Despite the fact that I’ve always had a weird love-hate relationship with ‘dried grapes’ i.e. sultanas, raisins and currants, I’ve always had a liking for Eccles cakes. My mum bought one for me from the bakery as an after school treat when I was very young and I thought they were yummy. Eccles cakes are still readily available but for some reason, I stopped eating them and I don’t think I ever scoffed an Eccles cake in adulthood. Until last week, that is, when my lovely aunt bought me one to take to school (I’m now a teacher but my aunt thinks I’m still five!)
“Hmm…,” I thought, “I wonder if these are still as good as they used to be.”
And they were! They tasted amazingly good and every bit as tasty as I remembered; I was so annoyed with myself for missing out all these years. Eccles cakes originate from the town of – wait for it – Eccles! The town in Greater Manchester gave it’s name to this (full) moon shaped cake which, strictly speaking, is more of a pastry than a cake: buttery, flaky pastry with a sweet current filling. It is not known who invented the recipe or when although Eccles cakes are believed to have been in existence for more than 300 years.
They may look quite plain and simple but they are comfortingly delicious and really hit the spot. I remember they were quite popular when I was a kid (and I’m from London!) but in the last fifteen years or so, I don’t think I’ve heard anyone even mention an Eccles cake let alone tuck into one. Like the cream horn, it’s in danger of baked goody extinction!
I won’t leave it another 15 years before I have my next Eccles cake and this recipe has inspired me to do a little home baking!
For the quick flaky pastry
175g (6oz) butter
225g (8oz) plain flour
little cold water, to mix
For the filling
25g (1oz) butter
100g (4oz) currants
100g (4oz) sultanas
25g (1oz) mixed peel
85g (3½oz) light, soft brown sugar
zest 1 lemon and 1 orange, plus 1tbsp orange juice
egg white, to glaze
caster sugar, to sprinkle
1. Make the pastry. Weigh out the butter, then freeze in foil for 1 hour. Sift the flour into a bowl, then use the foil to hold the butter. Grate it into the flour using a coarse grater. Add a little water, around 3tbsp, to form a dough. Don’t use your hands, but mix in with a flat-bladed knife. Pat into a round, then wrap in cling film and chill for 45 minutes.
2.Put all the filling ingredients in a pan, cook gently for 5 minutes and allow to cool. Roll out the pastry to the thickness of a £1 coin, cut out circles using a 10cm (4in) cutter – re-roll the pastry as necessary. Brush the edge of each pastry round with a little water, place 2 heaped tsp of filling in the middle of each, then close the ends up and pinch together, turn the cakes over and pat them down gently to flatten them, until the fruit becomes visible through the pastry. Chill for 20 minutes. Heat the oven to 200 C, 180 C fan, 400 F, gas 6.
3. Lightly beat the egg white until frothy, then glaze the tops. Cut 3 small slashes in each cake, sprinkle with caster sugar and bake on a baking sheet lined with parchment for 25 to 30 minutes until golden brown and bubbling.