Monday, December 16, 2013

Modern Lardy Cake


Here he produced a decanter of curiously light wine, and a block of curiously heavy cake, 
and administered instalments of those dainties to the young people. 
– Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol 

Once again, we arrive in that limbo between Hanukkah and Christmas. I wait for hints, curious to know what his decision will be. Sons wiggle around us looking for clues that something is afoot, bringing up (once again) the topic of gifts. Hanukkah has come and gone in its own very quiet way amid subtle displays of joy, bringing us together as a family, and now we watch as the city dresses itself in its Christmas finest bringing a bit of cheer to the drab seasonal weather. But whether or not we will be celebrating Christmas this year has yet to be decided.

Although Hanukkah is our holiday and we do not celebrate Christmas, there is definitely something about this season conducive to baking. It could be the misty skies the color of tarnished pewter, the occasional spatter of rain against the windows, keeping us inside, cozy and comfortable with little to do except write and bake. It could be the glittering of the Christmas lights in the streets below, brilliant and gay against the dark night sky that makes us feel all romantic and warm inside, desiring nothing more than being able to offer something freshly baked, redolent of cinnamon, heady with chocolate and rum, or spiced and studded with fruit and nuts, to those we love.

Winter rolls in on a wave of misty white, the fog hanging heavy and cruel over the city. No joy, no snow. Sunshine playing hide and seek with the rain. The icy chill penetrates every pore of one’s body and no matter what one does, no matter how many blankets or pairs of socks the cold simply seeps in. But the gloom and gray of a midwinter day doesn’t dampen my excitement for the onset of this, my favorite season and all of the festivities. The holiday spirit seems to have arrived and settled in, as the bustling marketplace is alive with shoppers pushing their way towards stalls overflowing with seasonal treats. Garlands of gold and silver sneak their way in, Santas pop up on velvet hills of snow and visions of sugarplums, smoked salmon and oysters dance in my head. The first strains of Winter Wonderland and Rudolph signal the beginning of the Christmas season.

But chez nous, one never knows if it will be Scrooge, the Grinch or one of Santa’s merry elves that will arrive at our house, be blown in over the threshold on a blast of cold air. When the boys were little, Hanukkah flowed into Christmas easily when and if their grandparents would be visiting. Once or twice, a tree had indeed been lugged home, set up and decorated by three sets of hands. Once, when the boys were in high school, the Christmas spirit whipped Clem into a merry frenzy and he dragged a lumbering evergreen (or so we thought) back to our apartment, forcing our hand, demanding we not be the only ones of his acquaintance not to participate in the seasonal festivities. We decorated that tree, shared special Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve meals around it, merry and bright, and then waited post-holidays for Clem to drag it away. Until we were sliding around in puddles of sharp pine needles weeks later. And arguing over whose responsibility it was to remove the thing.

And once in a while, husband dons his proverbial Santa hat and his jolly disposition and announces that this year he would like Christmas. For someone with Scrooge-like tendencies when it comes to most holidays, it must mean that he is feeling somewhat wistful and nostalgic. It must mean that he needs the warmth of gathering us, wife and sons, closely around him, shutting out all worries and cares for the time of a long, slow, peaceful meal. It means that he desires nothing more than spending a long afternoon and evening in joy and conversation, laughter and indulgence, hilarity and delight.

Yet, no matter his choice, the season encourages baking. Something about the cold and inclement weather has me craving cinnamon-rich treats, neither too rich nor too sweet, that go perfectly, merrily, with a cup of coffee either for breakfast or snack. Homey, warming, comforting. Yet with a touch of the festive.

And so this month’s Bread Baking Babe’s challenge was perfect! Our hostess for December is the lovely Lien of Notitie Van Lien and she chose a Modern Lardy Cake, which I found to be utterly perfect for the season. Traditionally, the Lardy Cake is (obviously) made with lard, but this version is made with butter. Layers of dough reveal swirls of dried fruit-studded cinnamon-nutmeg sugar, creating a laminated bread traditionally English and eaten for special occasions, holidays and harvest festivals. So as simple as it may seem for those of us who are used to really rich holiday treats, it is a bread… or teacake reserved for a celebration. I loved this Lardy Cake just eaten as is, or dipped in café au lait while husband spread his with lots of jam.

Take the folding and rolling slowly and carefully, trying to keep the dough from tearing and too much filling oozing out. Several Babes found as I did that a total of 3 rather than 4 folds and rolls was enough. I decided to bake mine in a small rectangular pan instead of a round one. This was quite a fun bread to make and so delicious to eat that I know I will be making it over and over again. A winner!

