It’s that time of year again — leaves are changing colors, the air is more brisk, pumpkin-spice everything abounds, and it’s cool enough with the windows open that I want to bake all night. It’s also the time of year that so many of us ruin that diet we worked so hard on over the summer.
One night recently, I had finished dinner and most of the dishes, and my husband decided he really needed to do more work in the shop. So I figured what better time to start a baking frenzy? I looked at the five-pound Ziploc bag of lard I have in the fridge and wondered if the taste really was better than shortening. It's been so long since I baked anything with shortening, I couldn’t remember. So I dug out the last dregs of shortening that I had stashed out of sight, and I decided that this was the perfect time to not only bake a little, but to do an experiment. I decided to use both to see how they stacked up.
I chose to bake some pumpkin-hybrid pie. Pumpkin-hybrid pie is what you get when you cook down the innards of the beast of a squash that is the love child of a butternut squash and pumpkin. My parents had a bumper crop of these squash, so we have freezers full. With my filling out of the way, I started on the pie crusts.
Very first, I can tell you that working with the shortening was a little bit easier; it spreads into my measuring cups and out of them easier. This is intentional, of course, and it is part of what makes shortening so bad for your health. The lard is wetter than the shortening to begin with, so you don’t have to add as much water to the dough to get the consistency that you want. I used about two tablespoons less water in the lard pie crust.
After I let them chill in the fridge for a little while, I took out my dough balls and divided them both in half, so I had four total. I put two back in the fridge for pie crusts, and I rolled the other two out into pie tops that I intended to cut shapes into for decoration. The lard crust was more difficult to roll out, again the problem being that the dough is just a touch stickier from the moisture content. I added some flour, but it didn’t eliminate the problem entirely. The lard warms up more quickly than the shortening as well, which makes it harder to work into a crust. The shortening, on the other hand, I had a hard time rolling out without it splitting. As it got thinner, the dough wanted to come apart. I added just a little bit of water to correct for the dryness of the dough, but it still wasn’t as uniform when I rolled it out. It was easier to cut shapes from though, as the dough didn’t stick to everything it touched.
When I went to put the different doughs in the pie pans and get my pies in the oven, the lard crust had the same problems as before — hard to handle. It was soft enough that it tore easily, and when I tried to roll it out again, it only got marginally better. The great thing about the lard crust though, is that if you don’t get too frustrated, you can always go back and put little left over pieces into the crust where they are most needed. I did just that and had good results. The dough is easier to form into the pan itself, and to shape if you are interested in a fancy edge.
The shortening continues to be a little drier and has a harder time spreading in the pan if there are thin spots that need some love. But it holds a shape really well around the edge.
Both lard and shortening have their faults, and it probably just comes down to preference in the end. The lard crust is more difficult to work with, but the result is so worth the extra time and effort for me personally. If it were a mere taste test, lard crust wins every day of the week. The flavor is richer without being overwhelming. And as frustrated as I got working that dough, when I took my first bite of pie, I remembered exactly why I switched to lard in the first place.