Rose Prince's Baking Club: Eccles cakes

Date:15-01-2014 08:59:02 read:6

Rose Prince's Baking Club: Eccles cakes

Our weekly column shows you the way to beautiful bread and consummate cake. Today: Eccles Cakes

By Ecc as like: rich, buttery and fruity Eccles cakes  Photo: Andrew Crowley

Regular baking clubbers will know that this is not a space that welcomes migrant cakes. Don’t – please – read this wrong. All I am trying to say is that the invasion of cupcakes, brownies, key lime this and chocolate chip that is one I resist. Not because I hate America – quite the reverse – it is more a rejection of the American influence on cake which is, precisely, too much emphasis on sweet goo and not enough on airy lightness, or subtle flavours.

Without wishing to alienate a great tranche of brownie disciples, swallowing more than two mouthfuls of barely cooked chocolate mush makes me feel ill. As for cupcakes, suspicion and loathing for an inch of chemically dyed buttercream piped onto a nondescript sponge and dusted with edible glitter, begs the protest: “Just say NO.”

Is it very unbalanced to say that, if British food culture is to be raided by alien cakes, those that come in from Europe are so much better? The glories of airy choux, macaron, fine pâte sucrée tarts and crisp meringues are prettier than Krispy Kremes and I dare say generally healthier. Yet European patisserie is already all over our bakery counters, not so much like a cheap suit, more a couture gown, prompting the urgent question: where did all the British regional cakes go?

Less the duchesse satin, more the Harris tweed of baking, I conjure up a mental list of these off the top of my head. Yes, the Victoria sandwich, shortbread, Chelsea buns, crumpets and scones are all very much still with us and the Dundee cake made a comeback this Christmas, in the face of legions of panettone.

But my dog-eared copy of Lizzie Boyd’s academic cookbook British Cookery (1976) notes such lovelies as buttery rowies, brotherly love, huffkins, saffron wigs, gypsy bread and Sussex heavies. There are pages and pages of indigenous breads, cakes, biscuits and buns. So let the Baking Club, in the spirit of January renewal, kiss the life back into regional curiosities and old favourites.

This week it’s the currant-full pastries of Lancashire, the Eccles cake. Eccles cakes have suffered a little from being Mr Kiplinged, meaning that they have fallen from being a fresh-baked baking counter item to something sold in a packet with shelf life. But a freshly baked Eccles cake, full of syrupy spiced currants, is something I like with a piece of Lancashire cheese after a weekend lunch. You can make the pastry yourself, or buy the best-quality butter puff pastry you can find.

Makes approximately 8


A baking sheet, lined with baking parchment


For the pastry

250g/9oz plain flour

250g/9oz unsalted butter

125ml/4 ½ fl oz ice-old water

For the filling

120g/4oz currants

60g/2oz butter

A few gratings of nutmeg

60g/2oz soft dark brown sugar

1 egg white

Granulated or demerara sugar – for dusting

To make the pastry:

1st stage: Put the butter between 2 sheets of greaseproof paper and tap hard with a rolling pin to soften. Put all the flour in a heap on the work surface and add the butter breaking it up into thumbnail-size pieces. Add the water and form into a dryish dough; wrap the piece of dough in greaseproof paper and put in the fridge for 15 minutes.

2nd stage: Roll the pastry into a rectangle, about 20x40cm/8x16 inches. Fold it into three, like a letter, tap it with a rolling pin, turn it 180 degrees, then roll out again to 20x40cm. Repeat the process, fold, tap with the rolling pin, wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes. The pastry should by now have absorbed the dry and floury bits.

3rd stage: Repeat the rolling, folding and tapping one last time and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before using the pastry.

Between resting the pastry, make the filling. Put the currants, butter, nutmeg and brown sugar into a small pan and bring to the boil. Cook for about a minute then allow to cool. This will soften the currants and makes the juices around them syrupy.

Preheat the oven to 220C/425F/7 gas. Roll out the pastry on a floured worktop to ½ cm thick and cut 10cm/4in rounds. Put a dessert spoonful of filling into the centre of each round and pinch the edges together to enclose it. Turn over the cake and place it, joined side down, on the baking sheet. Repeat with the others, then brush with egg white. Score the surface with a sharp knife and then dust with sugar.

Bake for 15 minutes or until the cakes are golden and puffed. Allow to cool a little and then eat them as soon as possible.

Your letters

I have had a couple of frustrated letters from readers who have made the raspberry loaf cakes and feel the quantity of fruit is wrong. The recipe asks for 300g. “Why 300g?” says Susan Martin. “I bought 300g large raspberries and just 18 of them weighed 145g!”

Such scrupulous readers, equipped with scales, make me hang my head but the problem with fruit quantities crops up all the time. How many apple slices are needed for a tart, how much pineapple for an upside down cake? If you give weights, as I did for the raspberry cakes, I try to overestimate so that no one is short. Sorry if this irritates but too much is better than too few.

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