Monthly Archives: September 2010

Rendering Leaf Lard

Want to make people cringe? Say “lard.”

Actually, lard is less awful than people realize. Compared to butter, lard has less saturated fat (the bad kind) and more monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat (the good kind).

Lard is just the thing for some baked goods. In my experience, pie crust made with butter and lard tastes more buttery than pie crust made with butter and no lard. That’s actually what I’m planning to use lard for, although I’m willing to try it in other applications.

Lard comes from pigs. The lard that comes in blocks in the supermarket is fat from all over the pig, and some of the fat is high quality and some is not. That lard is usually bleached and often hydrogenated (which is okay; it’s partial hydrogenation that produces trans fats, which clog your arteries). Leaf lard is high-quality fat from high on the hog. It’s sliced off in a sheet, or leaf. Some butchers have it, but I have no idea where to find a proper butcher except at Savenor’s. So you can imagine my delight when I saw that one of the vendors at the Central Square farmers market carries leaf lard.

Leaf lard in the package

Leaf lard in the package

I wasn’t sure how much I’d be getting; this was more than 3 lb, which is plenty.

Leaf lard out of the package

Leaf lard out of the package

It was two sheets that were rolled up. My original idea was to unroll one, cut it in half, render that, and put the rest in the freezer.

Sheet of leaf lard

Sheet of leaf lard

As you can see, someone with excellent knife skills sliced off this fat in one large sheet. You have to cut that up and heat it to melt the fat out of the connective tissue. While I was out on the Internet looking up the rules for storage (how long could I store it in the freezer, and is it better to store it before or after rendering), I found that there are at least three different ways to render the lard: in a saucepan on the stove, in a roasting pan in the oven, and in a slow cooker. I definitely had too much lard to render at one time in a saucepan, but I had enough to make a little experiment by comparing the three methods. So I chopped up all the lard:

Chopping the lard

Chopping the lard

I had 3 lb 12 oz of chopped lard, which was conveniently divisible into 1 lb 4 oz for each method.

3 lb 12 oz of leaf lard, chopped and ready to render

3 lb 12 oz of leaf lard, chopped and ready to render

That was a nice amount for the saucepan; I wouldn’t want to try much more than 1½ lb in a saucepan.

A portion of lard in the saucepan

A portion of lard in the saucepan

I could’ve fit 2 lb easily in the roasting pan and possibly the entire batch.

A portion of lard in the roassting pan

A portion of lard in the roasting pan

I could probably render the whole amount in the slow cooker.

A portion of lard in the slow cooker

A portion of lard in the slow cooker

It took about an hour in the saucepan and in the oven.

Rendered lard and cracklings

Rendered lard and cracklings

I kept the saucepan over a medium flame and set the oven to 350℉. For the slow cooker, the recommendation was to set it on high at the beginning and turn it to low later. I had it on high for 2 hours and then turned it down to low. After a total of 4 hours, it looked done.

I lined a strainer with cheesecloth. The cheesecloth is folded into several layers in the package, and I left it folded and used two pieces crossed at 90 degrees. Then I set that in a bowl.

The cheesecloth-lined strainer

The cheesecloth-lined strainer

Then I carefully strained the lard.

Strained liquid lard

Strained liquid lard

I lined a medium loaf pan (8″ x 4″ x 2″) with parchment paper and poured the strained lard into that, then I put the pan in the freezer to cool.

Liquid lard in a parchment-lined loaf pan

Liquid lard in a parchment-lined loaf pan

The batch for the oven went in later because I didn’t remember to preheat the oven until I started the batch in the saucepan. When the oven batch was done, I just poured the strained lard on top of the cooled lard in the loaf pan. Later, when I used some of it in dough for pie crust, it was pretty obvious that the oven batch had cooked differently:

Lard from the oven is darker than lard from the saucepan

Lard from the oven is darker than lard from the saucepan

The photo shows the fat added to the flour and salt for the pie crust. You can see that the chunk in the middle is two colors. The darker area on the left is the lard from the oven, which I poured on top of the lard from the saucepan. The saucepan lard is the lighter color on the right of that chunk. (You can also see chunks of butter and shortening.) This makes me think that the oven method might not be the optimal one for rendering lard. The saucepan lard looks better and might taste better; I’ll find that out later. The roasting pan holds more lard than the saucepan, but I think if I want to do a batch this big again, I’ll either break it up and do it all in the saucepan in batches, or I’ll dump it all in the slow cooker.

