Per Evil's suggestion, I ordered a copy of The Pie and Pastry Bible
and decided to see what I'd been doing wrong.
While she does speak highly of leaf lard, her take on it lacks the evangelical aspect of the Saveur piece-- no doubt because she knows that lard pies simply aren't going to cut it with 90% of her readership. Nevertheless, she takes it seriously and so I decided to try taking her leaf lard approach to the letter-- except that I did allow myself to follow her option of doing half lard, half butter. I just didn't see myself liking an all-lard pie, too porky-tasting for me no matter how divinely flaky the crust.
For many of the crust recipes she offers a food processor variation-- but of course this one she doesn't. Instead there's a rather interesting method where you scoop the lard out in chunks and drop it into a plastic bag filled with your flour mix, then roll and knead it inside the bag until you have flat flakes of lard and butter in the dough. She's also very serious about keeping cold-- you mix it in a bowl that's been chilled in the freezer, and are urged to pop it back in whenever it seems to be getting warm.
The other interesting variation is that she has you roll it out on a board that's been dusted with whole wheat-- the little amount of whole wheat that it picks up is just there for a slight addition of flavor, I guess. It seemed a little odd to produce a crust that had a rough, whole wheat-looking exterior but was actually smooth inside.
For a filling I decided to try a rhubarb pie. I had frankly never thought of anything besides strawberry-rhubarb, except the pure rhubarb pies that my mom used to make, but she had a cherry rhubarb recipe that seemed instantly appealing, and certainly perfect for the season, so I went ahead with that. The cherries required a lattice top, which seemed a little daunting but was, in fact, incredibly easy. I'm all for tricks designed to make your work look much fancier than it really is, and this is one.
One last suggestion she had, for keeping the bottom crust from breaking, was to bake it on a baking stone.
The result? Very good pie. But to break it down into its components:
1) Too much lard, I think. Definitely the porkiest-tasting pie yet, not surprising since I've gone from about 40-leaf lard 60-butter to 60-lard 40-butter. I like the original proportions better; modern tastebuds would not want this with a mild flavor like apple or even peach, I think.
2) Yes, the flakiest crust yet, but not really that perceptibly different from the ones done in the food processor, which were perceptibly less work.
3) Cherries not only balance the rhubarb, they damn near hide it completely. I guess the reason strawberry-rhubarb works so well is because you still can taste the rhubarb.
So: an interesting experiment, worth it for learning, but I'm not sure I'd make this again in precisely the same way.
[images relinked 6/3/09]