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Traditional Eccles Cakes

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One of Britain’s most famous and beloved pastries, these traditional Eccles cakes are delightfully flaky and packed with a mixture of sweet currants, candied citrus peel and spices.  Get ready to experience one of the most delicious pastries you’ve ever tasted!  A thoroughly authentic Eccles Cakes recipe.

eccles cakes recipe best traditional authentic currants pastry british english

The Eccles Cake is practically a British institution.  And one of its tastiest at that.  And while sadly far too many of Britain’s other centuries-old recipes have been long lost and forgotten, the Eccles Cake, most fortunately, has continued on.

These delicious pastries really take me back to the years I lived in England.  Though at the time I had only had the store-bought versions, they nevertheless made a lasting impression.  Now every time I enjoy one of these exquisite homemade Eccles cakes I’m immediately transported back to the country I call my second home.

What Are Eccles Cakes?

If you’ve never heard of them, Eccles Cakes are small, round cakes made from flaky pastry that is filled with dried currants, candied lemon, orange zest, sugar and spices that commonly include cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and cloves.  The cakes are topped with a sprinkling of sugar and then baked to flaky, golden perfection.  They’re traditionally enjoyed with a cup of tea and accompanied by Lancashire cheese for a sweet-savory combination.

Similar to Eccles cakes are two other traditional British pastries: Banbury cakes (oval-shaped) and Chorley cakes (flatter and using shortcrust pastry).

Where Did Eccles Cakes Originate?

Eccles cakes date back to at least 17th century England.  A popular pastry even then, they eventually fell under the stern and disapproving glare of the Puritans. Inappropriately indulgent, sinfully tempting to the human soul, and inciting revelry at community events known as Eccles Wakes, the Puritans banned both Eccles cakes and mince pies (also containing currants). As legend goes, Oliver Cromwell himself made a public example of the deviant pastries by instating an act of Parliament that threatened imprisonment for anyone found eating an Eccles cake.

(Had he eaten them occasionally he probably would have been a far happier, and undoubtedly more congenial, man.)

portrait of oliver cromwell

He died just a few short years later from a urinary infection.  (Serves you right, ye olde git, for taking away our Eccles cakes!)

Fortunately Cromwell’s Puritan reign of culinary terror ended and the Restoration saw the triumphant return of the Eccles cake.

(Though they remain something of a societal menace with an increase in house fires attributed to them.  A British newspaper reported that these fires are due to microwaving Eccles cakes too long – the sugar on the outside bursts into flames if overheated.  So just be careful when you reheat them – we don’t want another ban placed on them!)

Eccles cakes are named for the town of Eccles in Lancashire, England, now classified as a town in the City of Salford, Greater Manchester.

old map of lancashire england

Though their origin long predates him, it was James Birch who became the first person to sell Eccles cakes commercially in 1793 in the Eccles town centre.  Their popularity continued to grow and they were even being exported to the West Indies and to the United States as early as 1818.

eccles england lancashire

Eccles Town Hall

Eccles cakes continue to be produced commercially and sold worldwide.  The factory that makes Real Lancashire Eccles Cakes is located just 5 miles down the road from the pastry’s birthplace and, 75 years later, it’s the world’s largest producer of Eccles cakes.

These store-bought cakes are one of the few rare exceptions of pre-packaged, commercially sold pastries that actually taste pretty darn good.  That’s because while they’re mass-produced, they’re largely handmade.

store-bought Lancashire eccles cakes

But as enjoyable as these store-bought Real Lancashire Eccles cakes are, nothing – and I mean nothing – beats the flavor and texture of homemade Eccles cakes.

If you’ve tried but have never cared for Eccles cakes, you must try these homemade ones.  You’ll likely change your mind.  And if you’ve always loved Eccles cakes, after trying these I’m confident you’ll love them even more.

eccles cakes recipe best traditional authentic currants pastry british english

How to Make Eccles Cakes

The quality of the pastry is absolutely key.  It’s not puff pastry, but it is flaky pastry.  The texture is somewhere in between puff and shortcrust pastry.  The dough of the Eccles cake is delightfully flaky, and if you want it especially delicate and flaky, substitute a little lard for some of the butter (see our tutorial about lard).

The other key to a great Eccles cake is using a generous amount of filling.  When you bite into an eccles cake you shouldn’t get a mouthful of dough.  The ratio should be roughly 60% pastry and 40% filling.  When you bite into an eccles cake you should simultaneously experience the gentle crackle of the flaky pastry along with the soft and sweet chewiness of the currants.  Currants are also known as “zante raisins” which are much smaller than regular raisins.  Regular raisins are extremely (too much so) sweet and squishy while zante raisins are a bit tangier, chewier and firmer and won’t become mushy-wet like raisins.

eccles cakes recipe best traditional authentic currants pastry british english

Eccles Cakes Recipe

Let’s get started!

