Biscuit

Why You Should Be Putting Lard in Your Biscuits

December 12, 2014

Every Friday, Cara Nicoletti of The Meat Hook helps us get to know our favorite cuts of meat a little bit better – and introduces us to a few new ones, too. Read on, study up, then hightail it to your nearest butcher.

Today: Why you should be baking -- and cooking -- with lard, plus a recipe for flaky, soft, rich biscuits you should make this weekend.

All About Lard

Poor lard. No other fat in history has gotten quite so much flak. The use of lard in cooking and baking has a long and tumultuous history in the US -- to me, its rise and fall (and recent revival) is one of the most interesting food stories we have. It used to be that everyone used lard without question; it was a stable and inexpensive fat that was abundant thanks to country’s the booming pork industry. 

One of the main contributors to lard’s fall in popularity was a scene in Upton Sinclair’s 1906 novel The Jungle in which workers at a meat-packing plant fall into boiling vats of rendering lard. It was so effective in turning people away from lard, in fact, that an entire pro-lard ad campaign was launched to undo its damage. Full-page ads of smiling, healthy couples with the words: “They’re young. They’re in love. They eat lard,” ran in every paper. The truth is, while lard can by absolutely no means be called “healthy,” it has less cholesterol and saturated fat than butter, and unlike most vegetable shortening, it does not contain trans fats. In moderation, and in combination with regular butter, it truly does make the tastiest pie crusts and biscuits.  

Lard Biscuits

So what is lard? Lard is the fat of a pig, either in its rendered or un-rendered form (above). While any pork fat can be considered lard, not all lard is created equal. That hydrogenated lard you see in the supermarket? Not the same thing. Don’t buy that. The very best lard for baking is leaf lard (pictured above), which is the hard white fat surrounding the pig’s kidneys. Rendered down, it has a (close to) neutral flavor and scent and adds both richness and lightness to your pastries (richness and lightness don’t have to be mutually exclusive, says lard). 

More: Use your lard to make these Welsh Griddle Cakes for a weekend breakfast.

Crusts and biscuits made with lard are flakier because they lack structure. Lard and shortening work by coating the flour particles and gluten strands in your doughs (literally “shortening” the strands, which is where the term comes from), thus preventing them from forming a strong bond. The stronger the bond, the tougher the crust and vice versa. Lard also has a higher melting point than butter, melting between 109 and 118° F while butter melts somewhere between 90 and 95° F. A slower render means more air and steam-release, which means more leavening and flakiness. The fat crystals in lard are also larger than those in butter, which means there is more empty space left behind when the fat renders out -- more space also means more layers and flakes. 

Lard Biscuits

A few things to note: 

  • First thing’s first: Buy lard from well-raised pigs. Most of an animal’s toxins are stored in fatty tissue -- if your pig didn’t live a good life, you don’t want its kidney fat in your pie crust. 

  • If you want to render your own lard, you'll need to grind it first. If you don’t have a grinder at home, ask your butcher to grind your unrendered leaf lard for you -- this will help it to render more evenly. If you don’t have a butcher (sad!), just cut your unrendered lard into small cubes. 

  • To render your own: Cover the bottom of a heavy pot with about 1/2 inch of water -- this just helps to keep the lard from scalding while it’s rendering. Add your ground or cubed lard over medium-low heat and cook it, stirring occasionally, until the fat is completely liquid, and the cracklings (the bits of meat left behind) are deeply golden brown and have sunk to the bottom of the pot. This should take about an hour. (Warning: Turn on your fan and open a window; this part is stinky.) Strain the lard through cheesecloth into a mason jar (something that can withstand high heat) and let it cool in the refrigerator until it is solid. The liquid fat will look yellowish and have a strong smell, but once it’s cooled, it will be creamy white and have barely any smell at all.   

Lard Biscuits

Lard Biscuits

Makes 10 to 12 biscuits

1 cup pastry flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup (4 ounces) rendered leaf lard
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 to 1 1/4 cups buttermilk
1 egg
1 tablespoon heavy cream

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by James Ransom

8 Comments

Ann M. March 6, 2016
Last night I used a 50/50 lard butter combo in a red velvet cake batter. Scrumptious and velvety! I was worried initially about the smell and taste of the batter but once baked those worries were gone. I did use all butter in the cream cheese frosting recipe. I didn't want to chance a greasy aftertaste. I render my own leaf lard from my local butcher. If you have no dietary / religious restrictions / convictions I urge you to try it. I don't believe you will be disappointed.
 
Amanda P. October 1, 2015
Lovely article and so informative! On the recipe, you have a range of 1.25 to 1.25 c buttermilk. Should that be 1.25 to 1.5?
 
Bloominfoodie December 20, 2014
Growing up on a farm we raised and butchered our own meat but my mother drew the line at rendering lard in the house, it really is stinky. We would render outside in a cast iron pot hung over a low fire. We butched in late fall after the crops were, which meant it was cold but the pot tender got hot chocolate and first pick of the cracklins. Needless to say my brother and I fought over who got to do this job every year. Today I still use the same cast iron pot that my mother used but I now use my gas grill which doesn't have the same panache as the pot on the fire but it's a lot easier and you don't stink up the house.
 
Emilie December 15, 2014
I've had a baking love affair with lard for several years and get it mail order from Dietrich's Meats in Pennsylvania. The shipping is pricey but the leaf lard itself is only $3 a pound. I wouldn't make a pie crust without it!!! (And the biscuits are pretty darn good too.)
 
CookOnTheFly December 14, 2014
Andrea, Prairie Pride Farm ships nation-wide. Unfortunately they won't be producing any more lard until February. I think they sell a 5 lb bucket for about $17.00.
 
Andrea Y. December 13, 2014
I have heard about leaf lard before, and I live in a major metropolitan area (Dallas) and I could not find it anywhere. I called specialty groceries, butchers, went to Hispanic groceries, and there was no leaf lard to be found. Any tips on where to find?
 
Author Comment
Cara N. December 13, 2014
Hi Andrea! I'm going to look into that for you further, but I do know that Heritage Foods USA sells it online and ships it--I think they would be able to ship to Texas. It's $45 for 5 pounds, which is pricey, but it comes from really nice pigs and will last a very long time. You can buy it here: http://store.heritagefoodsusa.com/leaf-lard-unrendered-5lb-berkshire-or-red-wattle-p171.aspx<br />Let me look around for more options!
 
CookOnTheFly December 12, 2014
Thank you! I only buy my leaf lard from Prairie Pride Farm in MN. Currently they are not producing lard until February 2015. Their lard makes the best pie crusts and biscuits that I have EVER had.