26 October 2007


Much like I think about the passage of time in the fall, I only bake pies in the fall. Apple, mostly, because the apple harvest has come in, but sometimes a pecan pie too. I'm not a big fan of cherries, so I don't make cherry pies in the summer, and I'd rather eat peaches whole or made into ice cream than in pies, so apple it is.

DH is a huge fan of apple pie or apple dumplings, which are actually a lot less trouble than a whole pie. But, y'see, I'll eat just one small slice of apple pie to see how it turned out; if I make apple dumplings, I'm going to eat at least 2 of them.

Surprisingly in someone so enamored of working in the kitchen, I've only rarely bothered to make pie crust from scratch. I have a weakness for Jiffy's pie crust mix left over from my childhood. My mother isn't a big fan of baking, so that's what she used. All you do is add water.

Lately, however, that hasn't been good enough for me. Last weekend I made two apple pies, one for a neighbor and one for us. When I tasted it, the crust was dry. Dull, lifeless, and dry. DH rarely complains about any of the baking I do, knowing as he does that I'll offer sweetly to let HIM bake next time. We'd wait for the next ice age before he would bake something, and since he likes his baked goods....well, he just doesn't complain. But when I asked for his honest assessment, he agreed with me that the apples were perfection, the filling was wonderful, but the crust was dry.

I collect cookbooks like other people collect art or knick-knacks. Of course I have a cookbook dedicated solely to pies. It was a gift from a friend, and while I've read it cover to cover, and been fascinated by the types of pies I've never heard of, I've yet to try my hand at any one of the sweet or savory pies that are on its pages. It has a whole section on pie crusts, so when I decided that I was going to make a pie crust from scratch, that was the first place I went for research.

Over the years, I have heard anecdotal evidence that suggests the best pie crusts are made with lard. Which, I've got to say, squicks me out to the nth degree. The book seemed to suggest this too, so I picked up lard at the grocery store, all the while thinking, 'ewwww' and 'I resolve to not eat one single piece of this pie. Bad for you. Bad. See this lard? See your thighs?'

I experimented with the pie crusts by using several different types of flour. Two kinds of whole wheat flour, pastry and regular, and one crust with the last of the all-purpose bleached enriched flour in my pantry. Never again, that stuff, now that I have discovered unbleached and unbromated flour.

The recipe that uses lard calls for vinegar, too. That bothered me a bit; who wants vinegar with their apple pie? But I stuck with it, adding all 4 teaspoons of vinegar that the recipe called for. Mistake. Not a big mistake, but in the finished pie, I could still taste the vinegar. I had hoped that the flavor of it would diminish with baking, because the smell of it was pretty pungent when I was working with the raw crust. It added something interesting to the taste of the crust, interesting as in 'what the heck is that,' not as in 'mmm, wonder what that is.' Next time, lots less vinegar. A teaspoon. Perhaps two. No more.

DH was not thrilled with the whole wheat crust. I've got to admit that I wasn't either. Its texture is tougher than the AP flour, the color of the finished product is lots less satisfying, and somehow, it seems wrong to have a pie crust made with lard (how much worse for you nutritionally can you get than LARD, ffs?) and trying to balance out the bad by using whole-grain flour.

There is no doubt at all that the lard crust was much more flaky, had better flavor, and was far richer than my old standby box pie crust mix. But I don't think I can ever bring myself to buy that stuff ever again. Icky. Really icky. When I was working with it, I tried to imagine that it was shortening, since it has a similar color and texture. I even turned the container of it around so that the side printed in Spanish was all I could see. Funny those little things you learn; Spanish for lard is manteca. Next time it will be butter. And better, too.


MotherMe said...

You knew I couldn't let this go without a comment, right? Because, icky as it may be, you know I totally believe that lard makes THE BEST pie crust. Skip the vinegar. I don't think it does anything, especially if you use cold water and maybe even refrigerate your dough a few minutes before rolling it out.

If lard ewws you out too much, try half lard and half butter. Butter alone melts at a lower temp, and will therefore give you a much less flaky crust than the lard or a combo of lard & butter will. But butter also has better flavor. I find that a 2:1 ratio of lard to butter gives a good balance of shortening properties and taste.

Whatever you do, skip the vegetable shortening. Talk about your ew.


Lucy Arin said...

I know vegetable shortening is very very bad for you nutritionally, but for some reason it squicks me a lot less than lard.

IDK what the vinegar is supposed to 'add' chemically; maybe lard has a "sweet" taste and the vinegar balances that out in savory pies? Because in a savory pie, this might have been OK.

I knew you'd have to say something about this, being baker extraordinary that you are. :-)

I'll have to give the 2:1 ratio a try, because I do have about a 1/2 cup of the stuff left over and I'm not going to leave that in my fridge much longer. It makes my stomach turn every time I look at it.