Once in awhile I’m lucky enough to experience a transformative meal changing the way I think about food, cooking, everything. One of those for me was lunch at St. John in London, back in 2003. In addition to the bone marrow and lamb sweetbreads, I fantasize about the eccles cake. A simple pastry really, it’s buttery flakey pastry with a dense dried currant filling. Clearly a trip to London would be required to ever have another eccles cake… until the day I got to work and TWO eccles cakes were waiting for me! My dear friend Richard smuggled them in on his way home for Christmas. Just as good as I remember! Recipe follows:
To see this story with its related links on the guardian.co.uk site, go to http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2007/nov/27/recipes.foodanddrink
St John’s eccles cake
In the second of our week-long series of exclusive baking recipes, Fergus Henderson reveals the secrets behind the delicious eccles cakes served at the St John restaurants in London
Tuesday November 27 2007
Makes at least 12 (leftover pastry freezes well)
125g unsalted butter (butter A), cold from the fridge
500g strong white flour
Pinch of sea salt
375g unsalted butter (butter B), cold from the fridge
50g unsalted butter
110g dark brown sugar
1 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp ground nutmeg
3 egg whites, beaten with a fork
Shallow bowl of caster sugar
I stress the St John in our eccles cake, as I am sure that bakers in Eccles will not recognise them as the eccles cake they know. Oddly enough, for a restaurant with a carnivorous reputation, we serve a vegetarian eccles cake, omitting the traditional lard; we use puff pastry. This recipe’s results are delicious and particularly fine when consumed with Lancashire cheese.
To make the puff pastry, mix butter A with the flour and salt using your fingers until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs, then cautiously add the water and mix until you have a firm paste. Pat into a square and wrap in clingfilm. Leave to rest in the fridge for at least an hour.
Once the pastry is rested, roll the paste into a rectangle about 8mm thick, then beat butter B between greaseproof paper into a rectangle a wee bit smaller than half the paste rectangle. Lay the butter on the paste, leaving a space at the end. Fold the unbuttered half over the butter and fold the edges over, so you now have butter in a paste package. Pat square, wrap in clingfilm, and allow to rest in the fridge for at least 15 minutes.
Roll the pastry square out into a rectangle in the opposite direction to your initial major fold. (Each time you roll out the pastry to fold, turn your pastry and roll across the previous direction you rolled. You will have to sprinkle flour on the surface of your rolling pin; and it is very important to dust the flour off the paste before folding it at every turn in the process.)
Once the pastry is approximately 1cm to 1.5cm thick, fold it like a traditional letter, with one end of the rectangle to the halfway mark, and the other end over this. Pat square and place in the fridge for at least 15 minutes to rest again. Repeat this process two more times, but no more! This is essential for successful puff. Return it to the fridge and rest for an hour or more. Do not be deterred - it seems like a more complicated process than it is in practice.
Now, to the filling. Melt the butter and sugar together, then add them to the dry ingredients, mix well, and then leave to cool before using.
We’re now ready to make the cakes. Roll the puff pastry out to 8mm thick and cut circles about 9cm in diameter. Spoon a blob of your cake mix into the centre of the disc and pull up the sides of the pastry to cover the filling, Seal it with your fingers, then turn it over and slash the top three times (for the Holy Trinity). Paint the top with the egg white, then dip it in the sugar. They are now ready to bake for 15 to 20 minutes in a hot to medium oven; keep an eye on them so that they don’t burn. They can be eaten hot or cold.
A version of this recipe appeared in the book Nose to Tail Eating, by Fergus Henderson, published by Bloomsbury.