Lard was the traditional British bread fat. Good quality and tasty lard used to be available everywhere since local butchers made their own lard. The rendering of lard involved cutting the pig fat into small pieces then melting it slowly over a very low heat. Nowadays it is a rare thing to find a butcher rendering pig fat, and it is no surprise that lard has fallen from grace. The factory made stuff is unappealing, being laden with additives and chemicals, and does not taste of pork. Further, lard is associated with heart disease and poor choice of diet.
Lardy cake was a baker’s staple in days when people had to endure the cold of winter – before central heating (and global warming too). Food historians think that London and the home counties was where lardy cake was first made, but soon it had spread everywhere in Britain, particularly into counties where pig rearing was favoured.
From the fully fermented white dough of the day the baker would cut a chunk to set aside for the lardy cakes. Sweetened lard was added to it usually in the method of making puff pastry, but all over Britain there are differences about exactly how the lardy cake would look and be made. In some areas it was more like simple rolled dough without the flakiness of puff pastry. While sugar in the lard was universal, there would be other additives in different regions, such as cinnamon, dried fruit like raisins/sultanas/currants, perhaps peel, and even apple.
Some bakers would put all the lard/sugar on the sheet of dough and proceed to roll and fold as for puff pastry. Other bakers would divide the lard/sugar mix into thirds and apply each third preceding the next fold.
In some areas the bakers would bake the large rectangle having scored it first to make it easy to cut. Other regions had bakers that preferred to cut it first to bake individual ones on tray or in tins.
To make LARDY CAKE
Beat together 300 gm lard and 200 gm sugar, and place in the refrigerator to harden.
Use already fermented white dough, 1.5 kg, chill it for a few hours
Add the lard/sugar mix into it as for puff pastry, following the steps below.
Roll it out to a rectangle, add the lard/sugar mix (that has hardened in the fridge) in the normal manner for puff pastry. Strew dried fruit , cinnamon, etc., as you perform each fold.
Give it three regular ‘half-turn’ folds, with half-hour fridge rests between them if the room is warm.
After a final rest in the fridge, pin it down to a rectangle, and cut it into 4 cakes, egg glaze, strew all over the tops with sugar. Give some final proof time – perhaps an hour -so that they are starting to swell before you bake them. Bake on a tray or in pans like small farmhouse tins.
Bake in a dull oven, 200 C should do. Beware too much bottom heat, perhaps put thick cardboard under them, place paper on top if browning too briskly.
About 15 -20 minutes at 200 C. [180C if powerful fan oven].
Cool them upside down to allow the sugary lard to drain back through the cake.