Eccles cakes have been around for at least 500 years. Local to the English town of Eccles in Lancashire, these little treats of sugar-topped flaky pastry encompassing a sweet centre of spiced dried fruit were originally baked in celebration of the Church’s various religious festivals. Standing the test of time, they’ve remained a popular seasonal or teatime treat nationwide despite rarely being found on the shelves of bakeries these days (where we are, at least. We don’t get out much).
The cakes themselves go way back and so does this recipe for them, although, not quite THAT far. We spotted it in the Local Dishes chapter of our copy of Elizabeth Craig’s Cookery Illustrated and Household Management (1936) which we have been bursting to try really all of the recipes from, and made it the first on our hit list from it.
Golden, melt-in-your-mouth pastry with a good crunch of sugar (the only real sugar added here), and juicy dried fruit… YUM. We’ll be making these again!
Original Recipes: 'Flaky Pastry' and 'Eccles Cakes' (Book 5, 1936)
Makes: 9 or 10 cakes
For the Flaky Pastry:
½ lb / 227 g Plain Flour
½ tsp. Baking Powder
3 oz / 85g Butter
4 oz / 113 g Lard
A pinch of Salt
For the Filling:
1 ½ oz / 43 g Butter
3 oz / 85 g Currants
2 oz / 56 g Mixed Peel
Make the Flaky Pastry
1. Sift the flour with the baking powder and salt into a large basin. Rub in the butter and mix to a stiff paste with cold water, adding a little at a time until you get the right consistency.
2. Slice the lard into thin pieces. If liked, put these pieces between two sheets of greaseproof paper or cling film and press them thinner still using a rolling pin*.
Note: We wouldn't advise doing this in hot weather. Lard gets mushy quite quickly when it's warm.
3. Roll out the butter pastry into a squarish shape. Cover it with the pieces of lard, and fold the edges into the centre both ways so that they overlap the lard. Then, fold all of the pastry in half, and in half again. You should be left with a neat little square.
4. Make sure that your rolling surface is well floured as this is quite a sticky pastry. Roll it out, then fold over twice again, the same as before. Repeat two more times so that you will have folded the pastry a total of 8 times and rolled it out a total of 6 times. On the last roll, make it 1/3 of an inch thick (about 80mm). You can keep your pastry in the fridge overnight ready to use the next day, if liked.
Forming the Eccles Cakes
5. Cut the pastry into rounds 4 ½ inches across, then turn the best side down onto a floured board or surface and wet the edges.
6. Melt the butter slowly over a low heat and mix into it the currants, mixed peel, and grate in as much nutmeg as you like.
7. Put a heaped teaspoonful of the mixture on the centre of each round, bunch up the edges of the pastry until they close together completely around the filling, and turn the bunched sides onto the board so that the best side now faces upwards.
8. Using a small rolling pin or glass bottle, roll over the tops of the cakes lightly until the currants show through the pastry.
9. Make a shallow cut down the middle of each, brush with water and dredge with sugar.
10. Transfer to a flat tin lined with baking paper and bake at 220 C (200 C Fan) / 428 F / Gas Mark 8 for 20 minutes.
Eat hot or cold, ideally with a lovely cuppa Rosie Lee.
Original Recipes for 'Flaky Pastry' and 'Eccles Cakes'
'BOOK 5': Cookery Illustrated and Household Management (1936)
By: Elizabeth Craig
Publisher: Odhams Press Limited (Long Acre, London, W.C.2, England, U.K.)