Question about lard
I'm making a Scottish shortbread recipe, which calls for lard. It was really hard to find lard in the stores (none at Fairway, none at Citarella), but I did find it at my local Associated at 96th and Lex. It's Armor brand and I noticed it's partially hydrogenated. I also notice that refrigeration is not required, which seems a little scary. Does anyone know whether there's a non-hydrogenated version available? Does it make a difference for how it behaves in recipes?
Unprocessed lard can be hard to find locally, unless you ask a good butcher for pork fat and render it yourself (there are plenty of online references on how to do this, IIRC). Your experience is not unusual in many parts of the U.S. where lard is often only available at grocers catering to customers from the Caribbean, Latin America or Central/Eastern Europe.
Processed lard suffers from the same deficit as any processed product; in exchange for greater control over consistency and shelf-life, you lose some flavor and also get the wonders of hydrogenation, as you suspect. I leave it to lard experts to decide if the differences are enough to make a difference; I cannot tell.
I would try it and see if it is worth it. It may well be.
Don't use it. Processed lard is nasty and should be avoided.
Your recipe assumes you have access to fresh "leaf lard" or other pastry quality lard. You can order it from a good butcher. Leaf lard is the tender lard from the kidney area.
Pure rendered lard does not need refrigeration, nor does the partially hydrogenated stuff. Leaf "lard" (really not lard in the usual modern meaning but rather a very rich and pure natural fat) does require refrigeration to keep. There are a few commercial brands of rendered lard that are not hydrogenated, but they tend to be available only at butcher shops or meat plant retail stores.
Growing up in the country I remember the rendering of lard whenever we butchered a hog, and since we were in the last area of SC to get REA electricity (1948), we perforce had no refrigeration, but we had no problem with lard (or anything else) spoiling.
Lard may survive a while without refrigeration, but it can definitely go bad. During the brief period when I thought hydrogenated lard was potentially worthwhile, I found packages of it in the supermarket that had definitely 'turned'; that is, they exhibited the distinctive cardboardy aroma of oxidised oil/fat. My understanding is that oxidised fat, besides being unpalatable, contains things that are not good for you. If I recall correctly, one of the objections to hydrogenation is that it makes it harder to tell, from the aroma, when oxidation has taken place, thus exposing you to those dangerous compounds without your knowledge.
I find the aroma of real, home-rendered lard to be much more pleasant than that of shelf-stabilized, hydrogenated lard, anyway. If you're cooking something from scratch, why use fake food?
With a little luck, the recent stigma that has attached to hydrogenated fats will result in real lard once again being available.
I question the use of lard in the shortbread to begin with. I was taught to make shotbread by a lady from Scotland and she would get just short of violent if any ingrediants other than flour, butter & sugar were even mentioned. She made the best shortbread I have ever had by the way.
Well, Puddle, I stand not only corrected but flabberghasted. Since it is a family recipe, and from a Scottish auntie to boot, it is undoubtedly authentic, and is perhaps a regional variation! I'm just so surprised since the time I spent in Scotland showed me only the universal preference for butter in shortbread sold to the public (me).
I'd be interested to know what part of Scotland your aunt hailed from, and any other historical information you're willing to share. How interesting -- I really did think I knew that butter was the only fat the Scots ever used for Shortbread, but I am proved wrong.
After you've made it, please describe it, too, if you don't mind, and explain its difference to butter shortbread.
Maybe the "lard is bad" craze hit Scotland, too, and now lard shortbread is only served in people's homes, and not sold to the public.
Or, maybe.... that "local grannies" shortbread I had in Aberdeen was really lard shortbread, and I just wasn't told!
What exciting possibilities!
re: Mrs. Smith
Mrs. Smith, the explanation I've heard is pretty much what Karl S. was saying, that lard has less water content and therefore makes for a crisper, dryer shortbread. But he mentions an unusual flavor, which I've never noticed.
By the way, I've had this shortbread many times, so I can vouch for it even though I've never made it myself.
I'm posting the recipe below. My aunt grew up in Dundee but spent most of her adult life in Helensborough, near Glasgow.
And I won't be using the hydrogenated lard, as a result of the information everyone has provided. Sounds like I just need to go down to Faicco's in the Village.
