This is the only Eccles recipe you’ll ever need and I consider myself something of a connoisseur! My father loved an Eccles cake (clearly where I get my sweet tooth) and one of my earliest memories is of him crumbling off a small edge and handing it to me like a tiny pastry and raisin parcel! I’ve no idea where he bought them from, but they were the best I’ve ever tasted. Even if it might be an element of childish nostalgia, I definitely remember what made them so good. The pastry thin and crumbly, the fruit bulging and squishy, threatening to burst out. If I want a special treat, there’s a bistro in north London that sells them just how I like them. They have to be a special treat, because they’re the size of a frisbee! These aren’t quite so big, but they’re just as delicious.
- 1 fresh bay leaf
- 1 lemon
- 1 orange
- 1 whole nutmeg, grated
- 1 level teaspoon of mixed spice
- 3½ ounces / 100g demerara sugar, plus some extra
- 5¼ ounces / 150g mixed dry fruits (see Tips below for ideas)
- 2 balls of stem ginger, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon of stem ginger syrup
- 2½ ounces / 75g apple, core removed (about half an apple)
- 17½ ounces / 500g all butter puff pastry
- 1 large egg
- icing sugar for dusting
- plain flour for dusting
Pre-heat the oven to 200°C / 400°F / gas mark 6.
Strip the bay leaf from its stalk and grind it up with a pestle and mortar to release the oil.
Finely grate the zest of the orange and the lemon, adding them to the mortar bowl.
Finely grate half the nutmeg, adding that to the mortar.
Then, add the mixed spice and demerara sugar to the mortar and mix well.
In another bowl, assemble your mixed fruit. If you are using dried apricots or anything larger than raisins and sultanas, then chop to about the same size as sultanas.
Finely chop the stem ginger balls and add them to the bowl of mixed fruit. Then also add the stem ginger syrup.
Add the contents of the mortar to the bowl with the mixed fruit.
Chop the apple into chunks about half an inch or 1cm, and add it to the mixed fruit.
Give everything a good stir to combine well.
Sprinkle some plain flour on a pastry board or flat surface, and also on a rolling pin.
Roll out the puff pastry to about a tenth of an inch or 3mm thickness. Sprinkle more flour as you need it.
Using a 4-inch or 10cm cookie cutter, cut out 16 rounds, scrunching up and re-rolling out the pastry leftovers as necessary.
Line two baking trays with greaseproof paper.
Spoon out about a tablespoonful of the mixture into the middle of each round until it is all equally shared out between the 16.
Bring the sides of the pastry up over the top of each to form a bundle, or parcel, and seal it in the middle.
Place each bundle with the sealed side down arranged between the two trays, eight on each.
Use a sharp knife to make three parallel, small slits in the top of each bundle. Don’t worry if some of the juice oozes out during the cooking. These will caramelise and become sticky, giving each cake a its distinctive character.
Break the egg into a bowl and beat to create an egg wash. Give each bundle of pastry an egg wash.
Dust each bundle with icing sugar and then sprinkle over each about a pinch of the extra demerara sugar.
Bake in the oven for 15 to 18 minutes. They should turn a lovely golden colour.
Take them out and leave them to cool before serving.
If you’ve not come across these before, they make excellent individual cakes for afternoon tea or as picnic food. They are, of course, quite rich. As for the dried mixed fruit, you can use anything you like including raisins, sultanas, cranberries, and dried apricots, although these would need chopping up finely.
The Eccles cake is without doubt a particularly English recipe and gets its name from the town of Eccles in the Greater Manchester area. The British have long nicknamed it fondly as the “squashed fly cake” because the contents can look like a parcel of dead flies. But do not let that put you off! No-one knows who created the recipe, but a man called James Birch is credited with being the first person to sell them on a commercial basis in 1793 from his shop in the town centre opposite the parish church. This unfortunately was demolished in the late 1960s to make way for a new shopping precinct.