Grandmothers, County Fair Blue Ribbon Holders, Jennifer McLagan you are right! Lard does make a pie crust taste better!
I’ll begin by showcasing the star ingredient. I’m not sure if I would have ever bought lard if it wasn’t for Pete and Jen’s Backyard Birds. They have stashes of “pastured pork lard” in their freezer, and given that it’s really just pure fat, even for a pastured/free-range product, it’s not all that expensive. (Pork fat may have been the “king of fats” and throughout most of history pigs bred for fattiness but times have changed…) I don’t even know WHERE I would find lard otherwise–do you ask at the butcher counter at the supermarket? Is it stuffed in some obscure corner in the meat refrigerator case? Beats me. I wasn’t necessarily even looking for it but figured I’d give it a try when I saw it at Pete and Jen’s, as I knew it would be top quality. (Note–they also have suet! Which according to Jennifer McLagan, is also vastly underappreciated, and definitely not just for birdfeed!)
By the way, while it’s obvious, lard is no more fatty than butter. So you’re not saving any calories there; a calorie is a calorie. If you’re eating a pie, it’s going to have a lot of fat, and that’s that. Lard is also natural and is made up of healthier fats than trans-fat hydrogenated etc. shortening. Like butter, and unlike shortening, its melting point is lower than body temperature, so you don’t get that unpleasant filmy coating on the roof of your mouth that is a hallmark of Crisco. (That alone knocks shortening out of the running. Once I made that realization, I couldn’t go back.) Why am I going through this long apologia? I suppose that lard has such bad connotations that I feel the need to set forth an initial defense of this whole enterprise!
Moving on: Here it is, or at least what remains after making a double batch of pie dough.
Even though I used it directly out of the freezer, it almost seemed to melt the minute I touched it. I only substituted half of the butter for lard (even Jennifer McLagan cautions that for a sweet pie, you shouldn’t make all lard crusts as it can taste too “piggy”), and I wouldn’t necessarily want to dispense with butter entirely. After all, butter has its own lovely aroma and flavor, and contributes to a lovely golden color when baked.
Butter, lard, sugar, flour, salt:
Whirred up in the food processor to pea-size balls:
After adding ice water–just enough to bring it to form a ball:
and formed into a disk for further chilling.
It was forming that disk that those wonderful properties of lard immediately became apparent. Never with an all-butter crust have I gotten a smooth-edged, perfectly shaped disk. It’s always been rough around the edges, and struggling a bit to hold together. In fact I started to worry that maybe, just maybe, I had over-mixed (very easy to do when making pie dough in the food processor) or added too much liquid (again, easy mistake). Was my liquid too warm? No. Were my fats not properly chilled? Certainly not–they were straight out of the freezer! In addition, I noticed that the dough smelled a bit different than other dough. Vaguely familiar but not totally recognizable. Not bad, just different. I figured I must have encountered this smell before while studying abroad in Spain (where some of my favorite cookies, polvorones, are made with lard), perhaps at Chinese pastry shops, and during travels in Italy (where I had lard sliced paper-thin and served, bruschetta style).
Enough with initial impressions. A day later, when I rolled out the dough later on, I was pleased to see that it was similarly easy to work with. There was no battle to get even very chilled dough started and it rolled out easily and smoothly.
In fact the only problem I had with the dough was trying to make a fluted crust edge. The dough was SO soft that it didn’t stand up to my pinching around the edge. Again, this dough had been sitting in the fridge for over a day and rolled out faster than other dough I have made, so I suppose it’s just the nature of the product. I fell back to the easy fork-tine seal of the top and bottom crusts.
Here’s the baked pie. Little E about went crazy when he saw it coming out of the oven and kept trying to climb on the table to get it. I was surprised as he’s never had pie before, and has certainly rejected things like quiche (real men, etc, yeah yeah yeah…). But hey, the smell of warm apple pie? Need I wonder?
I am now just going to spend the next few lines raving about this pie. The crust was delicious. Flaky, not soggy, no “piggy” flavor if you’re wondering. Vastly superior to any other pie crust I have made. So good I really didn’t want to eat anything else, and this was on Thanksgiving day.
Count me a convert to the virtues of lard!