Lessons in lard
When it comes to pie crust, I’ve always been a butter kind of girl. But in recent years the world has rediscovered lard. I’ve heard about rendered pig fat’s superior qualities when it comes to baking and frying, and that some consider it nutritionally superior to other fats. And yet I’d never tried to cook with the stuff. Why? Because when it comes to baking, I worship at the altar of butter. I simply wasn’t in the market for another religion.
Gradually, curiosity overtook me. And so I found myself at Lionette’s Market purchasing a tub of lard, something I’d previously only thought of as a playground insult. Lionette’s buys Berkshire hogs for butchering; they render the leaf lard from the area surrounding the kidneys.
Back at home, I opened the container and sniffed. It smelled gently porky and was a gleaming, solid white. I wanted to rub it on my face like a mask, the renegade Jew’s luxury beauty product. Instead, I scooped out a few blobs and cut them into flour. The lard was sticky at first but combined fairly easily; as I broke up the fat, the bacon scent intensified. This was going to be pie, sweet pie? It smelled all wrong.
But it rolled out so right. It was very easy to work with. I laid the crust in the pie dish, piled in a blueberry mixture, and topped it off with another crust. Into the oven it went. My kitchen soon smelled as though I’d fried a raft of rashers.
When the pie was done and cool, I cut myself a slice. The top crust was extremely crispy and flaky, but it had an aggressively porky flavor. It was texturally one of the finest pies I’d ever baked, it just didn’t taste like pie.
So I went back to the drawing board to bake a second pie, this time using half lard and half butter, as many bakers who favor lard do. It wasn’t quite as easy to work with, and the dough was more annoying to roll out. But it felt flaky to the touch even before it was baked. After, the crust retained the crisp, flaky qualities of the all-lard version. The piggy flavor was obscured. My kitchen smelled like butter, and my pie tasted like pie.
Will I stick with a butter-and-lard mixture for future baking projects? Maybe - the pie was awfully flaky and good. But first I think I’ll experiment with Ike DeLorenzo’s oil crust, which sounds ridiculously easy and tastes far better than it has any right to. Still a devout practitioner of butterism, I’m not about to start playing for another team. I’m simply pie curious.