It's been a long, wet walk home. Your ears are burning, your fingers freezing and your socks are wet, but it's been worth it. You throw down the white paper bag from the baker's shop, put on the kettle and prepare yourself for a nice cup of tea and some serious comfort food ...

Lardy cake is a type of rich sweetened fruit bread. It's moist and delicious, fluffy but filling, sweet and fruity and ... not suitable for vegetarians ;) Oh, and it's made with lard!

For some reason people wince at the thought of lard in a cake, and think only of butter or margarine for sweet recipes. I'm not sure why - pastry is made with lard as often as with butter. Some people think nothing of eating bacon with maple syrup - really just lard and sugar with a bit of protein thrown in for good measure, but very alien to the Brits! So, in this recipe, we use lard, which is really just another type of solid, saturated fat, as is butter, and with none of those dangerous trans-fats that appear in man-made products such as margarine.

Lardy cake is a traditional English food - recipes date back as far as the 17th century, a time when spices and sugar became more available for consumption, and not just by the aristocracy. There are numerous recipes, using varying amounts of lard (some substitute half the lard for butter, but that is, surely, an adulteration!). Regional variations also occur in the name, as well as the recipe - lardy cake, lardy johns, dough cake - but the basics are the same - the lard and sugar is layered into the dough in the same way as for flaky pastry and Danish pastries, resulting in a lighter texture and a smooth melt-in-the-mouth feel.

Ingredients (as usual, none of these proportions are set in stone - experiment to see what you prefer)

½oz (15g) fresh yeast (or 2 level tsp dried yeast)
1tsp sugar
1tsp (5ml) salt
1lb (450g) strong plain flour
½pt (300ml) warm water
8oz (200g) lard (up to 14oz in some recipes!)
4oz (100g) sugar (brown or white)
1 tsp (5ml) mixed spice
2oz (50g) currants
2oz (50g) sultanas

Method

Cream the yeast with a teaspoon of sugar and half a pint of warm water and leave for a short while until frothy.
Add this to the flour and salt and form into a dough. Knead for 5-10mins until smooth.
Set aside in a warm place until doubled in size.
Knock back and roll out into a rectangle a quarter inch (0.5cm) thick.
Dot with a third of the lard, and a third of the sugar. Sprinkle on a third of the spice and fruit. Fold the top third of the dough down, and the bottom third up, and press the edges gently.
Rotate the dough half a turn.
Repeat this procedure twice more, using up the rest of the ingredients.
Roll to the size of a well-greased tin (about 8in x 10in or 25cm x 20cm) and leave to rise in a warm place.
Brush the top with a little melted lard, and sprinkle with some more sugar
Bake at 220° Celsius, gas mark 7, for about 30mins, until golden brown.

Serve hot or cold, buttered or plain, and don't even think about the calories as you toast your toes by the fire!


Wazzer says: You know you can use beef dripping instead of lard, making a cake local to Gloucestershire (land of my fathers!) known simply as dripping? Mmmmm.....

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