Helen Mitchell's Scottish Shortbread
14 ozs. flour, composed of the following:
7 oz. regular
5 oz. white pastry flour
2 oz. rice flour
4 oz. castor sugar (Domino superfine sugar)
8 ozs. shortening, either:
7 oz unsalted butter, 1 oz. lard
6 oz. unsalted butter, 2 oz. lard
Crumble shortening into dry ingredients until crumbly, with no shortening lumps left. Press into 9 x 13 pan. Prick with cake tester in rows. Bake at 300 for 30 to 45 minutes. Remove from oven and cut in fingers. Spread fingers around on a baking sheet. Return to oven for about 30 mm. Watch carefully!
Puddle, I am grateful for you sharing your family recipe, and I plan to try it when I do my holiday baking. It also explains one thing to me -- that this is a partial butter/partial lard recipe -- which would explain why some retailers would call a similar product a "butter shortbread", even though there is some lard in it. I mistakenly thought it was an all-lard recipe, and, quite frankly, I had a hard time imagining that! But this smaller fraction of lard being incorporated makes perfect sense -- the lower water content of the lard would contribute to the flakiness and texture of the final product, but would not overshadow the butter flavor. Clever Scots!
I will definitely use this recipe in the future, and report back on how it went for me. I'm anticipating some really superior shortbread! I make several batches at Christmastime, so I can do side-by-side comparisons myself with butter-only recipes. I myself have found that I like the recipes using rice flour better, so this recipe may be the ultimate!
Interesting, also, that your Aunt came from Dundee. I've made (and really enjoyed) Dundee cakes with lard in them, so possibly there is a Dundee, or East-Scotland, tendency to use lard? I don't know -- I wish I had a good book on the history of Scottish cooking (not sure about you, though, I'd skip the chapter on haggis :)
But in the meantime I have this recipe -- thank you so much for posting this!
I too am VERY VERY skeptical of any shortbread involving lard.
Don't get me wrong- - lard is a wonderful, natural fat (yes, it's saturated, but that isn't as bad as they all say, and it's miles and miles better than hydrogentated) that has many many uses. I use really fresh, clean, home-rendered lard for good pie pastry for certain pies (the rest of the time I use unsalted butter). Certain pies just need a good, extra-flaky, traditional lard crust, like mincemeat, and certainly any savory meat pie. Viva lard!
But shortbread? I've never heard of such a thing. I don't purport to be an expert, but I have traveled for a few weeks in Scotland doing an un-scientific "scones and shortbread" tour (my unofficial goal was to eat at least one version of each each day, and I usually succeeded). Whenever I got someone to listen, in a tea shop, hotel dining room, or pub, I'd ask about the preparation. Some were purchased from larger bakeries, and the proprietors were not sure of the ingredients, but when the product was house-made (as in many good pubs, tea shops, and hotels large and small in Scotland) it was ALWAYS with butter. There was little controversy over the fat itself (one fussy teashop baker assured me she wouldn't make shortbread unless she could get her butter fresh churned from the farm up the road. If there was no butter that day -- there was no shortbread, she informed me severely. Luckily there was butter that day :) but there was huge controversies over:
-grated cold butter, cut butter, pastry blender-ed butter, food processors, etc (the way the fat was incorporated)
-type of sugar (castor, which we would consider ultra-fine, but not powdered, or regular granulated). Incidentally brown sugar was never used in any shortbread I tasted.
-The very controversial inclusion of rice flour -- some people swear by it, some people consider it a fancy modern addition that's suspect at best.
-The perfect aging of shortbread after it is baked -- anywhere from 2 days to nearly a month was considered optimum by various people.
I didn't ever get a definite consensus on these topics (and many others pertaining to scones which I won't include), but I SO enjoyed the journey.
The best shortbread I had on that trip, by the way, was at the Brentwood hotel in Aberdeen. All I could get out of the server was that they were "baked by local grannies". Alas, I will never know the secret -- I can just savor the memory of that perfect cookie.
But back to the subject -- I'd be highly suspicious, if I were you, of any shortbread involving lard. Sounds like a weird reverse engineering that shouldn't happen. Don't mess with it -- in my opinion the fat for shortbread is the best quality fresh unsalted butter you can get.