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Eccles cakes


You'll need

200 gm currants, soaked in hot water until plump, drained 60 gm butter, melted 50 gm brown sugar Finely grated rind of 1 orange and juice of ½ 20 ml brandy Pinch each of mixed spice and freshly grated nutmeg For scattering: demerara sugar   Flaky pastry 400 gm (2 2/3 cups) plain flour 25 gm caster sugar 175 gm chilled butter, cut into 1cm cubes 50 gm chilled lard, cut into 1cm cubes 75 ml milk 1 egg, separated

Method

  • 01
  • For flaky pastry, sieve flour onto a work surface, then mix in sugar and 1 tsp fine sea salt. Scatter over butter and lard and cut into flour with a pastry cutter until roughly mixed (there should still be small lumps of butter and lard in the mixture). Whisk milk, egg yolk and 100ml iced water in a small bowl, form a well in centre of flour mixture, add milk mixture and mix lightly to incorporate. Bring together with the heel of your palm, pat into a rectangle, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm (40-50 minutes). Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface to a 1.5cm-thick rectangle, about 15cm x 35cm. Fold short ends in to meet in the centre, then fold dough in half to form a book-fold. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until just firm (20-30 minutes). Repeat rolling, folding and resting twice more. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
  • 02
  • Combine currants, butter, brown sugar, orange rind, orange juice, brandy and spices in a bowl and set aside.
  • 03
  • Preheat oven to 190C. Roll out pastry on a lightly floured surface to 5mm thick, then cut 20 rounds with a 10cm-diameter cutter, re-rolling scraps. Divide filling among half the rounds, brush edges with water, cover with remaining rounds and pinch edges to seal. Gently roll with a rolling pin to spread filling evenly, brush with lightly beaten eggwhite and scatter with demerara sugar. Transfer to oven trays lined with baking paper and score tops twice with a small sharp knife. Bake until golden and cooked through (25-30 minutes), then serve warm or at room temperature.

Little-known fact: the editor of this magazine once posted an Eccles cake from St John restaurant, in London, to the Gourmet Traveller offices in Sydney. It arrived, some eight days later, in extremely good nick, even though it had been put in the post with the slice of Lancashire cheese it had been served with at the restaurant. Its condition was testament not only to the efficacy of the Royal Mail, but also to the keeping power of this northern English classic. (We still prefer to eat them warm from the oven or within a few hours of baking, it must be said.)

The first person credited with selling Eccles cakes was one James Birch, a shopkeeper. According to the Eccles and District History Society, Birch sold them in his premises opposite the parish church in Eccles. (Since then, the building has been demolished and the town of Eccles more or less subsumed by the suburbs of Manchester.) Small and round, Eccles cakes are one of the pastries traditionally referred to as tea cakes - a term far more appetising than their other nickname, squashed fly cakes.

Made from rich, flaky pastry filled with dried currants and hints of spice, they're quite similar to Banbury cakes, though that's a point best not raised in the north.

The key to a really good Eccles cake is the pastry, which is all about technique: rolling, folding and resting. And what to serve with Eccles cakes? A cup of England's finest is a must, so put the kettle on - it's tea-time.


At A Glance

  • Serves 10 people
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At A Glance

  • Serves 10 people

Featured in

Jun 2012

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