How to Make a Lardy Cake



Lardy Cake is a traditional British yeasted cake dating from around the second half of the nineteenth century. Lardy Cakes were traditionally harvest cakes. In small rural communities where sugar, spices and dried fruit were luxuries, they were made for special occasions. When a pig was slaughtered, every part was carefully used. The offal would be eaten fresh, hams and bacon laid away, and fat rendered to lard. Sprigs of rosemary might be added to some of the lard, especially if it was to be used for spreading on bread. Most, however, was put away in its pure form for cooking purposes during the coming months, and a pig’s bladder made an excellent receptacle.

Regional Varieties of Lardy Cake

People would almost certainly make a Lardy Cake or something similar with the newly collected lard. It was made from plain bread dough but with sugar, spices and, perhaps, dried fruit. There were regional variations: the Oxfordshire Lardy, for instance, does not contain dried fruit; the Wiltshire Lardy has only currants; and the Gloucestershire Lardy has both currants and raisins.

This recipe for Lardy Cake (which appears here with permission) comes from Gaitri Pagrach-Chandra’s baking book Warm Bread and Honey Cake (pub. Pavilion £25 hb, photographs by Vanessa Courtier). Gaitri Pagrach-Chandra has created a contemporary version of Lardy Cake – there’s no lard at all! and just enough butter to add flavour and texture.

The dough is folded and rolled out much like puff pastry. Before being put into the oven, a cross-hatched pattern can be cut into the top. This touch is decorative but also practical because it was traditional to break the cake, not cut it. The cake turns out beautifully veined with the delicious filling, and crisp and sticky from sugar that has escaped and caramelized, adding to its rugged charm.



Lardy Cake Recipe

Ingredients:

To Make the Dough:

375 g/13 oz/2½ cups strong white (bread) flour

1½ tsp easy-blend (active dry) yeast

1 tbsp sugar

¾ tsp salt

35 g/1¼ oz/scant ⅜ stick butter, melted and cooled

about 200 ml/7 fl oz/¾ cup milk, warmed

To Make the Filling:

100 g/3 1⁄2 oz/7⁄8 stick butter, softened

75 g/23⁄4 oz/1⁄3 cup soft dark brown sugar

1⁄2 tsp ground cinnamon

1⁄4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

50–75 g/1 3⁄4–2 3⁄4 oz/1⁄3–1⁄2 cup currants or raisins, or a mixture (optional)

beaten egg, to glaze

Equipment: 24-cm/9-in round tin



Method:

Put all the ingredients in a large bowl and mix to moisten the dry ingredients. Use a heavy-duty mixer fitted with a dough hook to knead thoroughly until smooth and supple. Alternatively, turn out onto a floured surface or a non-stick silicone mat and knead until smooth and supple.

Bring together in a ball and return to the bowl. Cover the bowl with clingfilm (plastic wrap) or a damp tea towel (dish towel), and set aside in a warm, draught-free place until doubled in size.

For the filling, beat all the ingredients together until creamy. Set aside.

Knock back the risen dough and re-knead it briefly. On a lightly floured surface, roll it out to a rectangle about 50 x 25 cm/20 x 10 in. Spread the filling evenly on two-thirds of the dough sheet, leaving one outer third empty and about 4 cm/1½ in clear on all other sides. If using, sprinkle the dried fruit over this and press down to embed.

Fold the empty third over the middle third and the remaining third over this. Pinch all the edges well to seal the filling in. Cover with a sheet of clingfilm and leave to rest for about 5 minutes to make it more manageable.

Give the dough parcel a quarter turn (90°) and roll it into a rectangle about 30 x 15 cm/12 x 6 in. Fold this into thirds again and leave to rest for 5 minutes. Repeat this procedure three more times, turning the dough by a quarter turn and rolling and folding. If you find that you are losing too much filling, omit the final turn.

Note: This can be very messy work because the filling tends to ooze out in weak spots. Just patch it up as well as you can and continue to work. All these oozing bits will caramelize nicely as the cake bakes. Equally, though, you don’t want to lose too much of the filling, as the lamination will be less effective. After the final rolling and folding, grease the tin and put the dough packet into it, then flatten with your hands so that it fits as snugly as you can get it. Cover the tin with clingfilm and leave it in a warm place until almost doubled in size.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180˚C/350˚F/Gas Mark 4. Brush the dough with beaten egg, then lightly score a cross-hatched pattern onto the surface (if wished). Don’t cut too deeply, or too much filling will be able to escape.

Place the baking tin on a baking sheet (to catch leaks) and bake for 25–30 minutes, or until brown. Remove from the oven, but leave in the tin for about 5 minutes. Then carefully release the clip and turn the cake upside down on a wire rack.

Remove the bottom of the tin, which will probably still be attached to it, and leave to cool further.

Eat lukewarm or cold, cut into wedges or slices.



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