Lardy cake is a type of baked bread originally from the country of England, specifically in the county of Wiltshire. It belongs to the category of yeasted bread, as it contains yeast to make the bread rise. The Lardy cake obtained its name from the fact that the bread uses lard as its primary fat and shortening, instead of the usual butter. The bread is also known by a variety of names, such as Fourses cake, Dough cake, and Lardy Johns.
It is said that the appearance of the Lardy cake can be dated as far back as the 19th century, and its production traditionally coincided with festivals of harvests. Many festivals such as these usually call for slaughtered pigs, and its different parts are eaten as bacon, ham, and as other long-lasting dishes. In order to avoid wastage, the pig’s fat is also rendered and turned into lard, which is then used to make the Lardy bread. Using lard was said to be a very economical substitute for butter, a more expensive shortening.
The Lardy cake was particularly common in some rural villages, as its other ingredients, such as seasonal dried fruits and spices, were already considered extravagant. The spices used would usually be nutmeg and cinnamon. The original Wiltshire variety of the bread contains dried currants, while the Gloucester variety includes raisins as well. In Oxford, the bread does not have any dried fruits. The Lardy bread became more popular because its richness — mainly from the lard — provided sufficient calories and energy to weary farmers, herders, and other laborers.
Lard can be very fatty and can contain a lot of cholesterol, so modern-day Lardy cakes sometimes substitute a portion of the lard with some butter. Other common ingredients include sugar, salt, milk, and water. It is important that the water be warm, rather than lukewarm or cold, so that it reacts better with the yeast and effectively makes the bread rise.
The preparation of the Lardy cake is very similar to a puffed pastry, as rolling and folding is usually involved. After every roll, the dried fruit fillings are inserted, and the dough is folded. Bakers also recommend letting the dough rise to twice the size before putting it in the oven for the final baking. An egg brush can also be included in the process to make the top of the bread shiny and more appetizing. Some traditional recipes sometimes suggest that the Lardy cake be turned upside down right after pulling it out of the oven, making all the fat at the bottom of the pan go back inside the bread.