It’s cold. It may not have snowed here in London but when the sun disappears in the late afternoon, the chill ices into your bones. Middle daughter and I suffer from bad circulation that materialises in white fingertips when the temperature drops below 10C and white toes when it hits minus figures. Thawing is mildly painful as the extremities turn bruising blue before returning to pink. Middle daughter doesn’t do hot either. She is a temperate child. The family GP, a pragmatist at the best of times, diagnosed a possible mild form of Raynaud’s syndrome where the arteries spasm and blood flow is reduced. His recommendation is that if I didn’t want surgery to cut the nerves in the back of my neck, then I should wear gloves. I do, regularly.
My own thoughts were that I needed to maintain good circulation in winter time to keep the blood pumping round my six foot frame and that some form of exercise was essential. Needless to say, over many, many decades I’ve tried a few forms of exercise – running, tennis, squash, golf, skiing, dance aerobics, clocking up miles on the treadmill, rowing, horse riding. I’m not very good at any of them but happy to have a go. Now, taking into consideration that my joints have seen better days, I swim regularly and throw in a bit of gentle yoga to keep the joints oiled. Dog, however, is an enthusiastic walker and drags me across London on the hunt for new green spaces. The bi-product of all this exercise is that it leaves me hungry and in low temperatures the only food that unsticks my stomach from my rib cage is a large slice of carbohydrate, preferably in the form of some sort of baked goods; cakes with a bit of heft.
Therefore, I’ve reinstated ‘elevenses’ – or ‘elevensies’ as a Hobbit would say – to become an important part of my winter diet. At primary school in the 50s we were handed out buns and bottles of milk at morning break time. I’ve never liked cold milk but the buns, mostly currant or Chelsea with the occasional doughnut, were great favourites. My grandmother (I remember her as good a baker as Ms. Berry), could also rustle up buns galore, never mind scones and Eccles cakes, cream horns and chocolate eclairs, so our Essex kitchen was a popular place to be in the school holidays.
Now Christmas is only a memory, and that most wonderful of substantial bakes, the cake, complete with its heavy layer of almond paste and teeth jangling royal icing is finished. The equally good Christmas pudding, fried in butter, lasted but a week. So I have been looking for a replacement with a similar calorific intake. Fruit cakes work well because they keep and, as I have written in our blog ‘Let Them Eat Cake’, at one time I was very attached to British Rail’s saffron-coloured fruit slice with its healthy dose of glace cherries and raisins. But I haven’t seen that on a train trolley for years. Man loves gingerbread and, as it also keeps well, I accommodate him with a sticky spicy loaf with a sprinkle of sultanas (see ‘Spicing up an Anglo-Dutch War’). But my hunt for something substantial but different has lead me to another traditional English bake – Lardy Cake. Now I understand that there are bakers outside of London that still make this wonderful fat-laden pastry but not, as yet, in Hackney. The supermarket versions lacks taste as they have been too keen to reduce the fat content to add more sugar as well as something called ‘shelf life improvers’ which my digestive system prefers to avoid.
Lardy cake seems to have originated from southern English counties where pigs were farmed, with Wiltshire taking the lead, although versions of the cake can be found in Sussex, Hampshire, Dorset and Gloucestershire. As a home cook in the UK, it’s useful to know thy fats; both pig fat (lard) and beef fat (dripping) are less saturated than butter, and I can’t not mention suet (fat taken from around a cow’s kidney) which is such an important high energy fat for cold weather delights such as jam roly poly and savoury dumplings.
I’ve never made a lardy cake, and unfortunately Felicity Cloake, my ‘turn to food writer’ whenever I want to make something for the first time,’ hasn’t written about it either. After a brief foray into Google I’ve come up with this version of Lardy cake, using leftover mincemeat from Christmas instead of dried fruit and sugar. I’m amazed that I succeeded the first time and even Man seemed to think it was love at first bite. It’s much lighter than I remember lardy cakes, and using mincemeat rather than sugar and dried fruit worked well. I will make it again. I think it’s time to reinstate elevenses back into our daily life – what did happen to the office tea trolley?
Lardy, Lardy, Cake
Preparation Time 3 and half hours – mostly proving time. Serves 10
275g strong white bread flour
175ml warm water
1 heaped tsp of muscavado sugar
Pinch of sea salt
5g dried yeast (or 10g of fresh yeast)
For the lard and sugar mix
1 tsp mixed spice
200g lard, slightly softened
2 tbs muscovado sugar
Line the bottom of a rectangular cake tin 18cm x 29 cm with greaseproof paper.
Put the warm water into a jug and add the sugar and the dried yeast, mix thoroughly. Leave to ferment for 15mins. Weigh the flour, salt and butter into a bowl and either use your fingers to crumble the fat into the flour to create a breadcrumb, or use your mixer. When the yeast is fermented, add it to the flour mix to make a dough. Knead for 15mins or 10 mins if you are using a mixer with a dough hook attachment. Once you have a smooth and elastic dough place it back into the bowl and cover in cling film or a towel. Leave it in a warm place to rise to twice its size or for 1 hour, whichever is first.
In the meantime, slice up the lard and place it into a warm bowl to help it soften. Add the mincemeat and spice and combine with a wooden spoon or in the mixer.
Punch the dough down and roll out to a circle. With a pallet knife smear a quarter of the lard mix in dabs over the surface of the dough. Draw an outside edge of the dough into the centre, taking the right hand corner you have just made into the centre and continue around the circle until all edges have been pulled into the centre. Turn the dough over onto a flat surface and roll out again into a circle. Repeat this process twice more.
This time roll the dough out into a rectangle the size of your baking tray. Spread the rest of the lard mix on the bottom of the baking tray and sprinkle with the muscovado sugar. Cover and leave in a warm place to rise for 2 hours.
Preheat the oven to 220C/425F/Gas 7. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until golden-brown. Remove cake from tin immediately and tip upside down onto a rack, so lard mixture can soak through. Leave the cake to cool before serving to let the caramelised toffee set. This is perfect if served slightly warm.