The slow cooker worked fine, and the main advantage is I didn’t feel I had to keep an eye on it all the time. I stirred the lard in the saucepan about every 10 minutes. I also didn’t hesitate to take the dogs for a walk while the slow cooker was on, but there’s no way I’d leave the house with a pan on the stove or in the oven. However, the total time was significantly different: 1 hour for the stove and 4 hours for the slow cooker, so if time is a factor, the stovetop has the obvious advantage; even doing the lard in two batches I’d have finished in half the time it took to use the slow cooker.

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Lavender Lemon Tea Cakes

The lemon cake is history. That’s partly because it was too delicious not to eat and partly because I sent some to my friend Mike. So now we need dessert. While I was looking at recipes for glaze on Sunday, I stumbled across a recipe on Epicurious for lavender lemon tea cake. I love lavender as much as I love lemon, so the only question is why I’m only just noticing they can be combined in a baked good. I got my lavender flowers at the Harvest Co-op in Central Square; most places that sell herbs in bulk carry lavender flowers.

Glazed and decorated cake

Glazed and decorated cake


Brush the glaze onto the cooled cakes; I used two coats. Sprinkle lavender flowers on top for decoration.

You’re supposed to bake this in two loaf pans 8 x 3¾ x 2½ inches. I like those mini loaf pans that I used for the previous lemon cakes, and this recipe will fit in five of those:

8 x 3¾ x 2½ = 75 cu in
5 x 3 x 2 = 30 cu in

75 x 2 = 150 cu in (for two large loaf pans)
150/30 = 5 mini loaf pans

Actually, I really liked the way the little round cakes looked, and if I were doing this for a dessert or a tea or something I’d make those instead. Three of those English muffin rings hold about the same amount of batter as one mini loaf pan. The rings are 3½ inches in diameter and 1 inch deep, so

3.14 x (1.75 x 1.75) = 9.61625

or nearly 10 cubic inches, which is close enough.

As usual, the amounts are given in volumes, so I’ll have to make my best guess about the flour and almonds. I have pulverized almonds from Trader Joe’s (which is what I’m using here) as well as whole almonds, so I measured the whole almonds and weighed them to get the correct amount of pulverized almonds. I get about 2¾ oz for about ¾ cup of whole almonds. As for the flour, I’m finding that in most recipes the flour has probably been measured by the spoon-and-sweep method, which gives about 4½ ounces per cup, so I used 13½ ounces of flour. (King Arthur Flour recipes use the sift-and-sweep method, which gives 4¼ ounces per cup, and David Liebovitz must use the scoop-and-sweep method because he gets 5 ounces per cup.)

Lavender Lemon Tea Cakes
Adapted from the recipe in Epicurious
3 cups (13½ oz) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt (2 tsp Diamond Crystal kosher salt)
¾ cup almonds (2¾ oz almond meal)
1½ cups sugar
Finely grated zest and juice of 2 lemons (⅓ to ½ cup juice) (I got 3½ oz)
½ cup (1 stick, 4 oz) unsalted butter
6 eggs
½ cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons dried lavender flowers (1/8 oz; probably better to just measure) plus another tablespoon or so for decoration

Mise en place, more or less

Mise en place, more or less


Have all the ingredients at room temperature. The creamed butter will break up into little blobs if you add cold ingredients to it.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter and flour two 8 x 3¾ x 2½-inch loaf pans or five 5 x 3 x 2-inch mini loaf pans. (You can also use 14 or 15 3½-inch muffin rings, which you can arrange on parchment-lined sheet pans.) I sprayed my pans with Pam for Baking.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt, and set aside.

