This is a little awkward. I suppose I should clear the air. Just confess what I’ve done wrong so we can acknowledge what I’ve done, you can forgive me, and we can move past it. I’ll do it fast, like ripping off a Band-aid. Okay? Okay. Ready?
Whew. Okay. That wasn’t so bad. So I made a cake with a pound of unrendered pork fat? So what, right? Not such a big deal. Ha ha. Ha ha ha ha ha.
Look, I wanted to make a cherry cake. It was PINK. I picked this pink cake out of a Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook and I showed it to Tom. I said, “What do you think about this cake? It has a big, fat candle sticking out of it, like that epicly stupid Kwanzaa cake Sandra Lee made.”
But Tom wasn’t listening to me. He was shaking his head and pointing to another recipe. A recipe from Holiday Cooking, a pamphlet put out by The People’s Gas, Light and Coke Company, Chicago in the 1950’s.
“What?” I said, “No cake?”
“Oh no, there’s going to be cake.” He jabbed his finger at the offending recipe. “There’s going to be a pork cake.”
“No.” I started shaking my head. “No. Nonononononono.”
He smiled evilly. “Yes.”
“No!” I tried to think up excuses. “It will be too expensive. Look at all that stupid fruit.”
“It’s going to take too long.”
“I’ll never be able to find pork fat on this short notice!”
“Yes we will.”
“I don’t want to!” I wailed, “Don’t make me make the pork cake!”
He took my hand in his and looked deep into my eyes. “We’ll make it together.”
So, this is one pound of pork fat, chopped up in my food processor. It was purchased at Jack’s Fruit And Meat Market. They had it on hand. In the freezer. Just like they had a whole cow tongue conveniently in the freezer that time I tried to weasel out of making tongue in gelatin.
Just. Like. That.
Oh, and for the record, I have no problem cooking with lard. Lard is great. I use it in pie crust and cookies. But I have NEVER cooked with lard that hasn’t been rendered. Cooked down. (If you want to see the process, check out Erica’s lard adventure on Retro Recipe Attempts) Made delicious by heat. This fat was just…fat. Raw, raw fat. It was a first for me. And firsts are always scary.
Granted, there was a gasp at rendering in the recipe. Here is the pork fat after I poured a cup of boiling water over it. It melted some of it, but most of it was still left in little, horrible chunks.
After one hour of sitting, the fat had cooled and gelatinized some. Into brains, apparently. Which doesn’t mean it’s rendered, but brains are always fun.
But, true to the spirit of the Mid-Century Menu, I didn’t let this stop me. I pushed aside horrible feelings and got down to cooking. I measured, I sifted, I mixed, and I DID NOT taste the batter.
The batter looked okay, and it didn’t smell porky. With all of the spices and molasses, it pretty much just smelled like gingerbread. However, some small, whitish masses still remained whole in the batter, burrowing through it like fat little grubs.
It totally looks like a grub.
But then, THEN the rendering process began. After the fat was already in the cake! The cake baked for 4 hours (!) at 250 degrees.
And baked up pretty well. The outside was freakishly crispy, and the smell of pork wasn’t completely drowned out by molasses, but overall it wasn’t too bad.
The inside was surprisingly moist, and I sent a small prayer of thanks up to God when I cut into the cake and the fat grubs were gone. I had harbored an irrational fear that they would have been resistant to heat and would have stayed, whole and slimey, in the batter.
And then it was time for only one thing. The taste-test.
After a close inspection, of course.
“Are you sure all those raw fat things are gone?”
It turned out I wasn’t the only one with the heat-resistant-fat-grub fear.
“I think so. I didn’t see any when I was cutting it.”
“I don’t want to eat any raw pork.”
“Don’t be such a baby. This was your idea.”
Down the hatch with a nervous smile.
“How is it?”
“Fine. The outside is freakishly crunchy.”
“What’s wrong? You said it was fine.”
“I can’t shake the image of the pork bits.”
“Oh, you big baby.” I grabbed the fork and took a bite. The cake was moist and spicy, and after you got over the crunchy crust, it was pretty good. “I kind of like it. It tastes like –” I froze as something slithered over my tongue. “Aack!”
I forced myself to swallow. “That was a raisin, right?”
Tom shrugged. “You tell me.”
The Verdict: Weird. Weird even for us. The cake was moist, spicy and not too sweet. It needed some kind of orange or lemon glaze on top of it to make it really good. But it was just…wrong. It didn’t taste bad, but the preparation technique was a little off-putting for us. Right now it is stashed in our fridge, waiting for the visions of dancing fat grubs to dissipate. Then we will try eating it again. With glaze.