Eccles Cakes

A plate of Eccles Cakes with a cup of tea

Yes, I’ll admit it – I’m a bit of an Anglophile. And, with the holidays just around the corner, I don’t simply dream of a white Christmas, but a Dickensian one. I imagine a holiday with Victorian carolers strolling snow-covered cobbled streets, a cozy Cotswold cottage lit with candles and scented with crackling roast goose and steamy figgy pudding, pulling Christmas crackers with family and friends around the table, and nibbling treats like these very British Eccles cakes.

The Eccles cake may have been created about 20 years before Dickens was even born, yet these are just the type of sweetmeat I imagine gracing Mr. Fezziwig’s overladen Christmas Eve party table.


Eccles Cakes

An Eccles cake is a small, heavily spiced pastry filled with currants and candied orange peel wrapped in a flaky (rough puff) pastry. The origins can be traced to the town of Eccles, formerly within the Lancashire boundary, but now a suburb of Manchester. Weights are in grams, nodding to their British origin.

Ingredients

    Filling
  • 120 grams currants
  • 50 grams candied orange peel, chopped
  • 50 grams butter, softened
  • 40 grams light brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon allspice
  • Zest of ¼ lemon
  • Juice of ½ orange
  • 1 Tablespoon brandy
  • Pastry
  • 250 grams All-purpose flour
  • 5 grams salt
  • 250 grams very cold butter, cut into small pieces
  • 125 milliliters ice-water
  • 1 egg white, beaten
  • Turbinado sugar (such as Sugar in the Raw)

Directions

  1. Stir together all filling ingredients in a small bowl. Microwave for 45 seconds to 1 minute until butter is melted. Cover and set aside for the flavors to meld and currants to soften. Refrigerate. Once cold, the filling should bind together without extra liquid. Drain if necessary.
  2. Pulse flour, salt and butter in a food processor until butter pieces are pea-sized. Gradually pulse in about 100-125ml cold water until mixture comes together into a dough. Do not overwork.
  3. Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface into a rectangle three times as long as it is wide. Fold the top third down into the middle, then the bottom third up over the top, then rotate the pastry 90 degrees so the fold is now vertical. Roll out again and repeat then wrap in cling-wrap and chill for 20 minutes. Repeat the rolling, folding, rotating, rolling and folding one more time. Chill for an hour.
  4. Roll the pastry out on a lightly floured work surface a little thicker than 1/8th of an inch, then cut out rounds about 3 ½ inches wide. Put a half-tablespoon of filling in the center of each, then dampen the edges of the circle and bring the edges into the middle, pinching together to seal well. Put on a parchment-lined baking tray smooth side up, and squash slightly until flattened. Repeat with the rest and chill for 20 minutes.
  5. Preheat the oven to 400 F. Remove pastries from refrigerator, brush with egg white and sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Cut three slashes in the top of each and bake for about 20-25 minutes until golden and well-risen. Allow to cool before eating – the filling will be hot.

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Classic Apple Pie

Sometimes, you can’t improve on a baked-from-scratch classic, like this Apple Pie. Apples, flaky pastry, and a bit of cinnamon is all that’s needed…except maybe a scoop of ice cream.

Apple Pie from Scratch

I was scrolling through Facebook yesterday and came across two videos of recipes being prepared in fast-motion. They weren’t special recipes – one was carrot cake and other was banana bread. I was astonished to realize the banana bread recipe had received over 8 million hits. Eight…million…hits – for banana bread. My blog is over 10 years old and I haven’t reached 8 million hits total, let alone for one post.

I have online presence envy.

The truth is that I’ll probably never have 8 million hits for a post. Those videos are for people who want a recipe that’s fast…and easy…with as little fuss as possible…and doesn’t require a special pan or spice…and results in something the whole family will love. Those videos are for what I call “Everyday Cooks.” You know who they are. After a full day at work, these folks are expected to arrive home and whip up something soul-satisfying and delicious day after day after day. God bless them. I could never do that – it would suck the joy of cooking right out of me.

Instead, I write for the food enthusiast, culinary explorers who learn about different cultures through preparing and eating their food, who are enamored by new ingredients or cooking techniques, and are willing to sacrifice gluten sensitivities and sugar phobias for the perfect slice of homemade apple pie. We relish the fuss – handmade crusts, apples harvested from the garden. We are a special breed, our numbers are small, but our passion is deep.

For my fellow enthusiasts…


Classic Apple Pie

  • Servings: One 9” pie
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This crust recipe, my favorite and from The Pioneer Woman, makes three crusts. Not sure what to do with the extra crust? Freeze it and use it for a single-crust pie later.


