Sunday, November 28, 2004

A New Shortening for Pie Crust

It's difficult for me to make a pie now. I used to make the best pies when I was a teenager. Meringue piled high atop creamy lemon curd encased in a shell so flaky it melted in your mouth. Golden two-crust apple pies so aromatic the squirrels would scratch at the screens to get in. I was so proud of my crust back then. I tried and experimented and tested until I made a crust so succulent people would eat the casing before the filling.

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.
It was organic. Grown, harvested, and processed without pesticides or other chemicals. No genetically modified organisms either.
Not even Crisco's new Zero Grams Trans Fat can claim this, since it's still hydrogenated and still likely laden with chemicals.

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.


Bridgidpnh said...

This is great to know! This is on my shopping list now,thanks!

Anonymous said...

So how did the pie turn out?

Bix said...

omg, this was 5 years ago! So much has changed.

Had I not blogged about it, I couldn't have said for sure. But I did, so here are too many words:

Anonymous said...

Palm oil — an essential to bio-diesels — is receiving an ever increasing demand, threatening the very existence of orangutans in Borneo which sustains the world’s largest population of the primate.

Bix said...

It's terrible...

Anonymous said...

It may be great for pie crusts but is terrible for making cookies! Never binds with the flour; no matter how much I beat it, it is still crumbly. I could never "beat it until light and fluffy" like the recipe asks. Thank God the store I got it at has a great return policy because it is going back, minus the 1 cup I needed for the disaster.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this information!! Was wanting to make a special cake for my daughter, calling for shortening. I haven't used Crisco or any other type for years...since i discovered their properties. I'll feel much better, using Spectrum! :)

Anonymous said...

I used it to make Parkerhouse rolls and they were great. I always make pie crusts with oil rather than crisco or anything like it. It is so much easier to work with than crisco.