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John Golden

John Golden writes about food and has a highly opinionated blog, The Golden Dish.

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Posted: November 12, 2014

Use fresh lard to make the best holiday pie dough ever (especially for apple pie)

In combination with butter or on its own, lard produces the flakiest pie dough ever. I like a combination of both, but after trying Richmond baker Paula Colby’s old-fashioned all-lard dough –well see for yourself.

Written by: John Golden

Now’s the time for all good pastry mavens to dust off their favorite pie dough recipe as Thanksgiving approaches, with its trilogy of holiday pies – pumpkin, pecan and apple. That said, I urge you to use lard in your pie dough.  A great dough can be made with all lard, as I feature here with Paula C’s Pie Dough or the one that I have published here often– a flaky pastry dough that uses both butter and lard.

The lard that you see on supermarket shelves should be avoided at all costs because it’s hydrogenated and filled with the “bad” fats.  Pure  freshly rendered leaf lard has no trans fats whereas the commercial variety available in supermarkets has it in spades because it’s so highly processed.

Fortunately freshly rendered leaf lard is becoming available at quality butcher shops.  Rosemont was the first to introduce it in our area, calling it the new olive oil.  The Farm Stand in South Portland also offers it from butcher Ben Slayton.

Pure lard makes a very fine and tender dough

Pure lard makes a very fine and tender dough

The fat content of lard is the same as butter or vegetable shortening like Crisco. But it’s inimitable flavor is unmistakable, with a faint, wafting taste of  pork.  Some butchers will sell you the pork fat to render your own.  But it’s a long, somewhat complicated  process (it must remain clear, not colored,) and so much easier to get it from the butcher at only a few dollars per pound.

My formula for a double crust pastry dough is to use 8 ounces (2 sticks) of butter mixed with 2 ounces (4 tablespoons) leaf lard to 2 1/2 cups flour for a double crust pie with the addition of about 2 teaspoons sugar and pinch of salt. You can also try using half butter and half lard. Using the food processor method, cut in the butter and lard, pulsing 10 times until the mixture is the size of small peas. Add add about 1/2 cup water processing until it just comes together. Form into two disks and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before rolling out.

Back in the day, however, lard was the main ingredient that home bakers used for biscuits and pies before the invention of commercial vegetable shortening.  Recently I spoke with Richmond baker Paula Colby who is a vendor, under the name of Paula C’s Home Baked Goods at the Brunswick Winter Market  at Fort Andross. When I saw her display of pies I asked her what kind of dough she used. She makes an all-lard crust and she gave me the recipe.

I offer her recipe for lard pastry, which I’ve made this week as a test run for my Thanksgiving apple pie. It’s a great dough, rolls out very easily and it’s extremely flaky.bBut if you prefer the taste of butter, try the variations that call for butter and lard together.

Colby’s method, an old family recipe, is enriched with an egg yolk and milk as the liquid ingredient instead of water; she also adds sugar and salt. It’s a richer dough, somewhat like a pate sable (a classic French dough enriched with egg yolk and sugar). Also she doesn’t use a food processor to mix the flour and fats but prefers the hand method using a pastry cutter. Either way, the dough works beautifully.

Pile the apple mixture high into the pastry case for the dome effect; (right) glazed and sugared ready for baking

Pile the apple mixture high into the pastry case for the dome effect; (right) glazed and sugared ready for baking

Paula C’s Lard Pastry

Servings: 2-crust 9- to 10- inch pie
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup lard, in small pieces, well chilled (see Notes)
1 egg, separated
Cold milk
Raw sugar (sold as Demerara or turbinado sugar), for dusting

Using a whisk, combine the flour, salt and sugar in a large mixing bowl or pulse in the workbowl of a food processor.

Add the lard and process or cut in with pastry cutter until the dough is the texture of small peas.  Using a fork or pulsing in the processor, add the 1 egg yolk mixed with enough milk to measure 2/3 cups.  Gradually add to the flour mixture until it holds together and is slightly moist.

Form into two balls and flatten each to 2 disks about an inch thick.  Wrap in plastic or waxed paper and chill for at least 1 hour before rolling out. When you assemble the pie, brush the top  with beaten egg white and sprinkle the top generously with raw sugar.

My apple pie made with Paula C’s lard pastry

This is the classic American apple pie. Change the spices if you wish, adding more or less cinnamon and nutmeg.  But don’t leave out the cardamom—it offers a distinctive flavor that melds perfectly with apples. All you need is a pinch or two.  Another finishing touch to the pie is after it’s baked brush some melted butter over the warm crust. Now that’s what I call gilding the holiday lily. Also, I like to dust the unbaked pie with turbinado sugar, often called sugar in the raw. It’s available in supermarkets.

A rich lard crust is baked to perfect for this apple pie

A rich lard crust is baked to perfection in this apple pie


Servings: 6 to 8

7 to 8 apples (about 6 cups or about 3 pounds), peeled, cored and sliced 1/2-inch thick
A few squeezes fresh lemon juice
1 cup white sugar (see Notes)
1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon salt
Pinch or two of ground cardamom
2 tablespoons butter, cubed
1 egg white, whisked until frothy
A few tablespoons turbinado sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees

Roll out one of the disks of pastry to fit into a 9-inch pie plate (preferably glass)

Mix together in a large bowl the apples moistened with the lemon juice to prevent discoloring.  Add the sugar, flour and spices.  By hand mix the apples until thoroughly coated.

Dump the apples into the prepared pastry case, piling the apples high into a dome. Dot the top with butter.

Roll out the second disk of pastry and cover the apples.  Trim the ends to an inch overhang.  Then fold the dough under and over to form a decorative border.  Cut 4 to 6 slits in the top crust for steam to escape.  Brush the top with the beaten egg white and sprinkle with the raw sugar.

Put the pie on a baking sheet and place in the middle of the oven.  Bake for 15 minutes and then lower the heat to 375 degrees, giving the pie a full turn.  Continue to bake for 30 to 45 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and the filling is bubbling.

Allow to cool on a rack. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.

Notes: Measuring out lard to fill a 1 cup measure is messy business.  To be accurate it should be packed into the cup measure. The easier way is to use a scale. 1 cup lard equals 8 ounces.

For sugar variations, you can use 1/2 cup each white sugar and light-brown sugar (packed) instead of all white sugar to sweeten the apple pie filling.

Local Sources:

Paula Colby (Paula C’s Home Bake Goods )

Lard, Rosemont Market or The Farm Stand

Apples, Portland Farmer’s Market, various vendors

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