I’ve been making pie crusts for more than a decade. They are tricky. I’ve heard my grandmothers say that pies haven’t been the same since cooking with lard fell out of fashion. Like the bratty young adults that most of us were in our early 20’s, I was dismissive of these statements. As a cook, I’ve come to notice that the things my grandmothers said about cooking were right on the mark. Given that they cooked for their enormous families for twenty plus years prior to the advent of boxed meals, they have accumulated lots of cooking and baking wisdom.
When my foodie friend said that she could get us leaf lard, I said, “YES YES YES YES.” I’ve got a recipe for pie crust with blend of butter and shortening that has given me the best balance of flaky and tender, but I’ve always been curious about pie crust with lard. The recipe that I’ve linked to is by far the best recipe for a butter/shortening crust. I’ve tried at least 10 or 15 recipes over the years. This one yields the most consistent, flaky, and tender crust.
The lard that we got was unprocessed. It looks like what it is, a giant hunk of fat. To render it we put it in a slow cooker overnight. Once rendered and cooled to room temperature, the lard looked very much like plain shortening. One of the reasons that leaf lard is prized for baking is because it’s the most neural fat on the pig. Back fat and other lard has a distinctly pork favor that doesn’t lend itself to sweet pastries. Leaf lard can be found around the kidneys of the pig. Leaf lard doesn’t really have much of a flavor aside from the rich mouth-feel that fat typically has. It’s also difficult to find. Small butcher shops are the best places to start your leaf lard search.
We decided to make one savory and one sweet pie. We settled on peach pie and chicken pot pie. We canned peaches this past summer, and we used some that we packed with cinnamon, vanilla, cardamom, and star anise. We used Alton Brown’s recipe for pie crust with lard. We considered just using all lard, but we were thinking that we actually wanted a bit of butter flavor in the crust. We tried a new technique with the butter. We took the butter from the freezer and grated it into the flour as opposed to cutting it in. This seemed to make the crust more consistent, and it was a little easier to work with. I liked this method so much that I will probably use it from this point forward. There’s one other thing to note about that Alton Brown recipe. The fat to flour ratio was really high, higher than most other crust recipes.
Throughout my years of cooking from scratch, I have repeatedly noticed that home cooked foods almost always crush their store-bought counter-parts. This has consistently been true for fruit pies, so it shouldn’t have shocked me that the chicken pot pie was spectacular. We didn’t do anything fancy with it. It had the standard peas, carrots, celery, and onions. We roasted the chicken. Once fully cooked, we removed the chicken an put the veggies directly in the pan with the chicken drippings. Once the veggies were softened but not completely cooked, we mixed in flour. Then we added a bit of water followed by half and half. Nothing out of the ordinary. This pie was anything but ordinary. I loved the Banquet pot pies in college. I was broke most of the time; for ninety-nine cents I could have a hot filling meal. Our pot pie blew that Banquet pot pie out of the water.
The peach pie was divine. Our spiced peaches were perfect with the salty, crisp pie crust. The fact that we used our canned peached allowed us to perfectly control how much moisture was in the pie.
I need a whole paragraph to describe the crust. This crust was like a cross between typical pie crust and a French butter pastry. It was at once crisp, chewy, tender, and flaky. I didn’t know a crust could manage to be all of these things at once. I’ve managed flaky and tender crusts, but they’ve never been chewy. I’ve managed very crisp crusts, but they are rarely tender. I think it’s quite possible that this lard pie crust has ruined me for anything but lard pie crusts from this point forward. Grandma was right… again. Now, I just need to figure out how to get more lard.