Wednesday, December 7, 2011


In life we are tasked with different types of quests - some trite while others can be life changing. Quests often start in one place and end in another. But every quest needs a first step, and those moments that propel your story forward. In novels these moments are referred to as the "inciting incident," or the decision that will change a character's life. Certainly, my own life can be stringed together by a series of quests. And in a strange way it seems regardless of decisions or choices made, or even roads chosen, I was always going to end up right here. And depending on what that means to you, that could either be a good or bad thing. I haven't quite figured out my own situation. But I can't help but wonder if all these quests are just disguises for what really is our need for perfection. After all, aren't most quests an arduous search for something? And usually involving some pie-in-the-sky ideal that can never be attained. Or can it?

I came across an interesting article in a 2003 issue of Saveur magazine. The author, Elmer R. Grossman, was on the quest for the ultimate shortening that would result in a flaky, flavorful pie crust. He had tried Crisco, the go-to fat for his Jewish grandmother, that although produced tender flaky crusts - fell short on taste. In search of an alternate shortening, Grossman learned the choice fat of most classic cookbooks was lard. And when he started baking with this rendered pig fat, he found it did yield a wonderful flaky texture. But lard is hydrogenated for a longer shelf life, and Grossman realized that if he wanted to avoid trans fats, he would have to find old-fashioned fresh lard, the kind butchers sold from their refrigerated cases. But he soon learned all lard is not created equal, and that the most desirable kind for baking is leaf lard, which comes from the collection of fat around the pig's kidneys - nearly all of which is purchased by commercial bakers. And so began his quest for leaf lard, which ultimately turned out to be more illusive than he originally anticipated. But persistence paid off, and the reward was a crust that was both beautifully flaky and flavorful. Now, that's going the distance for the perfect pie crust.

(makes two 9" pie crusts)
2 tbsp white vinegar
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup pastry flour
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp baking powder
12 tbsp chilled, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
6 tbsp leaf lard, chilled
  1. Combine vinegar and 1/4 cup ice water in a small bowl. Combine flours, sugar, salt, and baking powder in a large bowl. Put both bowls into the freezer until well chilled, about 20 minutes.
  2. Using a pastry cutter, or two knives, cut butter and lard into chilled flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal flecked with pea-sized pieces of butter and lard. Sprinkle in water-vinegar mixture, stirring dough with a fork until it begins to hold together.
  3. Press dough into a rough ball, then transfer to a lightly floured surface. Give dough several quick kneads until it becomes smooth. Divide dough in half, gently shape into 2 balls, and flatten each ball slightly to make a fat disk. Wrap disks individually in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 8 hours before using.

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