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Nov 21, 2007 07:40 AM

piecrust: butter versus lard

I took a pie-baking class this week, and we made two piecrusts, one butter and one a combination of butter and leaf lard. Of the two, the butter crust was much easier to make and to handle. The combination crust was frankly a mess to put together: I needed the instructor's help to roll it out and drape it over the pie pan.

Do experienced pie bakers have a preference between the two? I'd welcome tips on how to make a combination crust that rolls out more easily.

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  1. I usually use 1/2 butter and shortening, as many people do not like the slightly gamy taste of commercial lard. The secret is to keep the butter cold, and grate it into the dough in 2 batches. The 1st dose butter should be incorporated with the flour, and the second gives you flakes of butter in the finished crust.

    I was taught to make all-lard crust and lard-butter doughs by the mother and grandmother, and I agree that they can be difficult to handle. I think a all-butter pie crust is too close to a tart dough to taste authentic in traditional pies

    1. This is a familiar discussion topic, here and between cooks in general: lard vs butter. Many traditional American cooks (like Kelli) use a combination- butter for flavour, and lard for flaky, fluffiness, because its melting point is higher. I personally only use butter; I dislike the greasy feeling lard gives you at the top of your palate, and I find butter can be plenty flaky if handled right. Kelli's tip for grating the butter (I actually freeze it first) is a sound one.

      1. We use half butter and half lard. I don't mean any insult, but I can't imagine where people who report gaminess or a greasy feel are coming from. The proper lard (rendered leaf lard) and the proper technique produces the lightest of all pie doughs (my opinion). It's not tasty, though, so that's why the combination of lard and butter.

        We routinely substitute lard for hydrogenated vegetable shortening to avoid trans fats.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Gualtier Malde

          I don't know about "gaminess," but I don't like pie crust made with lard. It just tastes bad to me. I don't want it. But I didn't grow up eating lard, so I'm not used to it.

          The crust for the punkin pie I made this morning had butter in it instead of shortening, which is what I normally use--I used the same recipe, just substituted butter for the shortening. The raw dough was quite tough, and I worried about what the finished pie would be like. But since I had extra dough, more than usual since it was a single-crust pie, I made a big batch of bumblebees, and tasting them revealed that the finished crust is absolutely wonderful, with a beautiful flavor and soft flakiness.

        2. Not too long ago I made a tourtière pie crust with 1/2 butter and 1/2 goose fat. It was a little trickier to work with, but the result was absolutely divine! I won't do it any other way now.

          4 Replies
          1. re: littlegreenpea

            Here was the verdict from Thanksgiving. The all-butter crust with the pumpkin pie was delicious, but the apple piece made with half and half drew raves for flakiness. I am definitely going to keep it in my repertoire.

            Question to Revsharkie: what are bumblebees?

            1. re: brendastarlet

              That's what you do to dispatch your leftover pie dough. Roll it out thin, just like you would for a pie, then smear it good with butter and sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon. Then roll it up and slice the roll about half an inch thick. Lay the rolls flat on a baking sheet and bake at 425 for 10 minutes.

              1. re: brendastarlet

                Hi Brendastarlet,

                I had another thought - try substituting cream cheese for the lard; it has a higher melting point than butter, so it will result in a flakier crust. Unlike lard, though, it also adds flavour. A pie crust made with cream cheese and butter might be a nice alternative version to add to your repertoire if you loved the flakiness from the lard.

                1. re: Gooseberry

                  Great idea. I hope you will let us know how it turns out.

            2. Has anybody tried the new and kinda radical formula for pie crust in the current issue of Cooks Illustrated? I have and I gotta say I'm liking it - a lot!

              They use a mix of mostly butter for the flavor and some Crisco for flakeyness. That's not an unusual combo but here's where they go way out of the box...

              They take a portion of the flour (a little more than half) and all of the fat and process it till it is a paste like pate sucre then they pulse in the rest of the flour just to incorporate it. This guaratntees tenderness because enough flour is protected with a coating of fat to inhibit gluten development when the water is added. The flour added last is subject to gluten development but just enough to give the crust some structure so it holds up during handling and baking.

              As if that wasn't enough, they add (for 2 1/2 cups - 12.5 oz - of flour) 1/2 a cup of liquid which makes for a fairly wet dough. So, you'd think with all that liquid the crust would come out like hard tack biscuits but no. Because half the liquid is vodka!!!

              The theory is that while gluten will develop in water it will not in ethanol. And since vodka is 40% water and 60% ethanol you get a nice pliable and easy to work dough with 8 TBS liquid but only 6 TBS total water. Once the crust is baked there isn't a hint of alcohol. Perfect crust every time guaranteed.

              5 Replies
              1. re: JockY

                I might try it for kicks and giggles, but my usual pie crust has white vinegar in it, that inhibits the formation of gluten in a similar manner.

                I have never had a problem with mine, and it works perfectly in a food processor. I used to roll it too thin, plus I have warm hands.

                1. re: Kelli2006

                  The CI article addresses the vinegar/acid issue as well. According to their food scientist acid does inhibit gluten development but only when it is used in large doses which makes the dough inedible. The 1/2 to 1 Tsp you put in your dough makes it only slightly acidic and actually toughens the dough they say.

                2. re: JockY

                  This sounds crazy, but I've had such great results from all the other CI recipes I've tried that I have to try this one too. My favorite pie dough recipe right now comes from the Stars Desserts cookbook. It is very simple, but has an astounding amount of butter - maybe 3 sticks for a 2 crust pie? It has so much butter that I can work the thing to death and people still rave about the flakiness. I can't wait to see what happens with the CI recipe too... Thanks for sharing.

                  1. re: JockY

                    My pie dough comes from the cookbook "The Best Recipe" published by CI. They advocate a ratio of 3 parts butter to 2 parts shortening. It turns out pretty tasty and with a nice texture.

                    1. re: HungryRubia

                      One of the things I like about CI is that they are always re-examining their findings - whether it's equipment, processes, ingredients or whatever. This is just another step in the effort to make our cooking lives a bit easier.