The Flakiest Pie Crust Ever — My Secret Ingredient

by Ann Marie Michaels on July 6, 2009

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Blueberry Pie

I made a couple pies over the 4th of July weekend. While I hate to seem immodest, I have to tell you… I’m still blown away at how amazing the pie crust came out.

I’ve been making pie crust for decades and, thanks to Jeffrey Steingarten and Marion Cunningham, I have mastered a perfectly light, flaky pie crust.

But this crust was even better than my best pie crust. A hundred times better! My pie crust was elevated from perfect to divine, thanks to a new ingredient. New to me, anyway.

What’s my secret? Read on…

First, a little history. I’ve been using Marion Cunningham’s recipe (translated by Jeffrey Steingarten in his book The Man Who Ate Everything) for years. It calls for about 1/2 butter and 1/2 lard (10 oz butter and 8 oz lard, to be exact).

Lard vs. Leaf Lard

Lard is the fat from a pig, rendered into a creamy white butter-like substance. Most pastry chefs agree that the best kind of lard is leaf lard. It comes from the fat near the kidneys of the animal.

I have used leaf lard and I have used regular lard from pigs. Both are very good. I suppose it’s true that the leaf lard is superior. It’s not a huge difference, but I think it is marginally better.

I have also used leaf lard from cows (beef tallow, rendered from the fat near the cow’s kidneys). That was also good, but not noticeably better than the pig’s leaf lard.

The Very Best Kind of Leaf Lard

This weekend I experimented with a new ingredient. Something I had never used in my pie crust before. And it surpassed my wildest expectations. I try to be humble and don’t like to toot my own horn. However, as I was eating this pie crust, I couldn’t help but wax on about how unbelievably delicious it was, how delightfully flaky and airy — truly the most sublime pie crust I had ever eaten.

The secret to the lightest and flakiest pie crust you’ll ever eat: bison leaf lard. In other words, bison tallow from the fat near the kidneys.

Why Bison Tallow?

You’re probably thinking, how could bison tallow be that much better than lard? I don’t know why, but it was. It was exponentially better than all the other kinds of lard I’ve ever used.

Beef tallow is harder and firmer than pig’s lard. It becomes completely solid when left out on the counter, whereas lard stays soft. And bison tallow seems to be even harder than beef tallow. It’s has the consistency of candle wax.

It is precisely the waxiness of the bison tallow that is responsible for the airiness of the resulting pie crust. It’s the hard chunks of fat that create air pockets which produces the flakiness in a pie crust.

Health Benefits

Did I mention that bison tallow is incredibly good for you? Bison tallow grass-fed — in other words, it’s from animals on pasture, which makes it a good source of Vitamin K2 — the vitamin that helps promote bone density and prevent cavities and osteoporosis. (Source: Beef Tallow: a Good Source of Fat-Soluble Vitamins?)

Wait a minute… does this mean we can prevent cavities by eating pie? Why, yes! Yes, we can. And isn’t that a good thing to know?

How lucky is my daughter? She’ll grow up eating homemade pie with ice cream and real whipped cream — instead of being forced to eat raw carrot sticks and cooked spinach.

How To Make Pie Crust With Bison Tallow

The hardness of the tallow poses a bit of a challenge when you’re rolling out the pie dough. It’s easy to make holes in the dough so you have to be very careful. Otherwise the recipe is the same as my pie crust recipe posted here. Just use bison tallow instead of regular lard (make sure it’s “leaf lard” — the fat from around the kidneys).

I hope you can get your hands on some bison tallow and try this out. Oh, and I’ll be posting my recipe for rendering tallow and lard very soon. Check back!

If you haven’t made a pie lately, do it! Your family will thank you. If you’ve never made a pie from scratch, try it! It really is so much easier than people think. And it’s worth every bite.

All this talk of pie is making me hungry. I think I’ll warm some of the leftover pie for lunch (Yes, LUNCH! This is healthy pie!), along with a slice of cheddar, some vanilla ice cream and a cup of decaf coffee. Ah, ain’t life grand?

This post is a part of Real Food Wednesday. Go check out Real Food Wednesday at Kelly the Kitchen Kop and share your real food tips and recipes.

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