NOTE:  To save time both the pastry dough and the filling can be made days in advance and kept chilled. 

To make the pastry dough:

To make the pastry dough:  Place the flour, salt and cubed butter in a food processor (alternatively this can be done by hand) and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs.

making pastry dough for eccles cakes

Gradually add the ice cold water and pulse just until the dough comes together (only add as much water as needed).  Do not overdo this as maintaining the flecks of butter is critical to achieving a flaky pastry.

adding water to flour mixture

Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and roll it out into a rectangle about 1/2 inch or so thick.

rolling out the pastry

Fold each end of the dough into the middle with one end overlapping the other.

folding the pastry dough

Rotate the dough 90 degrees and repeat all the steps. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill for 20 minutes. Repeat the steps again, wrap the dough and chill for at least one hour before using. Can be made several days in advance.

wrapping the pastry dough

To Make the Filling:

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan and add all remaining ingredients except for the egg white and demerara sugar.  Turn off the heat and stir in the rum.  Let the filling sit for at least 3-4 hours before using or overnight.

The filling can be made a few days in advance.  If refrigerated, let the filling sit at room temp for at least 30 minutes before filling the Eccles cakes.

making the filling for eccles cakes

To Assemble the Eccles Cakes:

I’m presenting two ways to cut out and fold the pastry:  Round and square.  Round is most commonly how it’s done but I personally prefer the square route.  Even though some of the cakes may not turn out as perfectly round (because you’re having to tuck under the edges and shape the cakes round), I prefer square for two reasons:  1) You can fully customize the size (you’re not limited to the particular size of your round cutter) and 2) you use up all the dough this way, there’s no waste.  Use whichever method you prefer.

Two Ways:  Round or Square

Flour a work surface and roll the pastry out to between 1/8 and 1/4 inch thickness.  Per your preference, either cut out rounds or squares.  Typical size is about 4.5 inches across.  This will yield about 10 Eccles cakes.

cutting out the pastry dough

Two Ways:  Round or Square

Place the dough cutouts on a lined baking sheet.  Place as much filling on the cutouts as you can while leaving an adequate edge all around them to properly seal the pastries.

placing filling on the pastry sheets

Two Ways:  Round or Square

Lightly brush the edges with water.

brushing pastry with egg wash

Going Round:

Gather up the edges towards the center, pressing them gently together to seal.

forming the pastry dough

Going Square:

Fold each corner in towards the center and then gently press the edges to seal them.  Bend the bend the corners in towards the center to create a round shape.  Turn the pastry over with the sealed edges on the bottom and further shape it into a round.

crimping the pastry dough

With the sealed edges on the bottom and the smooth surface on the top, gently press the cakes to slightly flatten them.  Don’t press so hard that the currants break through the dough.  Use a sharp knife to cut three parallel slits in the dough.

cutting slits in dough

Brush with egg white and sprinkle with demerara sugar (can substitute cane sugar, or regular granulated sugar)

brushing with egg whites sprinkling with sugar

In an oven preheated to 375 degrees F, bake the Eccles cakes for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool until just warm.

baking eccles cakes

Eccles cakes are best eaten a little warm.  You can reheat them in the microwave.

Traditionally enjoyed with a cup of tea and accompanied by an aged, crumbly cheese (e.g., Lancashire, English cheddar) for a sweet-savory combination.

Enjoy!

eccles cakes recipe best traditional authentic currants pastry british english

For more delicious British & Irish treats try our:

And learn how to make your own Golden Syrup!

eccles cakes recipe authentic traditional British English

Traditional Eccles Cakes

One of Britain's most famous and beloved pastries, these traditional and authentic Eccles cakes are delightfully flaky and packed with a mixture of sweet currants, candied citrus peel and spices.  Get ready to experience one of the most delicious pastries you've ever tasted!
5 from 90 votes
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 20 minutes
Course Dessert, Snack
Cuisine British
Servings 14 Eccles cakes
Calories 403 kcal

Ingredients
 
 

  • For the Pastry:
  • 3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 11 ounces (2 3/4 sticks) very cold butter, diced into cubes (put in the freezer for 5-10 minutes after cubing it to ensure it's very cold)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 125 ml ice cold water (add more if needed)
  • How To Render Lard (click link for recipe) (for extra flaky pastries you can substitute a little lard in place of some of the butter)
  • For the Filling:
  • 6 tablespoons butter, unsalted
  • 1 1/2 cups dried currants (also known as zante currants)
  • 1/3 cup candied orange peel , very finely diced
  • 1/3 cup candied lemon peel , very finely diced
  • Homemade Candied Citrus Peel (click link for recipe) (We VERY STRONGLY recommend using homemade, it makes ALL the difference!)
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar , loosely packed
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon dark rum (not extract)
  • For Topping:
  • 1 large egg white
  • demerara sugar, for sprinkling (can substitute cane sugar)

