Preventing a failed short crust pastry pie crust – American vs. European flour

By now I’ve managed to make perfectly crunchy, airy short crust pastry pie crust, ideal for making both savory as well as sweet (chocolate) pies. However, before I found a good recipe I’ve had quite a bit of failures, especially when following recipes made by bloggers from the US. Sometimes they would work out, but in other times they failed miserably and looked totally wrong.

Turns out, there’s a difference between US and European flour in how they behave in baking. In some recipes the difference isn’t that relevant, but when making short crust pastry it can give a huge failure. So, to help you prevent this (or help you prevent it next time), let’s see what’s going on there.

My failure: Pumpkin pie

My biggest failure so far probably happened when making a pumpkin pie from one of my favorite blogs, Sally’s baking addiction. Despite carefully following the instructions, the pie crust just didn’t work out. It felt as if I used far too much fat (butter + shortening) and the dough just wouldn’t cook and literally fell apart when I took it from the oven. A failure, but, one I tried to learn from.

 

US vs. Europe flour in pie crust pastry

The recipe I used consisted of mixing 125g of fats + 180g of flour. After the fat was mixed through, it had to look slightly crumbly. Instead, mine was already a consistent ball of dough. So much so, that I even had to leave out the additional water or it would have become far too soft. tening is! It looks a little creepy. When blind baking it, it stayed quite raw and white, even after 35 minutes baking at 190°C.

Nevertheless, nothing helped, not even the increased baking time with the pumpkin pie filling (which, by the way, worked out just fine, so issues there!). The crust just fell apart and was far away from being a decent self-sustaining crust.

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Short crust pastry flour:fat ratio

The recipe I had used with my European flour had a flour:fat ratio of about 3:2. It’s not unique in these ratio’s, a lot of recipes have these. However, I quickly found that for European flours a normal ratio of flour:fat is more towards 2:1. In others words, a lot less fat. Ever since using that recipe in my short crust pie pastry recipe I haven’t had any problems anymore.

Difference American vs European flour

Even though I can find a lot of sources talking about the differences in flour between the USA and Europe, I cannot find a clear answer on why that’s the case. It might be due to the refinement of the flour, the different protein content, ash content, etc.

Unfortunately, I do not exactly understand the difference, but flour is a natural product, just like any other food. And with natural products they’ll never be exactly the same. Where the wheat has been grown, when it’s been harvested, the specific type of wheat and the further processing and storage will all affect the final flour quality and characteristics.

My main advice: test and get a feel for your pie pastry.

What happens when you use too much fat in short crust pastry?

The pie crust I made clearly contained too much fat and even though a pie crust can’t be a pie crust without fat, too much isn’t good either. As explained in my post where I make a good pie crust :-), fat is added to make pockets between the flour. This is to prevent the gluten in flour to form a network. Whe nthe fat is heated it will melt and the pockets will transform into air pockets, creating that nice layer.

For cooking a crust though you still need flour to give it its structure. It’s the flour that keeps the dough together (imagine placing pure butter in the oven) and it’s also the flour that will make a crunchy crust.

Thus, if your crust doesn’t cook and doesn’t stay together, you might want to re-consider the fat content and lower it.

Does the type of fat matter in a pie crust?

The short asnwer is no. As long as you use a solid fat (margarine, butter, shortening) you can make a short crust pastry pie crust. Oils don’t tend to work since you can’t make that flaky structure.

My first attempt pie crust, flour and fat are ready to be mixed.
The fats clearly look different: the butter is yellow and pretty firm, the shortening is super white and can be scooped with a spoon.

That said, even though you can substitute butter for shortening, for margarine, the results will be different. Some tips:

  • Butter & margarine both contain pretty similar water contents, so can be exchanged quite easily. Shortening (and ghee/clarified butter) do not contain any water. If you substitute the butter for shortening, take about 80% of the weight of butter for shortening and add a little extra water.
  • Shortening and butter consist of different fats. Shortening is softer than butter at the same temperature. You will notice this in the final product, shortening will give a slightly different texture. Try which you like best. Often both are used.
  • Last but not least, flavour. Butter clearly has a different flavour than margarine and shortening is probably most neutral in flavour. Again, tastes differ so try which one you like best.

 

Let’s start baking! Try a shortcrust pastry, a beef pie, cookies made with short crust pastry, learn how to prevent a soggy pie crust or make a strawberry pie!

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