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Best Fats for Baking Pies: Butter, Shortening & Coconut Oil Battle It Out

The four pies, ready for the tasters
The four pies, ready for the tasters

After inquiring about trans fats at supermarket and restaurant bakeries and receiving unsatisfactory response, I devised a blind fat taste test. I baked identical pies, with the same filling (fresh strawberries), but with different fats.

I tested the following 100 percent artificial trans fat-free fats: cultured unsalted butter, palm oil shortening, a mixture of butter and shortening and, lastly, coconut oil.

The tasters? Four reluctant dinner guests, lured to my household with promises of fresh baked goodness.

Here are the final results, ranked:

The all butter rendition of a strawberry pie.
The all butter rendition of a strawberry pie.

Fourth Place: All Butter Pie

Feedback: "Tastes kind of like the tip of a croissant", "Not a fan, it's too crispy", "Doesn't break or crumble like a pie crust should."

The Baker's Standpoint: Even though the flavor of the crust was delicious, this all butter pie crust baked up too crisp. It did turn out to be the most aesthetically pleasing pie though (but, then again, maybe that's because it was the first one I shaped).

The crumbly coconut oil pie crust
The crumbly coconut oil pie crust

Third Place: Coconut Oil Pie

Feedback: "This crust is too sandy", "The texture is almost like a shortbread, not a flaky pie crust."

The Baker's Standpoint: This coconut oil pie was the fussiest to roll out and shape, because the oil kept melting, making the dough difficult to work with. This reflected on the mouth feel as well. But coconut oil is a popular choice among many famous vegan bakeries like BabyCakes. Either they know something that I don't, or coconut oil is better suited for cakes and icings.

A combination of both butter and shortening
A combination of both butter and shortening

Second Place: Both Shortening & Butter Pie

Feedback: "Much flakier, but still too crisp", "Tender", "Rich taste."

The Baker's Standpoint: This pie was much flakier than the all butter pie crust. It was very easy to shape and roll out. It also baked up very nicely, although the all butter pie still had the smoothest appearance.

The winner! All shortening takes the prize
The winner! All shortening takes the prize

First Place: All Shortening

Feedback: "So flakey!", "This is what a pie crust should feel like", "Best so far", "Almost melts in your mouth."

The Baker's View: This pie crust definitely had the most flakiness of them all. The texture was perfect. However, I did miss some butter flavor (my tasters clearly didn't though).

There is definitely no need to bake with artificial trans fats. Yes, supermarket bakeries have to deal with issues of pricing and freshness, but the health concerns demonstrate that artificial trans fats should not be anywhere near a pie crust, or cake icing.

Baking without trans fats is easy and delicious. Even though it's completely legal to bake with trans fats in Florida, I compel bakeries to make the switch on their very own. If restaurant kitchens already do it, like at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach and Michael's Genuine Food & Drink, so can they.

I personally prefer to pay a couple of extra dollars for a pastry, knowing it contains a better-for-you fat. After all, it is better to pay the grocer, not the doctor.

Follow Emily on Twitter @EmilyCodik.

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