The Nasty Bits: Rendered Lard Cookies
For the last three years, I've made the same cookies for the Serious Eats cookie swap: biscochitos, the official cookie of New Mexico, an all-lard cookie made with rum and anise seeds then rolled in cinnamon and sugar.
I keep hoping that the next year, the lard trend will catch on, but people are so partial to butter. And I can't blame them. It's just that cookies made with lard are porky and cookies made with butter are merely, well, buttery.
Part of the problem is lard is not as accessible as butter. Leaf-lard, the mozzarella-shaped mass of fat surrounding the kidneys, is even harder to to find.
For the entire fall I asked my pig farmer every week in passing if she had any leaf lard, and she would always give me some cockeyed excuse that she didn't have enough pigs. Actually, I suppose that's pretty valid, but what a shame! Leaf lard has a neutral, slightly sweet flavor profile and renders very well into the liquid lard you use in cookies and pie crusts.
This year, instead of leaf lard, I used rendered pork fat from a pig that was roasted and stuffed with garlic and ginger. Which is to say, the fat already tasted like dinner, savory and suggestive of thyme.
Now, you may think you might not want to eat a cookie that tastes like roasted pig, but not so. This year's batch of cookies was by far the porkiest, saltiest batch of biscochitos I've ever made, and people didn't seem to mind. (SE editor Erin Zimmer said she had to put the cookie down after a few bites, but everything in moderation, I say.)
Instead of hiding the salty nature of the lard, I embraced it by decreasing the sugar and increasing the salt content in the cookie, and then slicing it very thin so that every bite tasted of the browned crusty bottom. And you could, if you were so inclined, go one step further and sprinkle the cookies with a bit of sea salt after they come out of the oven. So now, you have no excuse not to make lard cookies for the holidays. Save up your bacon fats, your roasted pork fats, or throw in a little duck fat or tallow if that's what you have on hand.
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About the author: Chichi Wang took her degree in philosophy, but decided that writing about food would be much more fun than writing about Plato. She firmly believes in all things offal, the importance of reading great books, and the necessity of three-hour meals. If she were ever to get a tattoo, it would say "Fat is flavor." Visit her blog, The Offal Cook.