If you’re using almonds that are not already pulverized, grind them with 2 T of the sugar in a food processor and set aside. (Grinding the almonds with some sugar keeps the almonds from turning into almond butter.)

Add the sugar (or the rest of the sugar, if you’re grinding almonds) and the lemon zest to the bowl of a stand mixer.

Sugar and lemon zest

Sugar and lemon zest


Rub the lemon zest into the sugar. This helps release some of the oil from the zest.
Sugar and zest rubbed together

Sugar and zest rubbed together


Add the butter. Fit the mixer with the flat paddle. Beat the butter and sugar on medium high for about 3 minutes, or until the mixture is very light and fluffy.
Butter and sugar looking light and fluffy

Butter and sugar looking light and fluffy


Add the eggs one at a time, beating for about 30 seconds after you add each one.
Eggs beaten in

Eggs beaten in


Beat in the lemon juice.
Lemon juice beaten in; this isn't very pretty, is it?

Lemon juice beaten in; this isn't very pretty, is it?


Add half the flour and beat on low speed until it’s incorporated. Add all of the buttermilk and beat on low speed until it’s incorporated. Add the other half of the flour, beating on low speed it’s incorporated. Stir in the ground almonds.
Pulverized almonds folded in

Pulverized almonds folded in


Add the lavender flowers, mixing just until they’re evenly distributed.
That's an excellent color combination.

That's an excellent color combination.


Spoon the batter into the prepared pans and smooth the top of the batter. My batter weighed 49¼ oz. I popped a loaf pan on the scale, zeroed the scale, and weighed in 10 oz and then took out just a smidge to get them all pretty even.
Pans in the oven, ready to bake

Pans in the oven, ready to bake


Bake the cakes for 35 to 40 minutes, until the top is golden brown, the top springs back when you touch it lightly in the center, and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in their pans on a rack for 10 minutes, then turn the cakes out onto the rack to cool completely.
Cakes cooling on a rack

Cakes cooling on a rack


I couldn’t resist glazing these, partly because the glaze is delicious and partly because while it’s wet you can sprinkle on a few more lavender flowers for decoration, and they’ll stick to the glaze.

Crunchy Lemon Glaze
¼ cup lemon juice
¾ cup powdered sugar
¾ cup granulated white sugar

Sift the powdered sugar into a bowl, add the granulated sugar, and whisk until the mixture is homogeneous. Add the lemon juice and whisk until the mixture is homogeneous. It’ll be thick and granular.

Brush the glaze on the cakes, let it set, then brush on another coat. Sprinkle on some lavender flowers for decoration. Allow the cakes to cool completely before you cut them.

The crumb view

The crumb view


I can taste the lavender in this, and it goes well with the lemon. Strangely enough, the cake is good but not all that lemony, so the glaze was a good decision, I think.

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Lemon Tea Cake

In the first class of pastry school last week, we were given a bunch of recipes appropriate to the lesson, although there was no way we had time to make them all. One thing we seriously didn’t have time to make was the Lemon Tea Cake, which requires about 4 hours start to finish. The batter has to sit in the pan for 2 hours before you bake it, which is kind of strange for something leavened with baking powder. I’ll have to find out why. Anyway, I’m such a sucker for lemon that I can’t resist taking a stab at it at home. This is a big recipe, so I’m halving it. I made two mini loaves and six mini cakes in English muffin rings on a Silpat-covered baking sheet.

Lemon tea cake with crunchy lemon glaze and lemon shavings

Lemon tea cake with crunchy lemon glaze and lemon shavings

Lemon Tea Cake
adapted from the recipe by Delphin Gomes
10½ oz flour
2¼ tsp baking powder
13 oz sugar
5 eggs
a pinch of salt
6½ oz sour cream
zest of 2½ lemons (microplaned)
½ T dark rum
4½ oz butter, melted and cooled
lemon glaze (recipe follows)
zest of remaining half of lemon (zester) for decoration

Microplaned zest (left) and shavings from the zester

Microplaned zest (left) and shavings from the zester

Mise en place

Mise en place

Have all ingredients at room temperature. Whisk together the baking powder and flour and set aside.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, beat the sugar, eggs, and salt until the mixture forms the ribbon, about 5 minutes on medium speed.

