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Can Bread Flour be Used to Make a Tender Pie Crust?

 I'm ready to make pumpkin pie, and only have bread flour in the house. Will that work for the crust? Or should I increase the shortening to perhaps get more flakiness?

 Oh, you should go to the store. What is the problem 87.3% of the world's population faces in making pie crusts? They come out tough. Even when they use the right ingredients in the right proportions, they can come out tough. It may be a function of handling and rolling the dough too much, letting it get too warm, or using the wrong ingredients. But if you start with wrong ingredients, even if you're generally within the 6.3% of the world's population who can make a tender crust, you have little hope. (The other 6.4% of the world's population has never had the courage to make a pie crust.)

As Shirley Corriher, author of Cookwise, routinely points out, the qualities tender and flaky in a pie crust are two different attributes, and need to be addressed separately. Yes, the use of shortening helps produce a flaky crust, but it will not really solve the toughness that is sure to be caused by the use of bread flour.

To produce a tender crust, you jump through all sorts of hoops to inhibit the formation of stringy, tough sheets of gluten. First, you use low-protein flour. Then you add fat to keep the flour proteins separate. You put in a fair bit of sugar, which further disrupts the formation of gluten. Often you add an acid, in the form of sour cream, lemon juice, or buttermilk, which breaks down the protein molecules. Why, if you're prepared to jump through all those hoops — and we know in your heart of hearts that you are — would you use high-protein bread flour for your crust?

People who are serious about producing a tender crust use lowish-protein flour. They may not use all cake flour (because it often has a little bit of an acidic taste), but will often mix cake flour and all-purpose flour. Or they will mix one of the brands of instant flour with all-purpose flour. If they're in the South, they'll use a brand of low-protein all-purpose flour, such as White Lily. Now, thinking of the sacrifices all those people have been willing to make — and knowing full well that you can produce a pretty terrific crust if you put your mind to it — does a quick run to the store seem like too much to ask?

Sorry to lay so much guilt on you in this I'm OK-You're OK age we live in, but it's Tough-Love Day at Ochef, and we want you to have a delicious, tender pie crust.

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