Ingredients

    FILLING
  • 4-5 apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • zest from ½ lemon
  • Juice from ½ lemon
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • CRUST
  • ½ cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup Crisco
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 5 Tablespoons cold water
  • 1 Tablespoon white vinegar
  • 3 cups All-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 Tablespoons Panko breadcrumbs
  • 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 Tablespoon sugar, preferably turbinado, like Sugar in the Raw

Directions

  1. In a medium bowl, combine apples, brown sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Toss to coat. Set apple filling aside.
  2. Chill butter and Crisco until very cold by placing both in the freezer for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, combine egg, water, and vinegar in a small bowl and set aside. Place flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Add butter and Crisco to flour and pulse on/off until mixture resembles coarse meal (you can also combine the flour and fats using a pastry blender if you don’t want to drag out your processor – more effort, less clean-up). Scrape mixture into a large bowl, add egg mixture, and stir until combined. Don’t overwork dough.
  3. Separate the dough into thirds (If you prefer a more substantial crust, separate in half) and roll into balls. Wrap each ball in plastic wrap and freeze for about 15 to 20 minutes to chill. (If you will be storing the dough in the freezer for a longer period, form dough into a disk and seal in a Ziplock bag. Thaw 20 minutes before using).
  4. Preheat oven to 375⁰. Sprinkle crust with a bit of flour and then, in between two sheets of waxed paper, roll out the bottom crust, starting at the center and working your way into a 11” – 12” circle. Once the dough is the correct size, peel off the top layer of waxed paper and, using the bottom sheet, transfer the dough to a 9” pie pan. Flip the dough over, peel off the bottom sheet, and gently press the dough into the pan. Go around the pie pan tucking the dough to make a clean edge. Freeze until second crust is rolled out. Roll out the second crust into a 12” circle between two sheets of waxed paper and transfer to freezer until ready to use.
  5. Remove the bottom crust from the freezer. Sprinkle with panko crumbs (this helps avoid a soggy bottom crust). Fill with apple mixture, but do not include any juice/liquid that may have accumulated at the bottom of the bowl; Dot filling with bits of unsalted butter. Remove top crust from freezer. Peel off top sheet of waxed paper, flip crust on top of filling, and trim top pie dough so that overhang beyond the pie plate lip is only about 1/2-inch. Tuck rim of dough underneath bottom crust and crimp decoratively. Cut a few decorative vents on top of pie. Transfer pie to a baking sheet and brush with beaten egg and sprinkle with turbinado sugar.
  6. Bake at 375° for 50-60 minutes or until crust is brown and filling is bubbly. If edges brown too quickly, cover edges with foil. Cool completely on a wire rack.

Raspberry-Rose Viennese Whirls

As pretty as they are delicious – Raspberry-Rose Viennese Whirls.

Viennese Whirls
If baking is Love made edible, then these Viennese whirls are my billet-doux to St. Valentine, himself – layers of homemade raspberry-rose jam and vanilla buttercream sandwiched between delicate melt-in-your-mouth Viennese cookies. Will you be mine, Valentine?


Raspberry Rose Viennese Whirls

Love made edible – slightly adapted from Mary Berry’s recipe.

Ingredients

    Jam
  • 7 oz. frozen raspberries
  • 7 oz. sugar
  • 4 teaspoons rose water
  • Cookies
  • 9 oz. unsalted butter, very soft
  • 1 ¾ oz. confectioner’s sugar, sifted
  • ⅛ teaspoon table salt (not kosher salt)
  • 8 oz. all-purpose flour
  • 1 oz. cornstarch
  • Buttercream
  • 3 ½ oz. unsalted butter, softened
  • 7 oz. confectioner’s sugar, sifted plus more for dusting
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Make the jam: Combine the frozen raspberries and sugar in a small deep-sided saucepan and bring to boil over a medium heat. When the sugar is melted, increase the heat and boil for another 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and add rose water. Transfer to a small container (pass it through a sieve if you’d rather not have seeds in your jam). Leave to cool and set.
  2. Make the cookies: Preheat the oven to 375F. Line 3 baking sheets with baking parchment. Using a 2” round cutter as a guide, draw 8 circles on each sheet of paper, spaced well apart. Turn the paper over so the pencil marks are underneath.
  3. Beat the butter, confectioner’s sugar and salt in a bowl until pale and fluffy. Sift in the flour and cornstarch and beat until thoroughly mixed. Spoon the mixture into a piping bag fitted with a medium star nozzle. Pipe 24 swirled rounds (not rosettes), inside the circles on the baking sheets. Refrigerate cookies for 15 minutes before baking (this will help cookies retain their shape).
  4. Bake in the center of the oven for 13—15 minutes, until pale golden-brown. Cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes then carefully transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
  5. Make Buttercream: Beat the butter, confectioner’s sugar and vanilla until fluffy and smooth. Spoon into a piping bag fitted with a medium star nozzle.
  6. Assemble: Spoon a layer of jam onto the flat side of 12 of the cookies and place jam-side up on a cooling rack. Pipe an equal thickness of buttercream over the jam and sandwich with the remaining cookies. Dust with confectioner’s sugar. Share the love.