The batter is light and lemon colored

The batter is light and appropriately lemon colored

Add sour cream, lemon zest, and rum and continue mixing for another 2 minutes. With the mixer running at low speed, gently add the flour mixture, then scrape down the bowl and beat for 2 minutes on medium speed. With the mixer running at low speed, gently add the butter and mix for about 2 minutes, until the mixture is homogeneous.

Batter nearly finished

Batter nearly finished

Turn the batter into prepared pans. I spray them with Pam for Baking. I used two 3″ x 5″ x 2″ loaf pans (that’s 2 inches high) and six 3½” English muffin rings, but four mini loaf pans would work perfectly. Fill them about three-fourths full.

Batter in mini loaf pans

Batter in mini loaf pans

Batter (mostly) in the muffin rings

Batter (mostly) in the muffin rings

Now you let the batter rest for 2 hours. I covered the two loaf pans with a large colander and the sheet pan with another sheet pan. After about an hour and a half, preheat the oven to 350℉ so it’ll be ready when the batter has finished resting.

Bake the mini round cakes for 25 to 30 minutes and the mini loaf cakes for 40 to 45 minutes.

Round cakes done

Round cakes done

While the cakes are baking, make the lemon glaze.

Lemon Glaze
¼ cup lemon juice
¾ cup powdered sugar
¾ cup granulated white sugar

Sift the powdered sugar into a bowl, add the granulated sugar, and whisk until the mixture is homogeneous. Add the lemon juice and whisk until the mixture is homogeneous. It’ll be granular.

Allow the cakes to cool for 10 minutes, then move them onto cooling racks.

Round cakes cooling on a rack

Round cakes cooling on a rack

Let them cool for another 15 minutes or so, then brush on two coats of the glaze.

Two coats of glaze on the left; one coat of glaze on the right

Two coats of glaze on the left; one coat of glaze on the right

Immediately sprinkle on the lemon zest so the zest sticks to the glaze.

Loaf cake glazed and decorated with zest shavings

Loaf cake glazed and decorated with zest shavings

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Plum Torte

It’s time to use up the rest of the prune plums, so today I’m making another Marian Burros classic, Original Plum Torte. (Is it only original if Marian Burros makes it? If I make it, is it Counterfeit Plum Torte? I’m following the recipe exactly.)

Plum torte

Plum torte


This is pretty straightforward. The one trick is to figure out how many plums to use. Marian specifically says “24 halves” (so 12 plums), but she’s also using regular plums, not the small prune plums, which I’m using. I knew I’d need more, so I just halved them and placed them on the batter as I went, and I used 18, as it turns out.

Marian Burros’s Original Plum Torte
4 oz (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
¾ cup white sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour (I used 4½ oz)
1 tsp baking powder
1 pinch of salt
2 eggs
12 purple plums, halved and pitted
granulated sugar and ground cinnamon to sprinkle on the top
A spring form pan (8, 9, or 10 inches; mine is 24 cm or 9 in)

Note: Make sure all your ingredients are at room temperature. If you add a cold ingredient to the creamed butter and sugar, the emulsion will break.

Preheat the oven to 350℉.

In a stand mixer fitted with the flat paddle, cream the butter and sugar until it’s light and fluffy. While that’s going on, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Dump the dry ingredients into the mixing bowl with the butter and sugar and beat that on the second speed for a couple of minutes, scrape down the bowl, and mix again briefly; this mixture is crumbly. Add the eggs and beat until the mixture is homogeneous. This is a stiff batter.

Turn the batter into the springform pan and spread it out evenly.

