Here are the Eccles cakes that I almost didn’t make. I did have an excuse not to bake this week. Chickenpox. My little girl picked it up from nursery and had to stay at home on my usual baking day. At two o’clock, after a busy morning toddling round the dining table at speed – the pox didn’t seem to have any effect on her toddling powers – she went to sleep, and I found myself at a loose end. I made a cup of tea. It didn’t taste right. It needed cake.
I decided to do something with pastry. I plumped for Eccles cakes because they were on my list, and, luckily, I had all the ingredients in the house. The recipe I decided to use was from Mary Berry’s Baking Bible. It demands flaky pastry and has some handy diagrams to demonstrate how you’re supposed to roll out and fold it.
The recipe uses 225g plain flour and 175g butter. You divide the butter into quarters and rub the first quarter into the flour until you get a fine bread crumb mixture. I used to hate rubbing in. Even if I only used my fingertips as you’re supposed to, I’d end up covered to the elbows. Fat and flour everywhere. I’d be digging it out from under my nails for hours. Now I have a gadget. Here it is:
This is a pastry blender. You just slice it through the mixture. You can get to the breadcrumb stage without ever having touched it. It’s brilliant. You can keep your rings on, keep your nails clean, and you don’t have to worry about your hands being too hot (cold hands are, according to my mum, imperative for pastry making).
I had my fine breadcrumb mixture. So far so good. In my first two adventures in baking, the doughnut cupcakes and the awful Battenberg experience, I ended up with piles of goo, so I decided to take a little more care when I added the liquid (in this case, water). I added it a couple of tablespoons at a time, and not all at once. It worked better this way, even though, in the end, I added more water than set out in the recipe (9 tablespoons, rather than 8). The gradual approach meant that the dough never got anywhere near the sloppy mess I’d created before.
I kneaded it until it was smooth and rolled it out into a rectangle three times as long as wide (well a sort of rectangle three times as long as wide – I have said that I’m a slapdash baker haven’t I?)
I dotted my second quarter of butter over the top two-thirds and folded the bottom third up and the top third down.
The pastry then has to be chilled for a time (the recipe recommends 15 minutes) and the same process repeated with the remaining quarters of butter. You also have to remember to work with the fold of dough to your left.
What to do with two fifteen minute pastry resting periods then? I popped upstairs, Naomi was snoring away. Just time to indulge in my guilty pleasure that is watching Home and Away. I’m a bit behind at the moment. Casey Braxton has just died. This was almost as much as a tragedy as when Alan Fisher succumbed to an aneurism (I’ve just looked this up and it happened in 1988 – my school friends and I cried for Alan for at least a week – and now I feel very old). I pulled myself together and rolled the pastry out again.
The recipe recommends that you leave the pastry for at least half an hour once all the butter is incorporated. I had to leave it much longer since nap time was over and there was more speed-toddling to do.
When I returned to the Eccles cakes, I made the filling of currants, demerara sugar and mixed spice and rolled out the pastry. This was the only part of this recipe that caused any problems. The recipe says that, if you’re using shop-bought pastry you need to roll it out as thinly as possible. It doesn’t say anything about how thick the pastry should be if you made it yourself. I aimed for a pound coin thickness, which worked quite well. The pastry did get a bit sticky and the butter started to break through in some places. I think what you’re supposed to do if this happens is to chill the pastry again and work more quickly next time.
I made nine Eccles cakes. They varied in size, because the thickness of my pastry varied – it was thicker at the edges than in the middle when I rolled it out. The good news is that it worked. When the cakes came out of the oven, they were golden brown, and the pastry was flaky.
Was it worth it?
I will definitely make these again. The pastry wasn’t much more difficult than shortcrust. It just took a bit longer. It tasted great, really flaky and really buttery. The other thing with making your own Eccles cakes is that you can be a whole lot more generous with the filling than Marks and Spencer would ever be. I think this one has been my first success.