“There is some lardy cake from my village bakery in the usual place. As something of a connoisseur on lardy cake I find this one to be rather fine. Hope you agree…..”
With a jaunty ‘ping!’, through came the above welcome piece of news into my email inbox – a generous colleague who had brought it in as part of a birthday celebration. But what was lardy cake exactly, and would I really like it?
What exactly is lardy cake?
Lardy cake is a highly-calorific non-vegetarian tea bread originally (according to Jane Grigson in English Food) from Wiltshire, but with regional recipes from other counties….. all of whom dispute the Wiltshire claim. The counties in question are Sussex, Hampshire (where my colleague’s bakery is situated), Berkshire, Somerset, Dorset, Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire….a huge swathe of southish-west England in fact.
Since lard comes from pigs it seems reasonable to consider those counties which had the highest pig populations to be the most likely originators of lardy cake…or lardy bread, as it’s also known…or, in Sussex, lardy Johns, or fourses cake.
How is it made and what is it made of?
Broadly, lardy cake is made from equal quantities of rendered lard…. (essentially clarified pig fat – go here to find out more about lard) and sugar thickened with flour to make a dough. During WWII clarified beef dripping was used. Technically you could also make lardy cake using butter…. but that would make it buttery cake, and not lardy cake!
In any event the dough is then rolled thinly and layered with spices and dried fruit. More sugar is often sprinkled over the top. The lard mixes with the sugar at the edges of the bread (this is a bread remember?) to form a gooey, crispy caramel.
When I thanked my colleague, he commented:
“I’m glad you enjoyed it. I think the best lardy cake should be sticky and moist all the way through, certainly not too dry on top, I find this best achieved by a more shallow, thinner cake.”
Thinness clearly helps, and some people find it helpful to turn the cake over on taking it out of the oven, so that the lard that has sunk to the bottom can fall back through the cooked dough.
How to eat
Lardy cake is fine cold…but wonderful hot, straight out of the oven. Making and eating lardy bread involves a lot of enthusiastic finger licking.
Leftover lardy cake
This seems unlikely… but if it happens, it’s good toasted.
The best recipe
I’m not going to reinvent the wheel. I’ve looked through some twenty, and I think Paul Hollywood’s is probably the best… slightly less sweet and stodgy than most, although you could argue that sweetness and stodginess is the whole essence of lardy cake.
Here, in any case, is the link.
This post is dedicated, with thanks, to Darren Whitford