The secret to my days-gone-by flaky crust? Crisco. The reason I can't bring myself to make a crusted pie now? Crisco. A little knowledge can change your life. How can I bring myself to serve a pie chock full of fat originally designed to make soap? There are noxious chemicals sprayed on the plants to harvest the seeds (in the case of cottonseed oil), noxious chemicals used to extract, bleach, and otherwise eradicate any semblance of the originating food source, and heart-stopping trans fatty acids formed as a byproduct of an unnatural process of infusing oil with more hydrogen atoms than nature designed it to have. Even Procter and Gamble saw the writing on the wall and sold their once successful candle-making fat to JM Schmuckers in 2002.
Forgive me if I have curtailed the making of your future Crisco-shortened pastries. But there's a silver lining to my fatty story. No, not lard, which is a fine alternative to Crisco, if you can find some that's not itself hydrogenated, BHA and BHT-preserved, or originating from the lipid layer of an animal raised on growth hormone, pharmaceutical drugs, and animal byproducts. No, not butter, which isn't a fine alternative to Crisco or lard if you're hankering for pastry so flaky it could be served in the finest French patisserie.
Butter's natural water content will form gluten when it comes in contact with flour ... creating a dough that's more soft and chewy instead of brittle or flaky. Adding milk to a pie crust will do the same thing. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but I prefer a short crust over a tender crust. (I do add some butter for flavor.)
Back to the silver lining ... enter Spectrum Organic Non-hydrogenated Vegetable Shortening, made from mechanically pressed palm oil. I found this at the grocery store two weeks ago. Maybe I'm a little late to the shortening game, but I wasn't looking for a Crisco alternative when I saw this. It was an improvement over Crisco in absolutely every point that stopped me using shortening:
It wasn't hydrogenated. No trans fatty acids. No chemical altering. Naturally solid at room temperature.Not even Crisco's new Zero Grams Trans Fat can claim this, since it's still hydrogenated and still likely laden with chemicals.
It was organic. Grown, harvested, and processed without pesticides or other chemicals. No genetically modified organisms either.
And for those who care:
Spectrum had slightly less saturated fat than butter. (Although when food composition is analyzed in various facilities using various products and is rounded to whole grams, the results aren't marked in stone.) And since it's a vegetable product, it's devoid of cholesterol.
I have my shortening. I have my apples. It's time to make a pie.