Thanksgiving is surrounded by anxiety: The questions submitted to the New York Times dining section's online help desk give some sense of what worries folks come holiday time: "Is it safe to stuff a turkey?", "Would brining a steamed turkey cause problems?" and "As a Brit, how do I make sure I don't religiously persecute my hosts?"
But perhaps the most stress-inducing Thanksgiving ritual is pie. Frozen pie shells are verboten for the holiday, which means rookie bakers are yearly forced to conquer their fears of flour and fat. Fortunately, making a pie crust is actually very simple, so long as the ingredients are used in correct proportion and the dough's allowed adequate chilling time. Still, since anxious Thanksgiving hosts want every possible kitchen advantage, I asked local pie experts whether it makes any difference which butter they buy.
While some crusts call for shortening, and some crusts call for lard, all crusts require butter. And Pie School's Kate Lebo believes better butter makes better crusts.
"If I could afford it, I'd buy Kerrygold every time," says Lebo, who teaches beginners how to make pie."European butter has a higher fat content, which is to say there's more butter in their butter. It tastes better. It handles better. I like their wrappers better too, but that's probably just my Europhilia talking."
But with many pie crust recipes requiring two sticks of butter, imports aren't always a financially feasible option when multiple pies are on the docket. When Lebo needs lots of butter, she buys Challenge or Land O'Lakes.
"I steer clear of cheap, generic butters because of bad experiences with them," she says. "The doughs I made with Safeway butter, for example, tended to shatter when I tried to roll them out. I never figured out why. My guess is the higher water content in cheap butter causes the dough to chill harder, so it's not as malleable."
While a watery butter can still produce a flaky crust, it's harder to maneuver, says Lebo, who coaches her students to use Crisco in combination with butter for easy handling.
Chris Porter, owner of A La Mode Pies, swears he can't detect a difference between crusts made with various butters. Method matters more than milkfats, he says.
"As someone who has made thousands of pies I can tell you it doesn't matter what brand of butter you use as much as how you actually use it," he says. "I would hate to recommend that someone go out and buy an expensive brand of butter and then ruin it by preparing the dough incorrectly."
No matter whose advice you take, Lebo advises you don't freeze butter before using it.
"Freezing makes butter very difficult to smush into smaller pieces," says Lebo, who's also selling tins of frozen pie crusts for the holiday. "Plus, freezing isn't necessary. Chilled butter will create perfect little pockets of fat in the flour, and it won't break your hands."
And you definitely don't want to break your hands, since you might need them to stuff your turkey (and if you do, you might want to check out the USDA's guidelines here); brine it before steaming; clasp the hands of the Brit across the table or enjoy your perfect pie.
No matter which kind of butter you use for your pie crust, we'd love to see the finished product. Tweet a photo of your Thanksgiving pie to @swvoracious; We'll publish a gallery of the best images next week.