Can lard be substituted for butter in biscuits?
Many home cooks swear by lard, which is rendered pork fat (and not vegetable shortening, such as Crisco, as many people think), for pie crusts and biscuits. However, most chefs find supermarket lard to be of subpar quality. To test the validity of this concern, we made two batches of our Buttermilk Drop Biscuits: one with butter as written and one with lard from the supermarket used in place of the butter. The butter biscuits were a clear winner, as our tasters found the biscuits made with supermarket lard dense and gummy, with a slightly sour aftertaste. This wasn’t a big surprise since the recipe was developed specifically for butter. But why were the lard biscuits so bad?
Butter’s capacity to create flakiness comes from its relatively high water content (15 to 20 percent). This water converts to steam in the oven, producing pockets of air and flaky biscuits. Lard contains no water.
But not all lard is created equal. Higher-quality leaf lard, which is rarely found on supermarket shelves but can be ordered from the butcher, is made from the fat around the pig’s kidneys. Our science editor explained that leaf lard has a higher melting point, thereby providing a more effective coating of fat around the other ingredients. This keeps the dough from gumming up in the oven, instead allowing it to bake and set into tender biscuits. Our test confirmed: Leaf lard made incredibly tender biscuits which, if not as flaky as those made with butter, were very tender with a notably rich flavor.
THE BOTTOM LINE: You can substitute leaf lard for butter in biscuits for tender, savory results, but they won’t be quite as flaky as biscuits made with butter. We don’t recommend using supermarket lard for biscuits.