If you would like to bake the Modern Lardy Cake with the Babes, you can earn your Bread Baking Buddy badge and be included in the round up at the end of the month. Just head over to Lien’s blog for details.

Meanwhile, check out all of the Babes’ Modern Lardy Cakes! And be inspired! This is the perfect treat to serve the family while decorating the tree and house, wrapping or unwrapping gifts and to serve friends and family when they drop by. Perfect with coffee, tea, milk or hot cocoa. And a few good old holiday movies.

Bake My Day – Karen
blog from OUR kitchen – Elizabeth
Feeding my enthusiasms – Elle
girlichef – Heather
Lucullian Delights - Ilva
Living in the Kitchen with Puppies – Natashya
My Kitchen In Half Cups – Tanna
Notitie Van Lien – Lien
Paulchens Foodblog – Astrid
Bread Baking Babe Bibliothécaire – Katie

I want to share this Modern Lardy Cake with Susan of Wild Yeast for her weekly Yeastspotting roundup!

From “Warm Bread and Honey Cake” by Gaitri Pagrach-Chandra

Lardy cake is not a cake, but a bread that is laminated with lard with some raisins or currants. We have replaced the lard with butter, giving a fresher, more modern twist on the Lardy Cake. This is not a rich bread like a coffee cake, but a lightly flavored, gently sweetened bread almost, but not quite, like a challah or brioche type bread. We loved it precisely because it wasn’t overly sweet and rich, just the perfect bread for breakfast smeared with jelly. Or eaten as a snack. It stays fresh for a couple of days. Definitely make this during the holidays to have on hand when family or friends visit.

375 g strong white flour
1 ½ tsp active dry yeast
1 Tbs sugar
¼ tsp salt
35 g butter, melted and cooled to warm/tepid
± 200 ml milk, warmed

100 g butter, softened
75 g soft dark brown sugar (make sure it is soft and lump free; if not use granulated brown sugar as I did)
½ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp freshly grated or ground nutmeg
50-75 g currants, raisins or other dried fruit (I used dried blueberries)

Beaten egg, to glaze

1 – 2 Tbs granulated brown sugar (my own addition for dusting on the bread)

24 cm (9 in) round cake tin (pref. a springform) – or a rectangular pan of similar volume

Make the dough:

Put all of the dough ingredients in a large mixing bowl. If using a heavy-duty stand mixer with a dough hook, knead until smooth and supple. If working by hand (as I did), stir the flour and salt together in a mixing bowl; make a well in the center and add the sugar and the yeast to the well and then add the warm milk and allow the yeast to activate for about 10 minutes. Add the warm melted butter and stir everything together until all the dry ingredients are moistened and it pulls together into a scraggly ball. Bring the dough together in a ball, scrape onto a lightly floured work surface and knead briefly until smooth and supple. Return the dough to the bowl (or place in a lightly oiled clean bowl). Cover with clingfilm/plastic wrap and leave to rise in a warm place until doubled in size.

Make the filling:

Blend the butter, sugar and spices together until creamy. I used a hand mixer for this to keep my hands clean and it comes together creamy and smooth easily.

Knock the risen dough back and re-knead it briefly. Roll it out to a rectangle about 50 x 25 cm (20 x 10 in), the long side perpendicular to your body, the shorter side right to left. Spread the filling evenly over the top two-thirds of the dough sheet, leaving one outer third empty and about 4 cm (1 ½ inch) on all 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 back down over this – you will have three layers of dough in a small rectangle “package”. 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 relax.

Give the parcel a quarter turn – the new rectangle will once again have the long side straight up away from you, perpendicular to your body. Gently press the rolling pin down to seal and flatten slightly, then gently roll it into a rectangle about 30 x 15 cm (12 x 6 in) or a bit bigger. Fold into thirds again and leave to rest for 5 minutes. Repeat this procedure three more times for a total of four folds, turning the dough by a quarter turn and rolling and folding. If you find you are losing too much filling, omit the final turn. (I folded the dough in thirds for a total of 3 times)

This is a delicate, difficult and sometimes messy work as the filling oozes out in weak spots, so press and roll out lightly and gently, taking your time. Patch them up as well as you can and continue to work. All the oozing bits will caramelize nicely as the cake bakes. But you don’t want to loose too much filling as the laminating effect.

Grease the tin and put the dough packet in it, then flatten it with your hand to fit it in as well as possible. Cover with clingfilm/plastic wrap and leave it to rise until almost doubled.

Preheat the oven to 180ºC (350ºF).

Brush the dough with beaten egg, and dust generously with the granulated brown sugar. Bake until brown; the bread may spread a bit and will not rise during the baking. The total baking time will vary: the author instructs to bake for 25 – 30 minutes but I baked mine for 1 hour as did several of the Babes.

