Pie Crust: Lard vs Butter
Good friends gift you food they produced themselves! Several months ago, my friend Cara from Wild Farm Soap who supplies the pork, chicken, and turkey for our CSA program gifted me a giant tub of lard from their hogs. We laughed as she handed off the pail, thinking how silly it was that pig fat was considered a most welcome gift, but I was absolutely smitten by it. Whenever this happens, I wonder if not much has changed in the way of people from the past. I am sure lard from hogs was welcomed whenever possible. As I brought my new gift inside, I began to dream up all of the delicious things I could make with it.
Lard makes an excellent fat for a pie crust. As you know, my pie crust recipe uses butter. But I was curious as to what would happen if I incorporated cold lard instead. Lard has many advantages over butter. It chills easily, blends nicely, and does not break down under heat as quickly. This makes for an incredibly flaky crust if handled correctly, though it is not as flavorful as butter.
Butter being superior in flavor in most doughs and crusts, does make for a harder fat to work with. It melts quickly, and if not handled correctly, can create a chewy crust rather than flaky. If baked to perfection, butter-based crusts almost always win out.
For this experiment, I used my standard pie crust recipe with lard replacing butter for one set of crusts. I baked them both at the same time and same temperature with different fillings (peach in the lard crust, apple in the butter crust).
Baking: Lard Vs Butter
Upon baking with both, this being my first time with lard, I found the lard to be incredibly easy to work with when it came to blending and forming the dough. It did not need to be cubed nor did it take much elbow grease to mix into the flour mixture. I was pretty happy with this aspect. The lard crust seemed to make a harder dough, however, and less of it. I found that I really had to spread it out thin to get enough for two crusts worth, and it began flaking even upon rolling it out and placing it in the pie dish. I enjoyed seeing this, but it did make me nervous putting it together. Before working with the lard, I chilled it in the refrigerator.
The butter was the same as usual. It is something you feel the need to work with quickly, as even upon cutting it into cubes it begins to melt. I try to touch it as little as possible and use a pastry blender to incorporate it into the dry ingredients. It takes a little bit of muscle to work into a crumbled dough and takes more water than the lard. It does, however, withstand manipulation when it comes to fluting the edges.
final product: butter
The butter crust, baked at 400 for 45 minutes, took longer to bake and created a nice golden crust. I would normally bake this pie at 350 for 1 hour, but wanted to see the differences at the same oven temperature. The crust is thick, durable, and browned perfectly. As you can see, it leaves wet butter pockets where larger pieces were molded into the dough. These are always yummy, but not necessarily flaky!
final product: lard
The lard crust did, in the end, have enough dough to create a lattice crust after making a double batch of crusts. There were even leftover pieces that I saved for another project. The edges of crust browned quickly and even burnt a bit in some places; I actually removed it from the oven three minutes early rather than the scheduled 45 minute bake time. The center, however, did not brown much at all. I think low and slow might be the way to bake next time, with some foil or a pie shield on the edges to protect it from over-browning. I have never had this problem with a butter crust, so it was a new experience for me. It did stay in tact and came out beautifully, though!
and the winner is…
Which do you prefer to bake with? Lard or butter? I am glad that I was able to try this fun experiment and continue to make pies for my family! My next adventure will, of course, be to try a combined butter and lard crust so that I can achieve the best of both worlds. I encourage you to try the same next time!