Spreading the batter in the pan

Spreading the batter in the pan


Arrange the plum halves, cut side down, on the batter.
36 plum halves on the cake batter

36 plum halves on the cake batter


Sprinkle sugar and cinnamon over everything. Marian recommends 1 tsp of cinnamon “or to taste.” I just sprinkled. We’ll see how much “to taste” is when we’ve tasted the torte.
Sugar and cinnamon sprinkled over the plums

Sugar and cinnamon sprinkled over the plums


Bake at 350 for 40 to 50 minutes.
About 20 into the baking

About 20 into the baking


Marian just says to remove the torte from the pan, but I let the torte cool in the pan for 10 minutes
Torte cooling in the pan

Torte cooling in the pan


then I unmolded it and slid it onto a plate.
The plated torte

The plated torte


Marian doesn’t say to grease the pan, so I didn’t, but maybe it should’ve. The torte didn’t exactly stick, but I had to loosen it with a knife and a metal spatula.

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Prune Plum Crumble

Say that 10 times fast.

Marian Burros's prune plum crumble

Marian Burros's prune plum crumble

This is a wildly popular recipe by Marian Burros. Apparently it was first published years ago and the demand is so great that the New York Times publishes it every year. I’ve only just heard of it. I have about 2 lb of prune plums and no idea what to do with them. This recipe doesn’t use all 2 lb, but it makes a dent in them. I followed the recipe exactly as written, weighing the ingredients as I went. I’m reproducing the ingredients list here with the weights of the ingredients.

Marian Burros’s Prune Plum Crumble
For the plum filling
12 purple Italian or prune plums, cut in half and pitted (about 12 oz; I needed 14))
2 T (1 oz) brown sugar
1½ T (½ oz) all purpose flour
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
2 heaping T ( 1½ oz) finely chopped candied ginger

For the topping
½ tsp cinnamon
1 cup all-purpose flour (I used 4½ oz)
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 tsp baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt (½ tsp Diamond Crystal kosher salt)
1 egg, well beaten
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 375℉. Get out a 9-inch pie plate.

To make the filling, whisk together the dry ingredients. Halve and pit the plums.

The filling mixture and some plums

The filling mixture and some plums

Toss the plums with the filling mixture. Prune plums aren’t juicy, so a lot of this mixture didn’t stick to the plums. I sprinkled about half over the bottom of the pie plate. Arrange the plums cut side down (or skin side up, if you prefer) in the pie plate.

Twelve plums but not quite enough

Twelve plums, but not quite enough

Twelve plums wasn’t enough, so I added two more. Then I sprinkled the rest of the filling mixture over the plums.

The plum filling

The plum filling

For the topping, I cut up a stick of butter into a glass measuring cup and heated that in the microwave oven on high for 30 seconds. When I was ready to put the topping on the fruit, I stirred the butter and gave it another 30 seconds. When I was ready for it, it was completely melted.

To make the topping, whisk together the dry ingredients. Beat the egg well and pour it over the topping mixture. Marian wants you to mix this with your hands, so that’s what I did.

Working the egg into the topping

Working the egg into the topping

Work the egg in until the topping is granular.

Topping ready to go

Topping ready to go

Distribute the mixture over the fruit,

Plum crumble topped

Plum crumble topped

then drizzle the melted butter over the topping.

Plum crumble buttered

Plum crumble buttered

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes.

Plum crumble out of the oven

Plum crumble out of the oven

Allow to cool for 1 hour. Serve warm. It’s delicious. I can see why the Times has to reprint it every year.

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Tarte aux Quetsches et Crème de Noix

Yes, it’s another plum tart! Okay, actually it’s another pluot tart. I’ve always been kind of ambivalent about plums, but I’m enjoying the pluots. I might like plums in a baked dessert, though, and I couldn’t resist getting a couple pounds of prune plums yesterday to play with next. But first, I wanted to try Clothilde‘s plum tart with nut cream.

A slice of pluot tart with almond cream

A slice of pluot tart with almond cream


Once again, I’m not quite following the recipe, but fortunately Clothilde allows options. Here’s what I did.

