You might know your Eccles Cakes from your Bakewell tart, but did you know there’s a raft of cakes out there that are close to extinction; confections such as Cornish Heavy Cake, the Huffkin and the Curd cake that are old as the hills and delicious too? It would be shame if these recipes died out as they tell much about our heritage and history.
But changes are a-foot. Thanks to chefs like Jamie Oliver many of these British recipes are being rediscovered and dusted off again, and now there’s also new book A Slice Of Britain, by food writer Caroline Taggart, which aims to bring the best of these to the people and at the same time, explain the history of how they came about.
Inspired by TV programmes such as The Great British Bakeoff, but frustrated by the lack of traditional British tea time fare, Caroline set off on a trip across the UK in search of Britain’s best-loved regional cakes and bakes. A Slice of Britain unearths the stories behind over sixty of our favourite cakes (and the producers who make them), from Manchester Tart and Eccles Cakes, to Bath Buns and Grantham Gingerbread. Along the way Caroline discovered some more unusual fare, three of which we’ve included below>>
A Slice Of Britain, AA Publishing, is priced at £14.99. Click here to buy.
CORNISH HEAVY CAKE
The name of Cornish Heavy Cake does it no favours, because not many of us speak Cornish these days. Heavy in this context has nothing to do with weight; it comes from the cry hevva, meaning a shoal of fish. A lookout, known as the huer, used to give this cry when he spotted a dark red shadow under the water indicating the presence of pilchards. The point about all this, as far as my cake investigations were concerned, was that, on hearing the cry, the womenfolk knew that their husbands would soon be home for their tea and quickly threw a hevva cake together. It was a simple recipe whose charm lay in the fact that it was decorated with a diamond criss-cross to represent the fishing net.’ Find it at: Portreath Bakery, Cornwall
Makes 1 thin cake
175g plain flour
1/4 tsp fine salt
12 tsp ground ginger, cinnamon or mace, or a combination, to taste (optional)
40g granulated sugar
40g each of unsalted butter and lard (or 80g butter, if you prefer)
2550g chopped mixed peel (optional)
About 2 tbsp milk or water
1. Preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F/gas mark 5. Lightly grease a baking sheet.
2. Mix the flour, salt, spices (if using) and sugar together. Rub in the fat until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Mix in the other ingredients, including just enough milk or water to make a stiff dough.
3. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to about 1cm thick and in a rough oval shape. Carefully lift on to the baking sheet. Make a criss-cross pattern on the top with a sharp knife.
4. Bake in the preheated oven for about 2530 minutes, until golden (it won¹t rise very much). Serve warm, or allow to cool, then store in an airtight container.
LEICESTERSHIRE CURD TARTS
‘Curd Tarts also known as Cheesecakes aren’t unique to Northamptonshire; they are part of the ancient and widespread tradition of ensuring that as little food as possible went to waste. Just as Eccles Cakes used up scraps of pastry and Lardy Cakes developed where the butchering of pigs yielded plenty of lard, so Curd Tarts were a way of using the solid, curdled part of sour milk the result of separating the fats in the milk from the liquid whey. Traditional English Cheesecakes are nothing like the creamy, fruity concoctions on a digestive-biscuit base that most of us would think of as a cheesecake today. Instead, they have a pastry case (usually short, sometimes puff), with a filling based on curds and dried fruit.’ Find them at Thomas The Baker, Helmsley, Yorkshire
225g puff pastry
For the filling:
1 litre milk plus 2 tsp lemon juice, or 250g cottage cheese
100g granulated sugar
100g unsalted butter, softened
50g fine fresh breadcrumbs
2 medium eggs, lightly beaten
180g sultanas and currants, mixed
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp finely grated lemon rind
a dash of rum or brandy
2 tbsp double cream
1. If you are making the curds yourself, heat the milk until it is tepid, then add the lemon juice. Leave to cool and form curds. When the mixture is firm, strain it through butter muslin to separate the curds from the whey and leave to strain overnight.
2. Preheat the oven to 220°C/425°F/gas mark 7. Roll the pastry out thinly and cut it into 18 x 8cm rounds. Use these rounds to line 18 deep patty pans. Prick the bottoms with a fork. Chill the pastry cases until you are ready to fill them.
3. Turn the contents of the butter muslin into a bowl, soften with a fork, then beat in the butter. (Or sieve the cottage cheese into a bowl, then beat in the butter.) Add all the remaining ingredients. Don¹t worry if the mixture seems runny it is meant to be. Pour the curd mixture into the pastry cases.
4. Bake in the preheated oven for 1015 minutes, then turn the oven down to 160°C/325°F/gas mark 3 and continue to bake for a further 10-15 minutes, until the pastry is golden and the filling is set.
MO'S KENTISH HUFFKINS
'The Kentish Huffkin is described as a ‘soft batch roll' which would be not much different from any other soft roll if it weren’t for the distinctive thumbprint in each one. Tradition has it that the baker’s wife was in a mood (or huff) about something, went into her husband¹s bakery and pushed her finger into every loaf that was waiting to be baked. ‘Sell those if you can!' she challenged, and of course he did and they became a great success. In fact, huff is an old word for dough, but that¹s the sort of inconvenient fact that needs to be ignored in order to enjoy the story.' By Vane’s Bakery, Dover
Makes about 18
675g strong plain flour
2 x 7g sachets fast-action dried yeast
2 tsp fine salt
510ml warm water
2 tbsp vegetable oil
55g unsalted butter, lard or margarine
1. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, yeast and salt. Make a well in the middle and pour in the water and oil. Incorporate the flour into the liquid to form a dough, then turn out on to a lightly floured surface.
2. Knead well for 10 minutes, then return to the bowl and cover with a damp cloth. Leave in a warm place until doubled in size about 40 minutes. Meanwhile, flour 2 baking sheets.
3. Knead the dough again on a lightly floured surface, and this time knead in the fat until fully incorporated. Shape into about 18 rounds, position on the prepared baking sheets, and allow to prove again for 30 minutes.
4. Preheat the oven to 220°C/425°F/gas mark 7.
5. Make a deep thumb mark in the centre of each roll. Bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes, then turn the rolls over and cook for a further 10 minutes. When you take them out of the oven, wrap them in a warm tea-towel to keep them soft as they cool.
6. Serve simply split and buttered, or treat them like any other bread roll. Alternatively, fill the thumbprint with a dollop of cream or jam or, as you're in Kent, cherries.