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I was making a pie the other day -- a mock apple pie*, to be exact, which is unusual enough. But I came up short on butter and don't keep any shortening stocked in my kitchen. Desperate, I searched online for any substitutes, including olive oil, and found a small number of hits and recipes.

I ended up erring on the safe side and just made a brown sugar crumble topping, but I've been curious about an olive oil crust ever since. Has anyone attempted it? What are some of the differences between olive oil and butter or shortening? What would be the result of using a combination of all the fats?

*Mock Apple Pie uses no apples, and is a carboholic's dream. It was for a themed party and I don't intend to make it often. But it's quite a fun surprise to try out on unsuspecting guests at least once!

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5 Answers 5

Hot-water or raised-pie doughs, I have had success with olive oil.

With your average apple-pie crust (mock or not), the consistency seems to be more fragile in rolling out and shaping: got better results by pressing the dough directly into pan after sprinkling in rather streusel size pieces, if you can picture that.

Advantage there is that the dough need not come completely together first and can be played with in the pan until even thickness whereas kneading folding and re-rolling can easily lead to toughness.

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The trick to incorporating olive oil into your crust is to freeze it first until it's opaque and congealed, "like the consistency of slightly melted sorbet." From the recipe for an olive oil double crust; it has a "surprisingly neutral taste... [and by freezing it] helps the fat blend into the dough in little pockets, creating the flakiness you crave (Moskowitz, Vegan Pie in the Sky p. 39)"

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+1 Freezing sounds like a great solution. – Caleb Apr 3 '12 at 2:32
That does sound like a great tip! Thank you. I'm not sure about the neutral taste though...olive oil has a pretty strong flavor IMO, but I usually use grapeseed oil for a neutral flavor anyways. – TheSpatulaQueen Apr 4 '12 at 2:53
@TheSpatulaQueen thats what I thought as well, but that's directly quoted from the book, and I have made it with the Boston Cream Pie recipe and it was great. Like she said; ...surprisingly neutral. It probably amounts to a combination of the heat cooking away the taste as it goes from a gel state to 350'F, as well as the flour masking the taste – mfg Apr 4 '12 at 20:27

I don't think any sort of oil would work at all for a flaky pâte brisée type of flaky pastry crust. Those kinds of pastry rely on having layers of solid fat separated by dough. As the pastry cooks, the fat melts into the dough but leaves the distinct flakes. Oil might be useful in other types of crust, such as some sort of crumb crust.

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I don't see why the melting would be a problem. The only thing you have to do is to ensure that some dough builds. After all, you can make a good crust with melted butter. But what I would find problematic is the softness of the dough, it is very hard to work with. – rumtscho Apr 2 '12 at 8:26
I agree with @caleb, most pastries get their flakiness and fluff from the shortening layers in the pastry melting as it bakes, not before. Some chefs will use multiple types of shortening, each with its own different melting point, in one crust. This adds an especially delicate texture. Often the dry ingredients are chilled beforehand also, to promote the layering process. – Derrick Boudwin Apr 8 '12 at 4:51

I constantly run across statements that it's not possible to make a flaky oil-based crust. However, this is simply not true.

My grandma's oil/milk based pie crusts are consistently flakier than any butter/shortening/lard based crust I've ever made or tasted.

However, it's important to point out that this bit of wisdom is so common because you cannot simply substitute oil for butter/shortening/lard in a traditional pie crust recipe.

A flaky oil based crust requires a different recipe and careful handling of the dough when mixing and rolling. For those interested, give this a try:

2 C flour + a little salt
5/8 C oil
5/16 C milk 

It's easiest to use a glass measuring cup so you can measure 
out the oil and then *pour the milk into the oil* before 
pouring it into the flour.

Pour the liquid into the flour and *gently* stir the liquid 
and flour together with a fork.  You only want ~12-14 stirs. 
*DO NOT* beat the mixture or knead the dough. 

After this gentle mixing, pack the dough together and divide in half.  
The dough should have a *wet/oily* consistency; it should *not* be dry and crumbly.

Roll the dough out between two sheets of wax paper.
If you mixed things correctly, the dough should have a 
marbled or mottled appearance and should be wet enough 
to patch together easily.

Makes enough for two pie shells (or a top and bottom crust)

If you haven't worked with crusts between wax paper before, here's the trick for transferring it to the pie tin:

Gently remove the top sheet of wax paper and place it lightly back on the crust.
Quickly flip the dough over (grab two corners and flip the crust).
Remove the sheet of wax paper now on the top.
Place your hand under the bottom sheet of wax paper and flip the crust into a pie tin.  
Gently form the dough into the tin and then carefully remove the wax paper.
Cut any excess dough off the edges of the pie tin and use this to patch 
any tears or fill in any gaps.

You can further improve the consistency (i.e., flakiness) of the top crust (or bottom crust if you're cooking the pie shell on its own for a pudding or fresh fruit pie) by rubbing a little milk on the surface of the crust and sprinkling a little sugar (or cinnamon/sugar for things like the top crust of an apple pie).

I've been using this recipe for 20+ years and friends/guests are always surprised that such a flaky/delicate crust was oil based. Others are surprised at how simple and easy it is to make. It's a great all purpose crust that I use with fruit pies, meat pies, pudding/custard pies, etc. The pie crust itself is great on its own (sprinkle some cinnamon and sugar on it after rubbing it with milk and then cook some "pie crust cookies").

I'm obviously biased because this is the crust that my mom and grandmother always made when I was growing up, but I find the consistency and flavor to be better than typical shortening crusts. (Although, to be fair, my mother-in-law makes an amazing lard/vodka crust and, frankly, some recipes call for a more shortbread-like crust).

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There is absolutely no problem in making pie crusts with oil instead of butter/shortening.

The important thing to remember is that it's not a 1:1 substitution. In my favourite pie crust recipe, which is my own veganization of the Cook's Illustrated vodka pie crust, the substitution is 65 grams of oil for 100 grams of butter, and about a tablespoon of water.

Normally, I would use "yellow" oil, one of the canola/soybean/rapeseed neutral oils for this sort of thing. Olive oil has a special flavour which I'm not sure I would want in an apple pie. The ratios would be the same, but olive oil has the flavour, and is more expensive, so I tend to avoid it except for savoury pies.

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