Remove from the oven, but leave in the tin for about 5 minutes. 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. (I lifted my Lardy cake out of the pan with a spatula)

Eat warm or room temperature, cut into wedges or slices.


Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

Your lardy cake looks really tempting! This version is interesting. A treat that brings back memories of England....



AdriBarr said...

Huzzah for Lardy Cake! Yours looks beautiful. All the photos are beautiful, as always, and I particularly enjoyed your evocative descriptions of winter. Although I am in Southern California, I like to imagine the snow, the cold and the bundled up life that is Winter in the colder climes. Buon Natale to all!

Barbara Bakes said...

What a beautiful bread/cake. I need to find time to give this one a try.

Baking Soda said...

So beautiful and tender, a perfect accompaniment to your story!

Ralph Knauth said...

I loved reading your blog entry. Christmas spirit has not arrived in full blow yet, somehow that's more difficult here than in Germany ...

Love your lardy cake, too. I like baking with lard, and my Stollen has lard in it, and suet, too :)

Have to check out your baking babes ( though I'm definetely not a babe ;) )

Greetings from Ralph, over at Leite's What's for dinner.

Elle said...

I can almost smell the nutmeg and cinnamon and butter. The holiday movie is a great idea for adding to the Lardy cake eating. Happy Holidays. Hope the Santa Hat comes out this year, along with the convivial meal and great conversation.

Bizzy Lizzy's Good Things said...


MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Your writing or your lardy cake ... not sure which is more delicious. Your photos are perfect.

Maureen | Orgasmic Chef said...

It IS the time of year for baking, even when it's 90 degrees outside. It just must be done.

I really do like your lardy cake, Jamie and I hope Santa visits. :)

Valerie Lugonja said...

Now, this recipe is a culinary workout! Love it.

Brooks Walker said...

My word, what an exquisite cake—the ideal vehicle to recount tales of holidays past. Lovely entry, through and through!

French Cooking for Dummies said...

I never tried lardy cake before, it's mouth watering!

Lien said...

What a lovely story about the festivities through the years in your family. Love the soft and delicate layers in your bread/cake. And applause for you baking it twice, love your dedication. Glad you like the bread.

Elizabeth said...

Your cake looks perfect, Jamie. Of course it does.

And what a wonderful description of the season! I can't wait to hear whether your household is saying Bah Humbug! or if the Lardy cake will help to chase away all the cares and worries. I'm banking on the latter. It's awfully good bread, isn't it?

(I had to go through 4 different captcha images before I could manage to decipher the image. Maybe Santa will bring me new glasses....)

Carolyn Jung said...

This looks like perfection. I can never resist a laminated pastry with layers upon layers of buttery goodness.

Jill Colonna @ MadAboutMacarons said...

Yet another reason why I want to pop by and meet you, your lovely cakes and relish in the ambience, Jamie! This looks utterly delicious. Happy holidays to you and the family and hope you have time to relax and enjoy everything to the full. Cheers!

David said...

I always thought it should have been called Buttery Cake in the first place. Makes it sound a lot more appealing.

Beautiful example.

Dan said...

beautiful ;)

Katie Zeller said...

Happy Winter! Your Cake looks lovely (and not at all heavy) and a nice warm cake alone is worth celebrating. As to winter - you're area is supposed to get nasty next week - batten the hatches.....

Sylvie @ Gourmande in the Kitchen said...

I agree, regardless of what holiday you celebrate there's something about the holiday season that makes everyone want to get in the kitchen and bake!

Nancy Baggett said...

Love the Dickens' quote. Also, your wonderfully evocative story made me want to go bake! Due to deadlines I've really done less than usual--and mostly to take off to an event or to give away.

Wish you a wonderful holiday. Hugs!

domenicacooks said...

I'm in the same boat as Nancy this year. Deadlines have kept me from my usual Christmas baking. I'm hoping to do a little during the week between Christmas and New Years. This is the first I've heard of lardy cake, though it looks something like the sweet Italian holiday breads that I love. Wishing you the happiest of New Years, Jamie. Hope to see you in '14. xo

El said...

This looks delicious. Enjoy the holiday and have a great New Year!

Lora CakeDuchess said...

I'm with Domenica and never heard of a Lardy Cake but it does remind me of Italian Christmas cakes. Looks divine and loved your photos and story-so very festive!

Paula @ Vintage Kitchen Notes said...

Ever since I saw the name I was reminded of my irish ancestors and all those tea recipes with lard. I must make this bread, with butter but also with lard. I have a thing for it. The forever argument about putting away the tree, nobody wants that chore! I love the name of the book you used for the recipe.


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