Half homemade tampalen pork lard and half unsalted butter. That’s the proportion of fat that I added to my pie crust and it was wonderful. I learned how to bake pies from Sister, and have used a version of her filling and crust for decades and it has never failed to satisfy family and friends. I even have two roommates from COLLEGE who drop by every so often and they are totally destroyed if I haven’t baked an apple pie for them. One guy can still eat half of an entire pie in one sitting! :) I think I was baking apple pies before I knew how to cook rice.
For years, my default pie recipe used butter and crisco, that vegetable shortening that is white and comes in cans. The pie crusts were always pretty good, so why mess with it? But the availability of homemade lard has had me re-trying all kinds of recipes using the lard and I now know why our ancestors use to swear by it. For the most part, it’s TERRIFIC. The one area it falls a bit flat on is that rich buttery flavor we have become so partial to… so the best solution is a bit of both butter and lard…
I am convinced that to make good pie crusts in the hot humid climate in the Philippines is a bit more of a challenge than in temperate countries. Or maybe it’s just true that if a cook has “hot hands” then pastry is a problem. If you really want to nail the crust, follow these tips and use Sister’s recipe below. You should have a shatteringly good crust on your pies. So here are the combined Marketman/Sister tips:
1. Find the best possible locally available ingredients. Unbleached all-purpose flour if you can find it, if not, American packed all-purpose flour. Seeking out American flour seems so colonialistic, but trust me, the American packed flour, despite having the same brand name and packaging, is somehow different from the locally packed all-purpose flour. S&R sometimes carries the U.S. packed flour. And bizarrely, it is a few pesos CHEAPER than the locally packed flour. Use the best butter you can afford. There are several danish, australian and new zealand butters in groceries these days, buy the best and unsalted if possible. Add some cake flour as Sister suggests, to lighten the crust. I often skip this step as I don’t always have cake flour, and I always regret it. Find good homemade lard. :)
2. Cold, cold, cold. For the best results, you need to work in rather cool temperatures. To simulate a cooler environment, I often chill the flour I am going to use in the freezer for 10-15 minutes before using it. Cube the butter and lard and keep it in the fridge until a few minutes before you use it. Use chilled knives or a pastry cutter to cut up the butter and lard. You do not want the butter to melt. You want the butter and flour to mix, but with small shards of butter throughout. Use only the coldest of ice water when you add that to the mixture and don’t overdo the water. Use a cold fork to mix this all up. Do not “overwork” the dough.
3. Use your hands at the last minute to gather up the dough into a ball and divide into portions just right for the bottoms and tops of your pies. Measure your pans so you know if you have to adjust the amount of dough. I often wing it and end up with too little dough which is utterly infuriating when you are at the “point of no return” and rolling to cover the filled pie shell. Wrap the portions in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before continuing with the dough. In the meantime, you can start to prepare the filling.
4. In Manila, I use the freshest Granny Smith (light green) apples I can find. In other countries, there are lots of interesting apple varieties to use — I think Sister likes Northern Spy in the New England area. The crisper and often tarter, the better. Think about 12-14 medium sized apples for a ten inch pan. Peel, core and cut the apples and place them in heavy enameled or stainless steel pot. Add your sugar (I use a little less than most folks, as I want the tart appley-ness to prevail), cinnamon, nutmeg, butter, salt and cornstarch and put this over a low flame until the juices form a nice sauce, not more than say 10 minutes on the flames. This helps mix everything up and gets a head start on cooking the filling, so the pie doesn’t have to stay in the oven too long… which might result in a nearly burned crust but still undercooked apples within. I cut the apples fairly chunky and don’t overdo the pre-cooking so the apples pieces are still distinct when you cut into the pie, it isn’t all a mush of applesauce.
5. When you roll out your pie dough, you need a cool room (hard when your kitchen is heating up with the pre-heating oven and apples on the stovetop) and preferably a marble or stone counter. I bought a small piece of marble that is roughly 2×2 feet for several hundred pesos a decade or more ago from a marble supplier and I can move this (with some difficulty) into an airconditioned room if necessary to roll out the dough.
6. After filling the pie pan (apples should be 2-3 inches higher than the rim of the pan in a mountain like arrangement with the highest point at the center of the pan), carefully lay the dough over the apples and seal the edges well. Sister suggests an egg wash on the edge of the bottom crust to ensure a good seal. Place some slits or fork holes on the top crust to vent steam. Once cooked, the apples will shrink and you should have a fully packed pie, up to about the rim of the pan. Sometimes the domed crust will remain standing proud with air between the crust and the apples, but other times, specially in humid weather, the dome will deflate or collapse…
7. Brush the top of the crust with an egg wash and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Bake at a higher starting temperature and bring the temperature down after 10 minutes or so. Also, bake the pies on the lowest rack in your oven, to ensure the bottom crust of the pie is crisper, and not a mush of dough and applesauce. Sister sometimes cooks the pie on the floor of the oven I think. But beware of molten applesauce that tends to ooze out of the pies… if it drips onto the oven floor and burns your home fire alarm will almost certainly go off. I use a pan under the pie pans to catch the droobles.
Here is Sister’s latest pie crust posted recipe:
4 c. all purpose flour plus 1 c. cake flour (not self rising) unsifted
1 1/2 c. cold unsalted butter
1/2 c. cold lard
1 tbsp. fine salt
9-10 tbsp. cold water
Mix flours and salt in a large bowl.
Cut in butter and lard until you have lumps like corn kernels.
Sprinkle with cold water, tossing mixture with a fork or your fingers.
Push into 4 equal shaggy balls, flatten into fat discs and refrigerate for at least 1 hr. before rolling out between 2 sheets of lightly floured wax paper into 11? circles 3/16 thick.
Makes 4 single crusts for 9″ pie pan or two double crusts, top and bottom.
I also have an old post for the instructions on the filling.
As for the lard infused crust in these photos, it was brilliant. A bit thin because I didn’t make enough for two large pies, but the texture and flavor was memorable. Will definitely be making more pies with 1/2 lard, 1/2 butter. :)
Some trivia from Alton Brown’s book “Good Eats” with regard to pies:
1. “Humble Pie” goes back to medieval times, when the scraps of meat were cooked into pie, thus meaning to eat the most lowly of ingredients.
2. “Pie” is derived from the word “Magpie” as cooks believed pies were a place to throw in all the odds and ends in the kitchen. A Magpie (bird) collects all kinds of bits and pieces and stores them in their nest.