Instructions
 

  • To make the pastry dough:  Place the flour, salt and cubed butter in a food processor (alternatively this can be done by hand) and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs.  Gradually add the ice cold water and pulse just until the dough comes together (only add as much water as needed).  Do not overdo this as maintaining the flecks of butter is critical to achieving a flaky pastry.  
  • Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and roll it out into a rectangle about 1/2 inch thick. Fold each end of the dough into the middle with one end overlapping the other. Rotate the dough 90 degrees. Repeat all the steps. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill for 20 minutes. Repeat the steps again, wrap the dough and chill for at least one hour before using. The pastry dough can be made a few days in advance or frozen.
  • To make the filling:  Melt the butter in a medium saucepan and add all remaining ingredients except for the egg white and demerara sugar.  Turn off the heat and stir in the rum.  Let the filling sit for at least 3-4 hours before using or overnight.  The filling can be made a few days in advance.  If refrigerated, let the filling sit at room temp for at least 30 minutes before filling the Eccles cakes.
  • To assemble the Eccles cakes: Flour a work surface and roll the pastry out to between 1/8 and 1/4 inch thickness.  Per your preference, either cut out rounds or squares.  Typical size is about 3.5 inches in diameter. 
    *SEE BLOG POST PICTURES for instructions on making the square version of the cutouts (they're more customizable and don't waste any dough). 
    Place the dough cutouts on a lined baking sheet.  Place as much filling on the cutouts as you can while leaving an adequate edge all around them to properly seal the pastries.
    Lightly brush the edges with water.
    Gather up the edges towards the center, pressing them gently together to seal.  Turn the cakes over with the sealed edges on the bottom.
    With the sealed edges on the bottom and the smooth surface on the top, gently press the cakes to slightly flatten them.  Don't press so hard that the currants break through the dough.  Use a sharp knife to cut three parallel slits in the dough.
    Brush with egg white and sprinkle with demerara sugar (can substitute cane sugar)
  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Bake the Eccles cakes for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool until just warm.
    Eccles cakes are best eaten a little warm. You can reheat them in the microwave.
    Traditionally enjoyed with a cup of tea and accompanied by an aged, crumbly cheese (e.g., Lancashire, English cheddar) for a sweet-savory combination.

Notes

NOTE:  To save time both the pastry dough and the filling can be made days in advance and kept chilled. I like to double or triple this pastry dough and freeze it so I always have it on hand.  Just thaw (but keep chilled) and use as directed.

Nutrition

Serving: 1Eccles cakeCalories: 403kcalCarbohydrates: 46gProtein: 3gFat: 19gSaturated Fat: 11gCholesterol: 60mgSodium: 338mgPotassium: 190mgFiber: 2gSugar: 27gVitamin A: 720IUVitamin C: 0.7mgCalcium: 34mgIron: 2mg
Keyword Eccles Cakes
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

Originally published on The Daring Gourmet December 8, 2018

Eccles Town Hall image courtesy D.A. Howcroft via CC 3.0 licensing, image altered from original

kimberly killebrew the daring gourmet

Hi, I’m Kimberly Killebrew and welcome to Daring Gourmet where you'll find delicious originals, revitalized classics, and simply downright good eats from around the world! Originally from Germany, later raised in England, world-traveled, and now living in the U.S., from my globally-influenced kitchen I invite you to tour the world through your taste buds!

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Recipe Rating




5 from 90 votes (57 ratings without comment)

82 Comments

  1. These look so good! Have never had them before but would love to make them. And I never knew zante currants weren’t currants! That makes me sad that I have never had real dried currants :(

    1. Thanks, Anna! I know, what a bummer, huh? Most people over here don’t know they’re not currants…after all, they’re called “currants,” so we’d have every reason to assume they are. It’s SO hard to find currants here though and the Zante’s still make a good substitute.

  2. I have never heard of these, but they look fantastic. I love that you shared the history behind the pastry with us.

  3. Oh my, we used to call them ‘fly graveyards’! I know no-one who likes these but perhaps it is because we were in the south west of Britain and these are a Northern *abomination(!) I think it is to do with the use of currants, smaller and less succulent than raisins or sultanas, but this is pure supposition on my behalf!

    *Not meant unkindly – just how we, as children, thought of them.

    1. “A Northern abomination”, that’s hilarious, Toffeeapple! :) Yes, I remember coming across “fly graveyards” in my research, so funny. Well, I have to tell you, Toffeeapple, if you’ve never tried making homemade Eccles cakes, you’ve been missing out on something wonderful your whole life! The good news is that it’s never too late to make positive changes, lol! ;)