Walnut Cake with Cherry Filling

Rich Walnut Cake with tart Morello cherries pair well in the layer cake for a special occasion.

Walnut Cake
With a natural design esthetic that falls along the line of Egon Schiele and Edvard Munch, it’s challenging to content myself with royal icing roses and buttercream doll cakes. I realize, however, as an utter decorating novice, I’m obliged to acquire the basic skills first. I’ll discover my particular decorating style once I’ve mastered gum paste pigs and delicate string work. Today, I’m struggling to learn a technique called “brush embroidery,” although the final product reminds me of porcelain rather than embroidery. I’ve learned much on my initial flawed attempt.

With my first cakes, I’ve been practicing rolled fondant. While I appreciate the smooth finish fondant delivers, I’m not an admirer of the lackluster, tooth-achingly sweet flavor. When served a slice of fondant-covered cake, I typically peel off the fondant before eating the naked cake. As a counterbalance to fondant’s sweetness, I came up with this minimally sweet walnut cake and tart Morello cherry filling; no fondant peeling needed.


Walnut Cake with Cherry Filling

Use your favorite vanilla buttercream recipe with this cake

Ingredients

  • 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • ⅓ cup light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ¾ teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • ¾ cup buttermilk
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs beaten, room temp
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • Vanilla Buttercream
  • 1 jar Morello cherries in light syrup (available at Trader Joe’s), drained and dried on paper towel.

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour two 9” round cake pans. Whisk together flour, sugars, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Stir in the oil, buttermilk, water, vanilla and beaten eggs until no lumps remain (don’t overmix). Stir in walnuts.
  2. Pour batter evenly into pans.  Bake for 20-22 minutes or until a few moist crumbs cling to a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake. Cool in pans on wire rack for 15 minutes. Turn cakes onto racks and cool completely.
  3. Fill cake with buttercream and a layer of Morello cherries. Frost top and sides of cake with remaining buttercream. Cover in fondant, if desired.


Cake Decorating

Practicing “Brush Embroidery”

Lemon Verbena Shortbread

Lemon Shortbread
When someone learns I’m a chef and food blogger, one of the first questions is usually, “What is your specialty?” I’m never quite sure how to respond – Everything edible?

If I’m honest, I should respond that I’m really, really skilled at whipping up a batch of cookies somewhere around midnight because, well, it amounts to the almost nightly use of my oven. One bowl, a handful of ingredients, a sheet pan and, viola, late night sweet treats – to the detriment of my waistline.

Take, for example, these Lemon Verbena Shortbread cookies, last night’s recent addition to my “Cookies at Midnight” series.


Lemon Verbena Shortbread

  • Servings: 16 cookies
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If you don’t have access to lemon verbena, these would also be tasty with a ¾ teaspoon of lemon zest instead.

Ingredients

  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • 8 to 12 lemon verbena leaves
  • ¾ cup flour
  • 6 Tablespoons cold butter, cut into small cubes
  • 2 Tablespoons cornstarch
  • ¼ t. salt
  • Colored crystal sugar for decoration, optional

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. In a food processor, pulse sugar with lemon verbena leaves until sugar is highly fragrant and flecked with green. Add leaves as needed to get desired flavor.
  2. Add flour, cold butter, cornstarch and salt and pulse until mixture resembles fresh breadcrumbs (dough will be very dry).
  3. Pour dough into an 8” spring form pan and press down firmly. Sprinkle liberally with crystal sugar and press into dough. Pierce dough all over with fork.
  4. Baked until pale golden, about 35-40 minutes. Cool 5 minutes, release sides of pan and then cut shortbread into 16 wedges. Using a spatula, carefully transfer shortbread to a platter or cooling rack.

Easy Shortbread