That’s been my mantra for the past 15 years. It was about that long ago that I made my first attempt at a pie crust made with lard. It was also that long ago that I rendered lard.
Having made a few different pie crust recipes using multiple methods (butter, Crisco, butter and Crisco, a food processor, roll it between plastic wrap, etc.) at this point, I really missed the unbeatable flavor and delicate, flaky crust that only my grandma could produce. She made lard crusts, so I thought I should, too. Naturally, I consulted her for step-by-step directions on the perfect crust.
Somewhere between “get some lard” and “line the pie plate with the bottom crust”, things got a little fuzzy.
After purchasing a pound of lard at the grocery store, I proceeded to melt the lard in a pan on the stove. After allowing the lard to cool to room temperature, the lard was very soft. I followed the rest of my grandma’s instructions, combining the lard with the flour, and adding water a little at a time to what was already an overly-moist dough. When I finished, I had a very wet, messy blob that I could not even begin to roll out.
I was devastated!
Apparently, my grandma knew a lot more about making lard pie crust than I ever would, or at least more than she cared to share with me. She also knew a lot more about rendering lard.
The next time I saw my grandma, I shared with her my disappointment that I wouldn’t be a lard crust maker after all, and she asked me what went wrong. That’s when I began to explain how I rendered the lard as she told me to. My grandma responded with, “Mindy, why on Earth would you do that? I didn’t tell you to render the lard yourself; it’s already been rendered!”
I guess somewhere between “get some lard” and “line the pie plate with the bottom crust”, my grandma had explained to me how lard is rendered, and that ideally, I should try to get my lard from someone, such as a local farmer, who renders their own lard. Not that I had to do it myself. And not that I had any idea what “rendering” really meant!
(For those of you who are wondering, you can check out an article on how to render your own lard from Mother Earth News.)
While my mantra over the past 15 years might not be all that accurate depending upon your views of a do-it-yourself lifestyle, I have become a lard pie crust maker after all. I still don’t render my own lard (I’m still trying to get over my little mishap with rendering lard even though I wasn’t rendering lard), but I have learned the difference between the store-bought commercial stuff, which is hydrogenated, and lard that comes from local farms where they do their own rendering. It might look the same, but once the delicate, flaky crust made with natural lard falls apart on your tongue, you’ll know the difference, too. You can taste it.
|For those of you around central Iowa, you can get this lard at Wheatsfield Cooperative in Ames. This tub was just over 4 lbs for $8.19, and it comes from Rosmann Family Farms near Harlan, IA.|
I took a break from making a pie this week so I could finally share with you my recipe for lard crust, along with a few tips. After all, like my grandma used to say, a pie is only as good as its crust, and if the crust isn’t any good, that’s a pie I don’t want to eat. (Fortunately for me, being her granddaughter and all, my grandma lovingly overlooked the pie crusts I made while she was alive and politely ate my pies anyway!)
Yours in pie,
Lard Pie Crust
Makes enough dough for one double-crust pie.
3 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1 c. very cold lard, cut into small pieces
In a large bowl, combine the flour and salt. Add the pieces of lard and use a pastry blender to cut the lard into the flour until evenly distributed and the pieces are the size of small peas. Sprinkle 1 T. of ice water over the mixture and stir gently with a fork (as to fluff it up). Repeat as often as needed until all the dough is properly moistened.
Divide dough into two parts and form each part into a round disk. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and chill for at least one hour. Before rolling out dough, remove from refrigerator and let rest at room temperature for about 10 minutes.
If making a pre-baked pie crust, after rolling out one of the disks of dough and placing it in the pie plate, trim the pastry to about ½-inch beyond the pie plate. Fold under and crimp the edge as desired. Generously prick the bottom and sides of pastry with a fork. Line the pastry with parchment paper and pie weights (dried beans work as well). Bake in a 450° oven for 8 minutes. Remove pie weights and parchment paper, and bake for another 5-6 minutes until golden, watching carefully and pricking with a fork as needed. Cool on a wire rack.
A few tips…
· When using natural, locally-purchased lard especially, work very quickly. Because it is not hydrogenated, this lard gets soft easily and works best when it’s very, very cold. After measuring and cutting it into small pieces, I put it back in the freezer before cutting it into the flour.
· Keep everything cold, especially the lard and the water. A flaky crust depends on the little specks of lard melting during baking and creating tiny pockets of air, forming the layers. The colder the ingredients, the greater chance the lard will not get soft and begin to melt, until it hits the heat in the oven.
· The amount of ice water you need will vary. On a very warm, very humid day, I’ve used as little as 4 T., while other days I’ve needed as much as 8 T. ice water. You just have to know the dough to decide when you’ve added enough.
· Know your dough! After a lot of practice, you know just how much cutting in of the lard you need to do and exactly when to stop adding water, to get the right consistency. Notice how the dough looks, and feel the pressure of the dough on the fork while adding water.
· Roll out dough from the center. I’m a center-out roller. I think this method allows for uniform thickness and shape, while preventing the dough from rolling back up on the rolling pin, as can happen with back-and-forth rolling. Sometimes I turn the dough often while rolling to prevent it from sticking to my countertop, but usually I keep a bench scraper handy when transferring dough to the pie plate.
· When transferring the dough to the pie plate, carefully drape the dough over the rolling pin, using the bench scraper to help lift the dough off the countertop if it’s sticking at all. I think this method allows you to position the crust how you want it in the pie plate without stretching it. (Any stretching of the dough will result in a shrinking crust, so don’t stretch it!)
· For a pie with a top crust, brush the top crust lightly with milk and sprinkle with sparkling or course sugar. Some people like to use an egg wash for a pretty golden crust with a sheen, but I like milk because it seems to give the crust an extra touch of tender, while helping it stay flexible enough to “move” with the filling during baking (so you don’t get a hollow dome). The sparkling sugar gives the pie, well, sparkle! It’s just pretty.
· Cover the edges of the pie with foil or use a pie shield, to prevent the edges from over-browning. I usually start baking a two-crust fruit pie at 375° for about 15 minutes, to help set the top crust and crisp up the bottom crust. Then I lower the oven temp. to 350° and bake for another 45 minutes before removing the foil. I then bake the pie for another 15 minutes, depending on the color of the crust and if the filling is bubbling.
· Do what works for you! Everyone has different methods for making pie crust, and after you’ve done it for a while, you do what works the best for you. You might prefer an egg wash to milk, or perhaps you enjoy getting your hands in there to make the dough. You might even like your results better with butter or Crisco rather than with lard. (Bite your tongue!) It doesn’t matter what works for someone else if it doesn’t work for you. You’ll know what works based on whether or not you want to eat the pie when you’re done!