Living The Frugal Life
I couldn't resist this. I've been working my way through online videos of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's various shows. I'm a bona fide sucker for traditional British foods, especially those with evocative or unusual names. So when he mentioned lardy cake, it hardly mattered what was in it or how it tasted. The name alone was sufficient to lure me. It turned out vaguely like an American sticky bun, but much more interesting, and less sweet overall. Really, I only say that it's like a sticky bun because that's the closest thing Americans would know, but resemblances fall apart pretty quickly.
Although "cake" usually denotes something that includes egg and is leavened chemically, this concoction has no egg and is made with yeasted bread dough. The first time I made lardy cakes, I had no lard on hand. So I substituted non-hydrogenated palm oil shortening, which actually turned the lardy cakes into a vegan preparation. (I know! I won't tell anyone if you won't.) The second time I took a stab at actually rendering my own lard, which quickly convinced me that purchased lard is one of the best deals going. Rendering lard is an extremely stinky process. I started it indoors, but quickly decided to move the process outside. Fortunately at least two of my purveyors of local, ethically raised pork also offer lard for sale. I'm buying it from now on.
This will seem a rather involved recipe if you're not a bread baker. Just remember that "involved" doesn't signify "difficult." The recipe calls for a pre-ferment, which means it'll need to be started at least one day before you'd like to bake and serve these treats. There's plenty of room for creativity and personal preferences in terms of spicing and which dried fruits you choose to use. You can play around with it, but I listed the spices I used in this recipe. The fruit is also flexible, but I used 1 1/2 cups diced apricot, 1 1/2 cups dried currants and 1 cup dried cranberries. I thought this combination of flavors turned out really well.
1½ cups (35 cl) warm water (110-115 degrees F/43-45 C)
½ tsp. active dry yeast
3½ cups (83 cl) all-purpose flour
Vegetable oil, for bowl
1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the warm water and the yeast. Let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes.
2. Add the flour and mix on low speed for about 2 minutes; the pre-ferment should feel like a very wet dough.
3. Place the pre-ferment in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, and let stand at room temperature for 24 hours. If you wish, store the pre-ferment, refrigerated, up to 1 week, or freeze in plastic for up to 3 months. Bring the pre-ferment to room temperature before using.
1½ (35 cl) cups warm water (110-115 degrees F/43-45 C)
5 tsps. active dry yeast
Pre-fermented dough, about 3½ cups
4 cups (95 cl or 610 g) bread flour
1 tbsp. salt
All-purpose flour, for dusting
Vegetable oil, for bowl
1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the warm water and the yeast. Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes. Add the pre-fermented dough, separated into small pieces. Mix on low speed until combined, about 2 minutes.
2. In a medium bowl, combine flour and salt. Add to yeast mixture, and mix on low speed, 1 minute. Change attachment to dough hook, and mix on medium-low speed until dough is smooth and just sticks to your fingers when squeezed, about 8 minutes.
3. Lightly flour a work surface. Turn out dough, and knead 4 or 5 turns into a ball. Place the dough, smooth side up, in a lightly oiled bowl, and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until dough has doubled in bulk and is slightly blistered and satiny, about 1 hour.
4. Punch dough down, and fold over 4 or 5 times. Place folded side facedown in bowl. Cover, and let rise again in a warm place until doubled in bulk and satiny, about 50 minutes. Divide dough in half, and wrap in plastic until ready to use.
Shaping and seasoning
All-purpose flour, for dusting
4 tsp. ground allspice
1 tbsp. ground cardamom
1½ tsp. ground cinnamon
½ freshly ground whole nutmeg
1 1/3 cups (31 cl) cane sugar or lightly packed brown sugar
8 ounces (225 g) lard or non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening
4 cups (95 cl) mixed dried fruit, such as diced apricots, cranberries, and currants
1. Combine the spices with the sugar and blend until an even mixture is achieved. In another bowl, combine the dried fruit.
2. Work with one half of the dough at a time. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out half of the dough into an oblong rectangle, measuring about 20” by 10” (50x 25 cm). Arrange the dough so that one short end is nearest you, and the dough stretches away from you. Make two light impressions horizontally in the dough, demarcating equal thirds of the rolled out dough.
3. Spread 4 ounces of lard over the two-thirds of dough farthest away from you, leaving a 1/2-inch border around perimeter. Sprinkle one quarter of the sugar and spice mixture over the lard. Sprinkle half of the combined dried fruits over the sugar. Using the palms of your hands, gently press the fruit into dough.
4. Fold the nearest (bare) third of the dough over the middle third of the dough. Pull the dough gently towards you and fold over again to cover the last third of the dough. Gently press down on the outer edges of the dough with your fingers to create a seal.
5. Dust the work surface with more flour and let the dough stand for 20 minutes, covered with plastic wrap or a very slightly damp clean towel.
6. Roll the dough very gently with a rolling pin, elongating and widening the existing rectangle to about 15” by 7” (38x18 cm). Arrange the dough again so that the short end of the rectangle is towards you, and demarcate three equal sections. Scatter one quarter of the sugar mixture over the two sections of the dough farthest from you. Fold it over in thirds like a letter, and sealing the side edges, as you did in step 2. Let the dough rest on a well floured surface for 20 minutes, covered with plastic wrap or a very slightly damp clean towel.
7. Preheat the oven to 350 F/175 C. Repeat step 2 one more time, but without adding any more of the sugar mixture, and let the dough rest for 20 minutes. Cut the rectangle lengthwise into 2 equal pieces, then cut each long piece into 6 equal slices. (Alternately, you may cut the dough into larger pieces of any number you desire.) Arrange each piece on a baking sheet lined with parchment, or place each piece in its own aluminum baking tin. Let these pieces rise for 25 minutes.
8. Bake cakes until golden and puffed, about 22-25 minutes. If baking larger pieces, they may take 35 minutes or more to bake. Let cool slightly before serving.
Repeat these steps with the second half of the dough. Each half portion of the dough makes 12 individual servings of lardy cake, 24 total portions from this recipe. Lardy cakes will keep for a few days, wrapped in aluminum foil, but are best eaten fresh the day they are baked. You can reheat the cake before serving in a low oven, wrapped in aluminum foil.