To me, the perfect pie crust is ultra-flaky without losing its form. It has a rich savoriness that counterbalances sugary fillings. I’ve been making pie dough from scratch for many years and my experience has taught me that fat content plays a crucial role in achieving this balance.
Fat shortens gluten strands in the flour, which makes it flaky. I’ve found that the best pie dough is made with a combination of butter and lard. Butter has a flavor of its own, it’s easy to work with, and adds extra moisture to hydrate the dough. However, too much butter can make a crust puffy and tough, which is why I blend in rendered leaf lard. This soft fat is found around a pig’s kidneys and is highly regarded for its rich taste and the way it can make dough as flaky as a croissant.
It might be hard to track down leaf lard but it’s definitely worth the effort. You can substitute with rendered bear fat or even duck fat if you’re lucky enough to have those on hand. Whatever fat you choose, just remember to keep everything very cold! The fat needs to be solid when cutting into the flour so that as it cooks it creates layers for the crust to separate into flakes.
- 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp. kosher salt
- 1 tbsp. sugar (use for sweet recipes only)
- 2 tbsp. butter, chilled
- ¾ cup rendered leaf lard, chilled
- 4-6 tbsp. ice cold water
- Whisk the flour, salt, and sugar (if using) in a large bowl. Using a fork or pastry cutter, cut in the butter until the mixture is crumbly.
- Next, cut in the cold lard until it becomes a crumbly texture. Use your fingers to roll the lard and flour together to coat. The lard should be small, pea-sized pieces when finished.
- Add the ice-cold water, little by little, and mix to incorporate until you can mound a clump together in your hands. If the dough wants to fall apart, add a little more water. It shouldn't be sticky, and you should be careful not to overwork the dough into playdough. Cut the mixture into two discs and wrap both tightly with plastic.
- Place the dough into the refrigerator. Allow to rest for at least an hour or up to three days.
- Sprinkle the surface with flour and roll out to desired size and shape.
Note: You can wrap a ball of dough with plastic wrap and place inside of a freezer bag and store in the freezer for upp to six months.