that with success, as far as the flakiness. However, I think  the crust would have been much better with a savory pie than it was with the sweet pie that I made. I cannot use butter, I cannot use soy, I cannot use coconut, and my experience with pork lard was about the same as with tallow: tasty but not for a sweet pie. Does anyone have any more suggestions as for the fat?

    Another thing is, I have to use gluten free flour. Which of course involves adding xanthan gum and guar gum, but has anybody used gluten free flour and a fat that would be safe for me and had a tasty crust for a sweet pie result that's not like cardboard? Because I admit, generally my crusts are like cardboard. No flavor and it rips and is just a total disappointment. Again with the lard or tallow, it was a much better crust, but it did not taste good with a sweet pie.
     
    Jay Angler
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    @ Emilie McVey: I have a friend who uses almond flour for a crust, but she just pushes it into shape rather than rolling it like you would a gluten crust. I don't know what fat she uses. It was for a pumpkin pie, which is not the sweetest of pies. If your existing recipe calls for water, could you try replacing the water with apple juice or pear juice?
     
    pollinator
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    I quite often add an egg to my pastry, it makes it a bit chewier which I like and stops it being hard, which I don't like. I do that for savory pies, but not raised pies of course as the hot water crust would really not work then!
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