Pluot Tart with Almond Cream
1 recipe pâte sablée from Mastering the Art of French Cooking
1 egg
2 T sugar
3 T sour cream
1 tsp kirsch
135 g almond meal
2 lb pluots

Spread the pâte sablée in a 9-inch tart pan. Weight the dough and let it chill in the freezer while the oven preheats to 375℉. Bake the shell for 20 minutes, remove the weights, and bake the shell for another 5 minutes or so until it’s just beginning to brown. Turn down the oven to 350℉. Set the shell on a rack to cool.

While the shell is cooling, beat the egg with a wire whip, then beat in the sugar. Beat in the sour cream and kirsch. Stir in the almond meal. Set the almond cream aside. Cut the pluots into quarters. (Clothilde cut her plums in half, but I couldn’t get the pluot halves off their stones, so I had to cut them into quarters.)

Remove the tart shell from the pan and put it on a baking sheet. Spoon the almond cream into the shell and smooth it all over the bottom and up the sides.

Tart shell with almond cream

Tart shell with almond cream


Arrange the pluot slices cut-side up over the almond cream.
Tart ready for the oven

Tart ready for the oven


Bake the tart for 30 minutes.
The baked tart

The baked tart


Let the tart cool for another 30 minutes or so, then dig in. Store the leftovers, if any, in the refrigerator.

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Olive and Herb Breadsticks

Tonight’s dinner is farmers market salad, which just cried out for some kind of breadlike accompaniment. We’re totally out of bread, too, owing to a recent work crunch, so today is a recovery day, which includes restocking the larder by shopping and baking.

Salad with fresh greens and heirloom tomatoes, with breadsticks on the side

Salad with fresh greens and heirloom tomatoes, with breadsticks on the side


This afternoon I went to the Davis Square farmers market and got some baby beets, a bunch of carrots, some heirloom tomatoes, and a bag of salad greens (with flowers!). I thought this would make a tasty dinner with sliced hard boiled eggs, olives, chickpeas, and sunflower seeds. And bread! I needed to get the dough going but I’m low on flour, and it’s hot today (90℉ at 4:30 pm), so I wanted to put off the supermarket trip awhile. On the King Arthur site I found a recipe for Olive and Spice Grissini. I don’t have all the ingredients, but it was easy enough to adapt the recipe to work with what I had.

Olive and Herb Breadsticks
(based on Olive and Spice Grissini)
10¾ oz King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1¼ oz pitted kalamata olives, chopped
1½ tsp instant yeast
1 tsp table salt or 2 tsp Diamond Crystal kosher salt
4 T nonfat dry milk
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
1¼ oz (3 T) olive oil
8 oz (1 cup) water
⅓ cup grated parmesan cheese (to sprinkle on the rolled-out dough)

I tossed all the ingredients (except the cheese) into the bread machine and set it for dough. If you do this by hand, let the dough rise for 60 to 90 minutes. The dough is very wet and sticky in the beginning, and it’s light and puffy (and still pretty sticky) after it’s risen.

Turn the dough onto a lightly oiled surface (I sprayed a mat with olive oil), pat it out into a rectangle, and roll it out to 20″ x 10″ (more or less).

Dough rolled out

Dough rolled out


Sprinkle that with the grated parmesan. I actually grated the cheese right onto the dough until I decided it looked like enough. Then roll the rolling pin over the cheese to help it stick to the dough; this is called pinning in. Slice the dough with a pizza cutter:
Slicing the dough into strips

Slicing the dough into strips


Twist the slices, and lay the dough sticks on a baking sheet. You can oil the sheet or line it with parchment. I needed three baking sheets to hold all the breadsticks.
Dough in the shape of breadsticks

Dough in the shape of breadsticks


Cover the dough sticks and let them rest for 30 minutes or so while the oven preheats to 425℉. Bake the breadsticks for 12 to 14 minutes or until they’re golden brown.
Breadsticks with kalamata olives, parmesan, and herbs

Breadsticks with kalamata olives, parmesan, and herbs


This recipe makes a ton of breadsticks. We’re going to be eating them for weeks. I’ve already wrapped the leftovers and put them in the freezer. They’d be perfect for a party, though.

We really liked them. They smell good, the herbs and cheese are just right, and they’re very light. If we ever run out, I’ll definitely make them again.

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