The following was sent to me by my friend, Elda Stone. She is new to lard and I was happy to share a jar of leaf lard with her so she could experiment with an old family recipe. I don’t pretend to be a writer but she is a great one and I’m thrilled that she was willing to take the time to record her thoughts so I could share them here.
Baking Old Cookie Recipe With Lard
By Elda Stone
My sister Rita and I recently resurrected a cookie recipe that we remembered from childhood. We know it as “Grossmutter’s Butterzeug.”
These cut-out sugar cookies, spiced with cinnamon and cloves, were not my favorite as a kid. They were simple and plain, with no frosting. What, no frosting? But I still remember the distinctive taste, the thinness, and the crisp snap.
Grossmutter is what my dad and his sister called their grandmother Babette Gehbauer Helmreich (1863-1948). Babette came over from Germany just before the start of World War I, joining her daughters who immigrated a decade earlier as teenagers. We never knew Babette, but our aunt and grandma made these cookies every year at Christmas.
Butterzeug calls for butter, of course. Google roughly translates “zeug” (pronounced “zoig”) as “stuff” or “material.” Our handwritten recipe card, recorded by Rita years ago while Grandma made the cookies, calls for a pound of butter or “half butter, half lard.”
Lard – yuck. I had never tried baking with it.
Rita and I made a half-batch of the original recipe over Thanksgiving, using all butter. (A full batch must make a massive amount of cookies!)
Even after chilling, the dough was miserably soft for rolling out and transferring to a baking sheet. It stuck to the mat and rolling pin, falling apart out of the cookie cutters. We managed to bake them, and they tasted reasonably like we remembered our grandma’s cookies, but a little too soft and not as thin.
Having heard my friend Laura of Mossycup Farms talk about the virtues of lard, I wanted to try a “test kitchen” experiment in comparative baking. Laura supplied me with a jar of her home-rendered pork lard, from her organically fed, free-range hogs. It was surprisingly light, fluffy, and brilliantly white.
I again made a small batch of Butterzeug, this time with half butter and half lard. I wrapped two flattened disks of dough in wax paper and chilled them in the fridge overnight.
The next day, the dough was very firm and easy to handle. It took some elbow grease to roll out the chilled disks. I was able to get it thinner than last time, and it still held together. I baked according to directions, same as the all-butter batch.
I had saved a couple cookies from the first batch to compare taste. For ease of handling and texture, the half-butter/half-lard version is better and tastes more like I remember. The cookies are definitely more crisp, possibly because I was able to roll the dough thinner. There’s a shortbread-like crumble to the tongue. This version also browned up a little if I pushed the baking time another minute.
I certainly don’t notice any “porky” flavor from the lard. I’m surprised it resulted in firmer dough and crispier cookies, despite lard’s low melting temperature and light texture.
This article from Prevention magazine sums up the re-evaluation of lard., And it sounds much preferable to coconut oil, which has also been touted in recent years. Using half Crisco or other commercial shortening might also make this recipe easier to roll out and cut, but I’m more leery of using a processed product these days.
So that’s my pseudo-scientific study on lard in a cookie recipe! Christmas cookies by any definition are A) only made at Christmas and B) not really supposed to be good for you. It’s more about the taste, texture, and visual delight. Lard delivered the taste of my childhood holidays.
And making this family recipe brings back to life my aunt, my grandma, and my great-grandmother, standing behind me in the kitchen.