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Praise the Lard!

Look at that lard.
Look at that lard.

Lurking somewhere in a bakery near you lies the finest cake in Christendom. Few have heard its ancient name, fewer still have known its fatty charms. It is a cake like no other, a cake which, once tasted, drags its fortunate victims down the road of gluttony, obesity and staggering edacity.

This cake, my friends, will not be found in a pâtisserie, nor dwells it in continental Konditoreien. This cake does not come adorned with crème pâtissière or sprinkled with dainty rose petals. This cake – nay, this manna! – is neither piped with icing-artwork nor moulded into shape, but what it lacks in elegance, it more than makes up for in taste.

My intention by this point is to have worked you up into such a ravenous frenzy that you have seized your monitor in desperation. ‘What,’ you clamour, ‘could be the name of this heavenly sweetmeat?’ Well, dear reader, your torment is at an end; as long as your insatiable drooling hasn’t short-circuited your computer, I can reveal that I speak of none other than the legendary lardy cake.

You must of course recognise that this name is the product of an age before marketing. Yes, it’s a little blunt, but once you look past its brutal honesty I’ve always felt it has a certain rustic charm. I say it’s honest, but that’s actually not quite true; for lardy cake is not in fact a cake, but rather a bread, rolled with currants, sweetened liberally with sugar and enriched with the all-important pig fat.

Lardy cake is served upside down, so that caramel crust on the bottom I was going on about is on the top in this photo. Also, this one is cold, which is why it looks rather congealed…

The first bite of lardy cake is a sensation never to be forgotten. First comes the crispy, bready top crust, twisted into a sea of swirls by the skilful hands of a baker, followed by the yielding dough of the syrupy centre. Its texture, vaguely akin to a Chelsea bun or – at a stretch – a Sainsbury’s ‘yum-yum’, rises to new heights of sublimity as wave upon wave of molten caramel percolates its very heart. But best of all, as any true lardy connoisseur will inform you, is the crust of chewy, sticky, irresistible lard-caramel that forms underneath the cake as it bakes, caramel that drives one to lick one’s fingers till the very skin would peel, thirsting for any last hint flavour.

Lardy cake can be enjoyed in any number of ways. It can be devoured cold, for the times when one simply cannot wait for an oven to preheat, but for best results a thorough warming is advisable. My grandfather, ever calorie-conscious, likes his with butter, while I’m a bit of a creep and eat mine with salt. It’s perfect for breakfast, tea or pudding, with friends, family or alone. I even carried one round Greece on last year’s excellent Classics trip. They may have the Parthenon, but where’s their lardy cake, eh?

So I urge you, cast aside any obligations you may have and dash to a bakery at the very next opportunity. I cannot recommend Joe’s Bakery, on the Gloucester Road, highly enough, while if by any chance you happen to be in Oxford, Nash’s does a pretty superb one too. Happy or sad, rich or poor, lardy cake is the answer to all your problems.