I recently had the pleasure of visiting the delightful Bundarra Berkshires for a spot of pig petting, butchery and charcuterie with the gang from Melbourne Meat Up. It was a great day of learning about farming life, and after a quick tour to meet their chargers we set about dismantling our carcass. The breakdown process was fascinating, and while the focus was on which cuts to make for our French hams and fricandeaux at some point came the delightful words, "you're a baker, why don't you take the leaf lard home with you?"
Leaf lard is obtained from the visceral fat that lines the loin and surrounds the kidneys, and is considered the highest quality lard by virtue of its snow white appearance and relatively neutral flavour. Before it's used in cooking most lard is rendered, a relatively simple process of heating it up slowly so that the fat melts and separates itself from any other tissues that are still attached. A little water is added to the pot to prevent the lard burning before it properly melts, and everything should be pulled from the stove before the cracklings colour too deeply if you wish to avoid any porkiness in the flavour.
Once rendered lard is most typically used for confit or pastry, but as afternoon tea beckoned while the recipes were being shortlisted I decided to first try my hand at picau ar y maen.
Known also as bakestones or Welsh griddle cakes, these comforting little bundles were traditionally cooked over a hot bake-stone or iron griddle, and made use of simple pantry items in preparing a resourceful and wholesome, portable sweet treat. Falling somewhere between a scone and a pancake, the use of both butter and lard gives them a tender, flaky crumb and delightfully crunchy exterior. Despite being flat in stature they are surprisingly light, and there's this beautiful crispness of texture that gives them that little bit more oomph! than your average scone. There is a wonderful brightness from the combination of currants and lemon zest, and the warmth of cinnamon and nutmeg add a beautiful depth of flavour.
Unlike scones they keep relatively well without noticeably drying out, and while the flavour does develop over time I found they're best served warm, perhaps with a dash of butter, or even dusted in sugar if you're craving a properly sweet treat. But when it comes to the need for a little afternoon indulgence these little cakes are perfectly suited and should be enjoyed, without embellishment, just copious amounts of tea.
WELSH GRIDDLE CAKES (Adapted from Serious Eats; Makes 12)
- 310 g cake flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- a pinch of salt
- 60 g butter, cold and diced
- 60 g rendered lard*, cold
- 65 g sugar
- 1/4 tsp each ground cinnamon, ground allspice, freshly grated nutmeg
- 1/3 cup currants (or a mixture of currants and golden raisins)
- zest of 1 lemon, finely grated
- 1 egg
- 10 ml lemon juice
- 20 ml milk
Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Add the butter and lard and rub in with fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar, zest, dried fruit and spices.
In a separate bowl beat together the egg, lemon juice and milk. Sprinkle this over the flour mixture and use the fork to start stirring it in. Once medium clumps form use both hands to bring together the dough and press into a single mass.
On a lightly floured surface roll the dough out until 1/3-inch thick. Use a cutter to stamp out rounds and transfer these to a clean tray. Re-roll the remaining dough and repeat.
Heat a skillet (preferably cast iron) over low heat and cook the cakes for 5-6 minutes, until the bottoms are golden brown. Turn the cakes carefully using a spatula and cook the second side for a further 5 minutes. The surface should feel crisp when tapped. Transfer the cakes to a wire rack and cook the remaining cakes in the same way. Serve warm or at room temperature. Cakes will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days.
To render the lard:
Cut the lard into roughly 1-inch cubes and place in a heavy pot (preferably enamelled cast iron) along with some water (I used 30 ml water for 600 g leaf lard). Cover the pot and render over low heat for an initial 10 minutes. Remove the lid and adjust the heat so that the liquid fat is barely simmering. Continue to render for 1-2 hours until the bits of crackling are small and golden brown, and the liquid fat is pale and lightly golden in colour.
Strain the crackling from the liquid and allow to cool to room temperature before refrigerating until solid. The rendered lard should keep for several months stored in the fridge in an airtight container.