Last Sunday, I made Eccles cakes for the first time.
Prior to this, I had only had Eccles cakes once, and I didn’t actually have a whole cake, but rather a bite of a friend’s.
When deciding upon what recipe to start with in my little British Baking project, I was quite inspired by the Eccles cake recipe we have on Great British Chefs. I came across it as it was a recipe I had to enter for the site at work, and as I was editing the recipe, it seemed like a good place to start.
I mean, I’m a huge fan of things encased in pastry. Pies (savoury or sweet), empanadas, pasties, spanakopita–if there’s something yummy sandwiched or completely covered in a flaky crust, I am all about it. With this love of all things pastry-covered, Eccles cakes were a natural pick.
Now, the Eccles cake recipe I was working with tells you to pair it with cheddar ice cream, but I completely skipped that. Instead, I just focused on the cakes.
One of the main differences between British and American home baking is the way ingredients are measured. The British generally use millilitres for liquids and grams for solids, while American recipes call for measuring cups. I always feel that weighing ingredients really slows me down, but the argument is that this is a more precise way of measuring ingredients for cooking or baking. I suppose I will get used to knowing what is approximately 250 grams of flour eventually, but until then, the trusty scale comes out.
I’m going to briefly point out my mug with tea in the upper-left corner of this photo. It’s my favourite mug, designed by a Thai company, and after owning it for over two years, taking it with me back to the States and then bringing it *back* to London, I broke it yesterday. I know it’s just a mug, but still, that mug and I had history. The inside of the china was permanently darkened by the black tea I prefer.
Anyway, back to the Eccles cakes.
I’ve made pastry before, but what’s interesting is that the Eccles cake recipe I was using from Great British Chefs didn’t seem that fussed if you had your butter chilled or not. In fact, it said for the butter to be room temperature, which is completely different from my tried-and-true pie crust recipe. The dough was a lot more tacky than I was used to, but it actually wasn’t too bad.
The rough puff pastry I was making needed to be chilled for 30 minutes 3 separate times, so this is a good recipe to make when you’re planning on having a day at home, anyway. It was a lazy Sunday for me before I went to go watch football in the pub with friends, so while I waited for the puff pastry to chill, I did laundry, answered some e-mails, read and did other sort of Sunday morning/afternoon stuff.
While I rolled out the pastry, I did come across the problem that the pastry dough, when rolled out, was too big for the dinky Ikea chopping board I was using as a work space. I have since made the puff pastry again (because it’s so easy), and I found it was best to split the dough into two pieces if this is a problem. We don’t have much counter space in our kitchen–I did all my work and preparation on the kitchen table.
Because it was my first time making Eccles cakes, I didn’t realise it would take an age for the currant and raisin (or in my case, sultana) filling to cool. But it did, so I had to stick the filling in the fridge and wait a while for it to cool. If you don’t want to do that, it’s a good idea to make the filling first, or during the first chilling of the dough, and then sticking the filling in the fridge to chill. Otherwise, warm filling will heat the pastry dough when you’re trying to fill the little puppies later.
The Eccles cake recipe on Great British Chefs says to chill the cakes in the freezer once you’ve filled them, however in this instance, I baked them straight away to no seemingly ill effect, although I have seen online that this extra chilling will make the pastry much more flaky and light.
Instead of milk, I brushed the tops of the Eccles cakes with a beaten egg, and forgot to sprinkle sugar on them (damn). Still, they turned out well.
In fact, they even got the thumbs-up from a Genuine Northerner from Manchester. True tales. Although he did say I could have filled them a bit more and that I could have rolled the pastry out thinner. Still, those were both things that are easily remedied.
So, folks, what should I make next?