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Have Fun Learning the Tips for Perfect Pies, Just in Time for the Holidays

By Jane Butel  November 7, 2023

Pie Baking is so much fun when you know the tips for perfection.  I lwas fortunate to learn them from my Aunt who attended the Cordon Bleu in Paris.  And, I love sharing these pointers as they make pie baking so fun when the results turn out so pretty and delicious. 

It all starts with the crust.  And believe it or not, using lard makes all the difference.  Lard has the greatest ability to shorten the protein strands in wheat flour and the greatest ability to hold both moisture and "lightness or flakiness".   You might wonder why you did not know this.  (Quite probabily it was because following WWII, hydrogenated shortenings such as Crisco were introduced and the only way the corporations marketing them could get a market was to knock out a product that was already being marketed--lard.)

Any way, I love to share the hints and tips I learned from both my Aunt and my Mother.  They both loved pie baking and made such beautiful and delicious ones.

Now, pastry making is much easier with the advent of the food processor which combines the ingredients perfectly.  The secret behind flaky  pastry in addition to using lard is that you need to coat each grain of flour with shortening, creating the perfect texture.flavor and flakiness.

One more fact about lard is that when you beat 1/2 cup of each--lard, vegetable shortening or Crisco and butter, you will find that lard holds the most air. And it becomes quite a bit taller in the bowl than the vegetable shortening and lots higher than butter.  It is this ability to hold air and moisture that accounts for the superior flakiness and flavor in pie crusts.

The pies  you will be making in this class are--

Green Chile Apple Pie

Plum Perfect Gallette

Lemon Meringue Pie

Pumpkin ?cheesecake Pie

Margarita Pie

Each is so much fun and super delicious and has different techniques you will enjoy perfecting.

The class is set for a week from Thursday, just in time for Thanksgiving, on November 16 at 5 PM.  The next class is our first  Southwestern Holiday Specialties class on December 7 at 5 PM.

Here's two favorite recipes--


These were my Mother’s all-time favorite tamales. They are delicious, especially when served with the red chile sauce recipe that follows.  Serve them with Red Chile Sauce (recipe follows.)

Yield: 5 to 6 dozen tamales

The Filling:

1 1/2 pounds beef stew meat

Beef boullion or broth

1-1/2 tablespoons butter or bacon drippings

1/2 teaspoon garlic (1 clove), minced

1/2 cup ground pure hot Pecos Valley Spice Co red chile

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground Mexican oregano

1 to 2 cups reserved meat stock

  1. 1. Simmer the meat in just enough beef boullion or beef broth to cover and cook until tender. Reserve the stock. Cut the meat in very small cubes or chop in a food processor. In a heavy skillet, brown the meat in the butter.
  1. 2. After the meat has browned, add the garlic and cook for about 2 minutes. Remove pan from heat, cool slightly and add the ground chile. Season with salt and oregano. Add a cup of meat stock and simmer the sauce uncovered, stirring regularly for 15 to 20 minutes. Continue to add stock little by little as it blends in to make a thick, smooth filling. The balance of the stock can be used in making the red chile sauce.

The Masa (Cornmeal Mixture):

3-1/2 cups warm water

6 cups tamale masa

2 cups lard (1 pound)

1-3/4 teaspoons salt

  1. 1. Add 3-1/2 cups warm water to the masa to make a very thick mixture that holds together. Immediately add ½ cup cool water and mix in with your hands to prevent any lumps from forming. Continue to periodically add COLD water, about ¼ cup at a time until the masa is the texture of pudding.
  1. 2. Using medium speed on an electric mixer, cream the lard with the salt until very fluffy and it floats on cold water. Combine the lard with the masa and mix well using the lowest speed of the electric mixer.

The Cornhusks:

5-6 dozen corn husks, soaked in warm water

Hot water

1. Soak the corn husks in hot water until soft and pliable. Cool to room temperature before rolling the tamales.

2. Spread about 2 tablespoons of masa mixture on each softened corn husk, making a rectangle about 3 by 4 inches and leaving at least a 2-inch margin of husk around the edges. Next, place a strip of the meat filling in a strip down the center of each tamale, being careful not to place too much filling in each.

3. Twist the top of the tamale and tie with a bow. Fold the bottom of the husk up and loosely tie the bottom end with a strip of corn husk. If you plan to freeze the tamales, do so at this point, before steaming them.

4. Stand the tamales upright on a rack with the bottom or wide end down in a large kettle or pressure cooker. Before the rack is completely filled, add water to wick up about 1/4-inch into the rack. Steam the tamales in a conventional steamer for 45 minutes, or in a pressure cooker under 15 pounds pressure for 20 minutes. Serve with sauce, either the thinned meat filling in this recipe or the Red Chile Sauce.

Note: Any leftover masa or meat mixture can be frozen. Leftover filling can be added to the Red Chile Sauce. The steamed tamales can also be frozen. Each can be frozen for up to a year!


This is the basic red chile sauce used to create enchiladas and to serve over burritos, chile rellenos, tamales, and chimichangas. 

Yield:  2-1/2 cups 

2 tablespoons butter, lard or bacon drippings

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/4 cup ground mild red chile

1/4 cup ground hot red chile

2 cups beef stock or water

1 garlic clove, crushed

Pinch of ground Mexican oregano

Pinch of ground cumin

3/4 teaspoon salt (if not using stock)

  1. Melt butter in a medium-size saucepan over low heat. Add flour and stir until smooth and slightly golden. 
  1. Remove pan from heat and add ground chiles. Return to heat and gradually stir in stock.  Add garlic, oregano, cumin, and salt, if using, and cook, stirring, about 10 minutes.  Simmer at least 5 more minutes for flavors to blend. 


Sauté 1 pound ground beef, or beef cut in very small cubes.  Omit the shortening, and continue as directed above.  Use for enchiladas.


Reprinted from Jane Butel’s Southwestern Kitchen.





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