I’ve finally found the perfect pie crust and it’s all about a little pig. Try this Perfect Pie Crust that combines butter and lard and you’ll be hooked too!
What does that even mean; The Perfect Pie Crust? Until recently I wasn’t sure. I feel like I’ve spent years in search of what would be perfect for me and reminiscent of those my Grandma used to bake and yet they all fell short of expectations; it was that ‘flaky’ factor that remained forever elusive.
Believe me, I’ve tried too. There has been Pate Brisée; supposedly the cream of the crop and yet while tasty from all of that butter, it simply did not elicit the exclamation from me that I was so hoping for. There has been butter AND shortening, cream cheese and lemon and vinegar an even vodka in pie crusts that always tasted good but just never did IT! Until I made this Perfect Pie Crust.
I had decided that my expectations when the word ‘flaky’ was used were just beyond the pale; that I was expecting more than possible. Maybe it was living in Colorado and our high altitude that made my quest so elusive so I settled and most often found I preferred graham cracker or shortbread crusts; they’re not expected to be flaky and are oh so delicious. But for some reason I never gave up. Thankfully.
Once I decided that the perfect pie crust was a fairy tale and that I no longer wanted to be the heroine who struggles through travail after travail I gave up. True confession time?
In lieu of finding that elusive and wonderful pastry that I was certain did not really exist except in my imagination I found some solace in often letting myself use Pillsbury Pie Dough (gasp!); the kind that you unroll and fit into your own plate. No one ever complained and it sure was easy and my search for the unicorn of pie crusts became a thing of the past and life moved on.
Still; I must have had something way back in that quagmire of nerve endings we call a brain that never quite let go so I paid attention to experts and the person I found myself paying the most attention to was Kate McDermott. The pie woman, the pie mistress, the Art of the Pie, the woman with a doggone pie cottage even! We bonded over my story of a fence and she gave me the scoop; her secret.
And I’m sharing her secret with you. It’s simple. It’s LARD. Pig fat. Almost banned from our kitchens for eternity but thankfully pigs have lost their association with evil fats and we’re enjoying bacon and ribs and yes, lard in our pies. Poor pig fat even has ugly connotations. Lard Butt. Lard Ass. HA…they must mean that person has a great big beautiful and FLAKY butt!
Wait though. Kate takes it one step further and recommends Leaf Lard. Lard from leaves? No silly! Leaf lard is the highest grade of lard (lard is pork fat, the term is usually used to refer to rendered pork fat suitable for cooking). It comes from the visceral – or “soft” – fat from around the kidneys and loin of the pig. It lacks any real pork or meaty flavor, making it an excellent neutral-flavor for pie crusts.
This was it; what Grandma must have used and I had finally found the Holy Grail on my way to The Perfect Pie Crust!
Leaf lard can be tricky to track down. Some small butcher shops make and sell it. I’m SO lucky to have a relationship with 5280 Meats; a Colorado organic beef and pork producer and they knew exactly what I wanted. Check Etsy though; I’ve seen it for sale there too.
Rendering your own is quite simple if you can find the fat and it is worth the effort to research that source. Put the pork fat in a pot and gently heat it on the stove or in the oven until the fat is melted and any bits of meat are rendered out (they will be browned and crisp and delicious, by the way). Transfer the lard to a container with a sealable lid and store, chilled, for up to a month or freeze it if it needs to last longer.
Making me even luckier? My friends Rachel and Ty sent me fat that was already rendered. SIX pounds of it! I’ve already promised some to friends but I have to tell you…I might be making a whole lot of pies! That first bite; that flaky thing that I had never known since Grandma; there it was. Amazing.
A recipe without sugar or any special accoutrements and it was the best I had ever had. (If you can not find a source for leaf lard, Kate recommends using 1/2 butter and 1/2 Crisco).
Since it is summer time and I moved during the winter, I’m sharing a photo from my backyard that has nothing to do with pies but everything to do with my new yard, my plethora of potted plants and a little cherry tomato plant that seems happy. I rescued another one from someone’s trash and it’s starting to thrive along with basil, thyme, rosemary and mint…all in pots this year. My first gardening since 2012 and it’s reminded me of how much I love it. Loved it even more with a bunch of kids scurrying around eating pie!
PIN ‘The Perfect Flaky Pie Crust’
Perfect Pie Crust and a Fresh Cherry Pie
Serve with either vanilla ice cream or this Amaretto Whipped Cream from Jessica at How Sweet Eats. Divine!
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 8 Tbsp cold butter (1/2 cup), cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 8 Tbsp cold lard, (1/2 cup) separated into several chunks
- 6-8 Tbsp ice water
To Make the Pie Crust:
- Mix flour and salt in food processor fitted with metal blade.
- Cut in butter cubes with five 1-second pulses. Add cold lard and continue cutting in until flour resembles coarse cornmeal with butter bits no bigger than small peas, about 4 additional 1-second pulses. Turn mixture out into a medium-sized bowl.
- Use your fingers to quickly sift through the mixture and if you find any really large chunks, just massage with some flour with your fingers to break it up.
- Sprinkle 3 Tbsp of ice water over mixture. With a fork, fluff to mix thoroughly. Squeeze a handful of dough — if it doesn’t stick together, add two more tablespoons of water and repeat. Continue adding 1 tablespoon at a time until a quick squeeze of the dough shows it is sticking togeether.
- Divide dough into two and then flatten into 6-inch discs. Refrigerate for 30 minutes before rolling. I had better success using a pastry cloth than trying to roll it on my granite top but in either case, make sure you sprinkle counter/cloth with flour and flour your rolling pin.
- Remove your dough from the fridge. Roll one piece into a circle large enough to fill a 9-10" pie place and fit gently into plate. DO NOT stretch your dough! Use 2nd disk for another pie, for lattice, or refrigerate or freeze for future use.
- Finish your pie in accordance with instructions for either blind baking or baking with a filling.
One of the MOST important aspects of making a successful pie is keeping everything cold so that the fat in your crust is solid when baking starts and they can do their magic in the oven; that's a big part of creating a flaky crust.
I freeze my processor bowl and blade and put the mixing bowl in the fridge. When it's time to test the dough after mixing with ICE water...make it quick; same when you pat it into those disks.