To baking powder, or not to baking powder? That is the question. Whether ’tis nobler in the pie to cultivate the density of unleavened short-crust, or to baking powder against a sea of flour, and by powdering leaven them.
Perhaps that went on too long. Ahem. Okay, for serious now. Baking powder in crust.
Your goal with a pie crust, hypothetically, is to create something tender and flaky. The basic mechanism for doing this is to create pea-sized pieces of shortening (whether vegetable or lard) within a flour dough, such that when rolled flat and baked, the shortening melts, creating interlocking layers of pastry.
To a point, baking powder can help achieve the goal of a flaky crust. A little aerating of the dough can help push apart the dough sections to create that flaky texture. Too much baking powder, of course, and you’ll have made yourself a pie-shaped biscuit. And that’s not yesterdelicious. (Unless you fill it with sausage gravy, and then it’s yesterdelicious again, but your cardiologist probably wouldn’t agree.)
The second recipe includes vinegar; acidic elements can help inhibit gluten development, and we don’t want gluten because that would be a chewy pie crust and not a flaky one. (This is one of the reasons that buttermilk biscuits are so good, by the way.) You have options, there, but vinegar has worked for generations of bakers. Using cake flour can help; powdered buttermilk is an option; and a little yogurt or sour cream worked in after the butter can do the job, too.
See the suggestion below for a discussion of converting lard/shortening pastry recipes to butter…
Egg Yolk Pastry
5 cups sifted flour
4 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1-1/2 cups lard
2 egg yolks
4 cups sifted flour
1 Tbsp. sugar
1-1/2 tsp. salt
1-1/2 cup lard
1 Tbsp. vinegar
1/2 cup cold water
Combine dry ingredients; cut in lard. Place egg yolks in a measuring cup and add enough water to make a scant cupful. Stir with a fork until smooth. Sprinkle gradually over dry ingredients; toss with a fork to make soft dough. Roll as usual. Makes pastry for three 9″ two-crust pies. #2: two 9″ two-crust pies and one shell.
How much more depends on what butter you’re using. Lard or shortening is 100% fat. Remember our discussion of butterfat when we made pappardelle? Most butter will be between 80% and 83% butterfat. So we need to adjust the volumes of fat and water to account for the fat and water in the butter.
All you do to convert lard to butter is divide the amount of lard by the percentage of butterfat in your butter.
So, let’s say I’ve got a recipe that calls for 1-1/2 cups of lard. Y’know, hypothetically. 1.5 cups is 24 tablespoons. If I’m using 80% butterfat Land O’ Lakes, 24 divided by .80 is 30; so use 30 tablespoons of butter. If I’m using 82% butterfat Plugra, 24 divided by .82 is 29.26, so 29 tablespoons and a teaspoon.
Now I need to subtract the added volume of water from my pie crust water. So again, let’s say I’m using Land-o-Lakes butter in recipe number 2. I know that to use butter instead of lard, I need to use 30 tablespoons of butter instead of 24. That means my half cup of cold water needs to be reduced by 6 tablespoons. Half a cup of water is 8 tablespoons, so this goes down to 2 tablespoons, because 6 tablespoons of that liquid I’m going to get from the non-fat parts of the butter.
So to summarize: to use standard supermarket butter instead of lard, increase the amount of fat to 30 tablespoons (two cups minus two tablespoons) and reduce the amount of water to two tablespoons. To use 82% butterfat butter, increase the amount of fat to 29 tablespoons and one teaspoon (two cups minus 2-2/3rds tablespoons) and reduce the amount of water to 2-2/3rds tablespoons.