Eccles cakes, a close cousin of the Banbury cake, originated in Eccles, now part of Salford, Greater Manchester, UK. Like so many geographical dishes, the exact origin or original recipe is unknown. In fact, every family and bake shop in Eccles appears to have their own secret recipe, which they are loathe to share with anyone. Some culinary historians think that Mrs Elizabeth Raffald's recipe for Sweet Patties, from her book "The Experienced English Housekeeper" was the basis for the Eccles cake. Mrs Raffald's cookery book was published in 1769, the recipe in question can be seen below.
In 1793, James Birch opened the doors of his Vicarage Road bake shop, serving up what we now know as Eccles cakes. He was the first person to commercialise their production and sales, and after 17 years of success, he relocated his shop to a space across the street; his second shop can be seen above. Unlike the Cornish clotted cream I previously covered on this blog, the Eccles cake does not benefit from Protected Geographical Status. Therefore, despite not being baked in Eccles, the cakes can still be labeled as Eccles cakes.
Every generation, family, and bake shop has their own recipe for the cakes, and have done since before James Birch opened his doors. Amazingly, the recipe was not memorialised in a cookbook till the 19th century. Today, they are enjoying a revival, riding the coattails of the culinary world's movement towards traditional and historical foods. St John's Restaurant, run by architect-turned-chef, and one of my personal heroes, Fergus Henderson, has Eccles cakes on the menu. I highly recommend Henderson's cookbooks, "Nose to Tail Eating," and "Beyond Nose to Tail."
Puff Pastry Ingredients:
- 1 lb butter, chilled in the fridge
- 500g flour
- pinch of salt
- cold water
*Puff pastry is a pain to make. I told myself I had to make it once, and did for this recipe. But I will never be making it again! Store bought puff is interchangeable in this recipe, and for most*
- 150g currants, soaked overnight in enough brandy to cover
- 50g butter
- 150g brown sugar
- 1 tsp nutmeg
- 1 tsp allspice
- 1 egg white
- turbinado sugar
You may want to make your puff pastry the day before you plan on baking, as it is a lengthy process. Rub 125g of the cold butter into the flour till it resembles bread crumbs. Mix in the salt, and add water till it just forms dough. Shape into a square, wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for an hour.
After an hour, roll out the dough into a rectangle at 1/4" thickness. Pound out the remaining cold butter between pieces of parchment paper till is is just smaller than half of the dough rectangle. Place the butter on one half of the dough, and fold the other half over the butter, folding up the sides and creating a butter package. Shape into a square, wrap in clingfilm, and refrigerate for 15 minutes.
The following steps you will repeat three times, they are called turns. Roll out the chilled dough into a rectangle of 1/2" thickness, in the opposite direction of the initial fold. Fold the dough like a letter- fold one end to the mid line, and fold the other end over it. Shape into a square, wrap in clingfilm, and let rest in the fridge for 15 minutes. After it is chilled, roll out the dough again in the same fashion, but in the opposite direction. Complete the turn as before. You should complete three turns, then chill the dough for at least an hour.
For the filling, melt the butter in a saucepan, mix in the remaining ingredients, and allow to cool.
Roll out the puff pastry to 1/4", and cut into 4" rounds. Spoon a tablespoon of filling onto half of the rounds. Wet the edges of the filled rounds using your finger, then pinch the empty rounds over the filling. Flatten the filling without bursting the sides of the cake. and place on a greased baking sheet. Brush with egg white, sprinkle with turbinado sugar, and slash three times.
Bake at 375 F for 15 minutes, or till golden. Remove to a baking rack and allow to cool before serving.