Special Guest Post: St. John’s Eccles Cakes

August 3, 2009 · 5 comments

St. John's Eccles Cake

The dessert course for The Best Meal Ever included an Eccles Cake, a pastry so sublime that my better half vowed to recreate it at home. So please welcome this guest post from She Who Must Be Obeyed:

It was time to leave St. John after an incredible meal. You’ve read all the particulars in this blog so I will not rewrite what David has described so well, except to add that it was difficult to drag myself away from the table with some of my St. John’s Eccles cake left on my plate. These thoughts ran swiftly thorough my brain: I can not eat another bite…well, perhaps one more bite…no, I will not make myself sick…wait — we have the cookbook at home, I’ll make some as soon as we get back. With that decision made, I left St. John and eventually found a Saturday when I could bake. David writes about cooking — I write about baking (and eating).

I wanted this post to be in as much detail as David’s usually are, but I can’t do that, so I think I’ll show some highlights and moan about the one thing I didn’t do consistently, and brag that in the end my result was almost as tasty as the original. In the end I know that while it will surely be some time before I can get back to St. John itself, I can enjoy Eccles cakes when I need them!

Immediately after we arrived home I pulled out the The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating and looked up the St. John’s Eccles cake recipe (page 180). It seemed so straightforward1 that I could taste the cakes even before I began.

Paste

9 tablespoons of butter, 4 cups or flour, a pinch of salt, and 1 cup of water, all worked together into a paste.

The cold paste rolled out, with 3 1/3 sticks of butter layered onto one half.

The cold paste rolled out, with 3 1/3 sticks of butter layered onto one half.

Paste folded over the butter and crimped.

Paste folded over the butter and crimped.

Dough rolled out and folded into thirds

Dough rolled out and folded into thirds

1 1/2 cups currants, mixed with 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1 tsp. allspice, and 1 tsp. nutmeg.

1 1/2 cups currants, mixed with 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1 tsp. allspice, and 1 tsp. nutmeg.

The final folded pastery, which is rolled out to 3/8 inch thick and cut into 3 1/2 inch circles.

The final folded pastry, which is rolled out to 3/8 inch thick and cut into 3 1/2 inch circles.

Filling sandwiched between two pastry circles, edges crimped, tops slashed, covered with egg wash and sugar, and baked for 15 minutes at 400 degrees.

Filling sandwiched between two pastry circles, edges crimped, tops slashed, covered with egg wash and sugar, and baked for 15 minutes at 400 degrees.

Finished cakes. You can see some of the tops separating from the bottoms.

Finished cakes. You can see some of the tops separating from the bottoms.

As you can see from the picture above, some of my crimps gave way in Whole Beast version and I experienced a leaking problem from a few cakes.  It turns out that there is a failure point in the original recipe and I’m confident that I found it!

If we had Beyond Nose to Tail in the kitchen, rather on the to-be-read stack, I might have seen the following on page 121:

ECCLES CAKES

It’s good to put things right.

Since the first book, Nose to Tail Eating, I have changed the way we assemble the Eccles cake. Rather than sandwiching two discs of puff pastry together, we now use a single disc approximately 9cm in diameter. So place your Eccles cake mix in 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.

(Note that the updated St. John’s Eccles cake recipe was also run in The Guardian on November 27, 2007.)

Let this be a lesson to everyone – always do your research. The photo below is from round two, made with the leftover dough and filling, and using the new technique.

Finished cakes. Note the crimping on the underside.

Finished cakes. Note the crimping on the underside.

In the end since the recipes were identical, the taste was perfect with both versions. I look at all of these pictures now and still can still taste every bite. However, do yourself a favor and follow tradition, these cakes are “particularly fine when consumed with Lancashire cheese.” Tradition rarely tastes so wonderful.

1David wanted me to include this note. He felt the recipe was not a clear as it could be on turning and rolling out the dough but I think that anyone with pastry experience should have little trouble following the instructions. If you need a refresher, The Joy of Cooking shows you how in the puff pastry section. My one suggestion is that if you really think you’ll get confused on the next roll direction, put a Post-It on the side before you put it in the refrigerator.

5 comments

Anne August 4, 2009 at 6:39 am

Oh my gosh, the St. John Eccles cake is probably one of my favorite things to eat in the entire world. Those look marvelous – I haven’t quite mustered the courage to try baking them on my own (in part because I know I’d eat myself sick on the finished product.)

David August 4, 2009 at 2:31 pm

You must make them. Freeze half of the dough and filling, so you’ll only consume a half-batch in one sitting.

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