The Best Things in Life Always Include Butter … or DO THEY?

Well, today’s the day I find out if that’s true. Or should I say that I’m going to find out if that’s true of pie crust. I’ll tackle more “best things” in subsequent posts. But first, a little background.

I have a longstanding relationship with butter.

It started when I was still a baby. See? That’s me in the picture, and the semi-soft clump stuck to my face is 100% butter, fresh from the dairy.

Buttered Baby … mmm mmm GOOD!

I was only four months old and already, I had a deep and absolute understanding that butter was nothing short of magical. Evidently, I wanted to be smeared with it from head to toe. And who could blame me? I wasn’t old enough to ask to be coated in butter, so I just did it myself. I wish I could remember how it felt but I’d be hard pressed to think that it was anything short of magnificent. Well worth the scolding that (I’m told) came next.

When I decided to become more than just OK in the kitchen, I channeled my inner baby and kept it simple: Grab what I could reach and practice full immersion. I cooked more often, used different cookware. I tried different tools and techniques, and I used ingredients I had no experience with. Turns out that’s the best way to do it and that’s what I’m still doing today. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Recently, I’ve been experimenting with more plant-based options.

It’s a trend, sure, but it’s something I’ve fiddled around with off and on since the late 70s … when the information superhighway was still a one-lane road paved with punch cards and people spreading the word were pretty hard to come by around these parts. Thankfully, times have changed A LOT!

While I’m not exclusively vegan or vegetarian, I do get a huge kick out of learning how to use nontraditional ingredients in traditional recipes. And I get pretty excited when I run across something new and different at the grocery store. I like to see how I might be able to work it into one of my go-to concoctions.

I recently discovered Country Crock Plant Butter — sticks of “butter” made from almond oil, avocado oil, or olive oil.

Too good to be true?

I’m curious to see if the claims on the outside of the box (“Great For Cooking and Baking”) are the real deal. Not that I think they’d lie about something like that. I’m sure they’re being completely truthful, but when people get excited about a new product, it’s easy to be overly optimistic. Plus, we all have varying preferences when it comes to the finished results. It could turn out to be the case that, like many plant-based ingredients, the product is limited in its baking applications. In other words, just because you CAN use it in baking, doesn’t mean you should. And more specifically, it might work better in some recipes than others.

Having said that, if you do decide to take the plunge, be sure to read the label. I saw it at the store and grabbed a box of each variety without reading the fine print. It is true, this is plant-based, but nowhere on the box does it claim to be vegan. It does say right on the box that it’s 79% plant-based oil spread. Admittedly, I’m not the best at seeing those details when I’m in shopping mode, armed with a list and a pen, maneuvering a cart and navigating grocery store traffic on a tight schedule. I tend to ride the wave of my initial enthusiasm at the time I discover something and then neglect to think of details when I’m in the moment. I imagine a lot of other people are the same way.

Nevertheless, I gave it a go, just because I’d already made up my mind to see how it worked in real baking where fat is critical to the success of the recipe. So what better recipe to try than a pie crust?

Pie Crust

A basic pie crust constructed with alternative nut butters.
Servings: 8

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 c. all purpose flour
  • 1 stick of butter I'm substituting the plant-based alternative, almond oil "butter"
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. sugar I leave this out if I'm making the crust for a savory pie
  • 2 Tbsp. ice water with an additional 2 Tbsp. on the side just in case it's been really dry here.

Instructions

  • Add flour to the food processor, add cubed/grated butter, sprinkle with salt (and sugar if you want a sweeter crust), and pulse 5 or 6 times until the butter is cut into the flour and the ingredients look like loose crumbs.
  • Add the water 1 Tbsp. at a time and pulse about another 5-7 times until the ingredients come together very loosely. It should still look look crumbly inside the bowl of the processor, but when you pulse, you should see the ingredients slowly climb the sides of the bowl and fall back on top of themselves. The mixture should not look like a dough. It should look crumbly.
  • Spread a sheet of plastic wrap on the counter and tip the food processor out onto the plastic. Pick up the plastic from the corners and keeping your hands on the outside of the plastic, squeeze the ingredients into a ball. Flatten into a disc and refrigerate for an hour before attempting to roll out. *It should feel fairly firm (not soft, but not hard as a rock) before you try to roll it out.
  • Once the crust is chilled sufficiently, lay one sheet of parchment on a solid surface. Remove the plastic wrap from the chilled pie dough. Place another sheet of parchment on top of the disc and roll out to 1/4" thick. Then continue with the recipe for the pie you've chosen to make.

Notes

Tools:
– I use a Ninja food processor for my crusts, but if you want to do it by hand you'll need a bowl.
– Plastic Wrap
– Parchment
– Rolling pin
– Pie plate
Make sure the butter is very cold. I usually put mine in the freezer for about 1/2 hour before I assemble the ingredients. You can either cube the stick of butter - about 1/2" cubes - or you can take a box grater to it.

Nutrition


Per Serving: 580 calories; 33 g fat; 50.6 g carbohydrates; 20.3 g
protein; 50 mg cholesterol; 760 mg sodium.

I made a blueberry pie. I made a small one, and used 1/2 of the crust for the bottom and 1/2 for the top.

B for blueberry, not B for beautiful!
The good news …

using the plant-based butter, I did manage a crust, as evidenced in the photo. It rolled out OK and didn’t split, although there are a couple of tiny holes I didn’t notice when I took the picture. In the finish, it was tasty enough. I eventually got a decent bake out of it, no soggy bottom.

No soggy bottom
The bad news …

the dough took longer to chill. It always felt soft when I checked, so I left it until I finally decided to take a chance rolling it out. Given the softer texture, I lacked the courage I needed to roll it thinly. I think I left it a bit too thick. It took longer to bake than usual. Pie recipes usually take about an hour (425 for 20 minutes and 350 for 40), but this one took forever and I lost track of how long I left it in. It easily took an additional 30 minutes over the prescribed time, and I may have given it another 15-20 minutes on top of that which puts it at a whopping 1 hour and 45/50 minutes. I covered the crimp in foil, but it still browned more than I preferred. And the top center looked very pale compared to my usual pies.

As to flavor, the crust was too salty. I forgot to check the sodium content of the almond oil variety in the nutritional information on the box. I’m not sure how or whether it’s even possible to clear that hurdle. There has to be salt in the flour/fat mixture in order for salt to cut the fat into the flour. That alone might make it a less than suitable choice for pie crusts.

The verdict

Using Country Crock Plant Butter to make a pie crust is not worth the bother. Not for me, anyway.

The crust wasn’t awful but it wasn’t brilliant, either. And nutritionally, Plant Butter sort of lands somewhere in the middle. It only has 2g less saturated fat than dairy butter. Calorie count is the same, fat grams are the same. However, Plant Butter is cholesterol-free, so it wins in that category.

If it weren’t for flavor, vegetable shortening would be the better option – a tried and true fat for making crusts. Nutritionally shortening only has 1 additional gram of fat than Plant Butter BUT it’s got less saturated fat. Shortening is also available in a butter flavored option.

I’ve heard that coconut oil makes a tasty crust. And I’ve seen some really stellar results on other blogs and recipe sites so I’ll probably try that option next. I may try the other 2 varieties of Plant Butter since I already have them on hand. However, I’m not convinced I’d get a substantially different result. They all have the same added ingredients to make up the 21% that’s not plant-based.

For now, in the context of butter being part of the best things in life, I’m going to declare that to be true when it comes to pie crusts.

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