Now mix 3 ½ ounces of plain flour with ½ teaspoon each of baking powder and salt and five ounces of caster sugar. Sift these over the fruit and nuts, getting your hands in there to make sure they all get coated.
Jane Grigson was brought up in the far north of England, and this currant cake was very popular there when she was a child. At the end of winter, when there was nothing fresh left in store aside from a few apples and jars of dried fruit, this cake – more a tart really – would be baked. Everywhere in the north has a similar sweetmeat: Eccles cakes, Chorley cakes and currant squares, and of course mince pies. Children usually called them squashed fly cakes or fly cemeteries. ‘We loved it’, she says, ‘and giggled in a corner, while the family talked. No one realised that they were eating a cake with a history, and medieval ancestors.’
To make the currant cake, first make a rich shortcrust pastry by rubbing in 5 ounces of butter and 5 ounces of lard into a pound of plain flour along with a pinch of salt. Form a dough with a little cold water, wrap in cling film and pop in the fridge to rest for around 30 minutes.
There has been previous debate and discussion here on Neil Cooks Grigson on the what makes a Chorley cake different from an Eccles cake. It wasn’t really solved, but I thought that an Eccles cake was made with shortcrust pastry and the Chorley was made with puff pastry. It seems that coming in from leftfield to further confuse us is the Banbury cake. Which is what I thought was a Chorley cake. As far as I can see the only difference is maybe that there are more species in it as well as a touch of rum. Does anyone know the differences between the three?
Banbury cakes certainly go way, way back – Griggers found a recipes for them in a book called The English Hus-wife, written in 1615. Hus-wife: what a great word. I’m going to start using it in conversation.
Anyways. In the EEB department of Rice Uiversity we had a Thanksgiving dinner and we were all asked to bring something in for it. These little cakes seemed like the perfect thing to make for a buffet – no need for slicing or even plates. I’m always slightly nervous of making recipes from the book for these kinds of things in case the recipe is God-awful – like previous bad experiences like the Whim-Wham, English Rarebit, the Rice Cake or the Mocha Cake.
First of all, melt two ounces of butter in a saucepan. Remove from the heat and add four ounces of currants (or if you live in America, raisins!), an ounce of candied chopped peel, two ounces of sugar, ½ a teaspoon each of ground allspice and nutmeg as well as ¼ teaspoon of ground cinnamon and a tablespoon of rum. Allow to cool.
While you’re waiting, roll out some puff pastry thinly and cut seven inch wide circles. Put a spoonful in the centre of the circle in line about five inches long, drawing and folding in the pastry, pinching in the edges. Turn them over and flatten them slightly with the rolling-pin so that you have oval shaped cake. Make three slashes over the top, brush with egg white and then sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 15 minutes at 220°C (425°F). Allow to cool on racks.
#259 Banbury Cakes. These were very good indeed and they went down well at the thanksgiving dinner which was good, where I got the chance to shamelessly plug the blog. I think I prefer these to the Eccles cakes too, though there isn’t much in it. I scoffed down two as soon as they were cool, which wasn’t good as I was meant to be off wheat at the moment. One thing led to another and I ended up drinking wheat beer and eating a giant pizza in Late Nite Pie. Oh dear. 7.5/10.
This time of year there is no seasonal fruit, except for champagne rhubarb, and so we have to turn to stored apples and pears or dried fruits. Some people don’t like dried fruits, but I am a definite fan, and thought an attempt at the classic Eccles cake was well overdue. There has been a bit of a disagreement in the house as to whether the recipe in English Food is actually a true Eccles cake or not – Charlotte reckons it should be made with puff pastry and Griggers (and me!) reckons a lard shortcrust pastry. A quick look in the Dairy Book of British Food gives an extra point to Charlotte. Does anyone know the true answer? Give me your opinions on this one please! I’d hope it is a lard-based answer as that seems more Northern English to me. Griggers says that if it made with puff pastry, you have a Banbury cake, which is Southern English. Oh well, we may never know.
Makes 10-12 cakes.
First of all, make some pastry using 4 ounces of lard and 8 ounces of plain flour. While it rests in the fridge make the filling: melt together an ounce of butter with 2 ounces of caster sugar, then stir in 4 ounces of currants, an ounce of candied peel, plus half a teaspoon each of ground nutmeg and allspice. Leave to cool. Roll out the pastry and cut out circles around four inches in diameter. Place a spoon of the currant mixture in the centre and bring in the pastry by its edges so that you can pinch them together. Turn the cake over and gently roll them to flatten them slightly. Make a hole in the centre, brush with a little egg white and sprinkle with caster sugar. Bake at 220⁰C for about 15 minutes. Cool on a rack.
#226 Eccles Cakes. Whether they are true Eccles cakes or not, these were delicious. The filling was rich, but wasn’t too sweet and I liked the spice element (which I thought wasn’t in an Eccles cake). It also reminded me how good lard shortcrust pastry is. If you’ve never tried one – give it a go. 7/10.
It seems that the further north you go in England, the more desserts and teatime treats using currants and raisins there are: Eccles cakes and Chorley cakes are the ones that spring to mind. I’ve never heard of one from Cumberland before; funny, since there are actually two recipes from there in English Food.
I think these things were popular because they are very comforting and definitely a wintertime food, and it is grim Up North, as we know. It has been particularly grim at the minute – particularly around the Cumberland area – so I thought I’d give one a go. The best thing about the recipe is that it is a very good store-cupboard pud – I didn’t have to buy anything, I had it all in! Tiny things please tiny minds.
First make some shrtcrust pastry using 2 ounces each of butter and lard, 8 ounces of plain flour and some milk. Roll out half and line a deep oven-proof plate. Now make the filling: weigh out 3 ½ ounces of golden syrup. To do this, put a saucepan on your scales and tare them before adding the syrup. Add an ounce of butter to the pan and warm though gently so that the butter melts and the syrup becomes runny. Now stir in 5 ounces of either raisins or currants (or a mixture, you devil), an ounce of chopped peel, an ounce of ground almonds, ¼ teaspoon each of ground nutmeg, allspice and salt and finally 2 teaspoons of lemon juice. Use some egg white to brush around the edges of the pastry, roll out the last of the pastry and cover it. Crimp the edges, make a hole in the centre and then brush with more egg white and sprinkle with some caster sugar. Bake for 15 minutes at 220⁰C, then turn the oven down to 190⁰C and bake for a further 30 minutes. She don’t say, but serve it with some cream, innit.
#208 Cumberland Plate Tart. Just what the doctor ordered! I really like this sort of dessert, but many can’t abide currants and raisins and things like that these days, so they are going out of fashion which is a big shame. What can be bad about sweet fruit, moist almonds and good old golden syrup? Bring ‘em back I say. 6.5/10