Delicious, very English Eccles Cakes; what a teatime treat. A sugared and spiced currant filling is enclosed in pastry, dusted with sugar and baked until golden.
There is a town in the North West of England, close to Manchester, called Eccles, and it is said that these delicious pastries originated here, probably sometime in the 18th century. I dare say that variations on the Eccles Cake had been made for many years before but it was Eccles that put these little sweet treats on the map.
My Eccles cakes were made with a lard shortcrust but other bakers would insist on puff pastry or rough puff.
Lard shortcrust is loved by Chinese and Nyonya bakers, their delectable custard tarts and pineapple tarts are sweet testimony.
You use whatever pastry you like. There is no arguing that store-bought puff pastry make delicious and fast Eccles cakes so why not? A modified tradition is a tradition in itself!
This is my pastry. It made a lot so I used the leftover to make individual apple pies.
400g plain flour
80g cold butter
1 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
enough ice-cold water to make a dough. Very cold water helps keep the fat particles from melting before they hit the oven. When the fat melts in the oven, it creates the air-spaces and flakiness you want in your pastry.
Blend the flour, butter and lard until you have a mix that looks like big breadcrumbs. Add the salt and sugar and then add just enough ice water to create a nice ball of dough. You don’t want to too sticky so it’s gloopy and you don’t want it all dry and dropping to bits. Just take it slowly and you’ll get there.
I used the food processor. Be careful not to overmix, it can toughen the pastry and the resultant heat melts the fat (see above) Of course, you can rub the fat into the flour by hand, the good, old-fashioned way.
Put your pastry into some cling wrap and put in the fridge for around 30 minutes. This firms up the fat, making the pastry much easier to roll out.
Preheat your oven to 200C.
While your pastry is cooling and your oven is heating, make your filling.
Put about a cup of currants into a saucepan with:
1 tablespoon of butter
1/2 cup of brown sugar
1 tsp mixed spice
1/2 cup water
If you like mixed peel, it is quite traditional to include some in the filling.
Cook over a gentle heat until the butter is melted, the sugar is dissolved and the water has mostly evaporated. Cool to room temperature.
I just rolled out a bit at a time on a floured sheet and used a cutter that was about 6″. Eccles cakes are usually quite a bit larger than mine and you can make yours any size you like.
Put a spoonful of your currant mixture into the centre and bring up the edges of the pastry to form a little purse-pouch. I found it easier to make a half-moon shape first, THEN bring up the two end bits into the middle.
Have a shallow bowl of either milk or beaten egg (egg gives a shinier finish, egg yolk on its own, the shiniest of all) and a bowl of sugar ready and, pick up the pastry dumpling by the little handle.
Dip the smooth underside part, first in the milk/egg and then the sugar.
Put it back on the board, seam/handle side down, sugar side up, and gently, with your palm, or a rolling pin, flatten it out. Yes, you do want the currants to show through the pastry.
Slash the top, two or three times with a small, very sharp knife.
Place on a greased or baking paper covered oven tray and bake for around 20 minutes until golden brown. Cooking time is going to depend on how big you decided to make your Eccles.
A word of warning gentle readers…DO NOT eat these straight out of the oven, the filling is lava-hot!
However, when these cool down, don’t expect to be able to stop at one. They remind me of olden days and it’s ok to binge out on olden days memory foods
Oh yes, the apple pies. They’re olden days memory foods too. We had them with custard.