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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Today, Spring said “hello” through sunshine, orange blossom-scented breezes and a Mexican couple dressed in their Sunday best peddling Jesus’s resurrection door-to-door. My neighbor says it’s going to rain again tomorrow. Could Mother Nature truly be that fickle?
These British biscuits are a favorite of mine, but usually I succumb to the packaged variety, called Lu Pim’s in the States. It’s a textural thing – the crack of dark chocolate giving way to a gelatin layer atop a sliver of cake.
– 1 pkg. gelatin (1/4 oz.)
– ½ cup fresh orange juice
– zest of 1 orange
– ¼ cup sugar Cake Layer
– 2 large eggs
– ¼ cup sugar
– ¼ cup flour, sifted Chocolate Layer
– 4 oz. bittersweet chocolate (at least 70% cocoa)
Combine gelatin with a bit of orange juice to soften. Meanwhile, heat remaining juice, zest and sugar on a saucepan until sugar has completely dissolved. Remove from heat, add softened gelatin and stir until gelatin is dissolved. Briefly return to heat, if necessary. Pour into a 8” square pan, cover and refrigerate until firm, about one hour. Cut gelatin in 1-1 ¼ inch circles using a small cutter.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 24-cup mini muffin tin with baking spray. On top of a double-boiler, beat eggs and sugar together until pale and fluffy using a hand-held mixer, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat, gently fold in flour with a rubber spatula. Fill each muffin cup with a teaspoon dollop of batter, filling each cup no more than 1/3 full. Bake for 8-10 minutes until edges are golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan and then gentle remove cakes.
Break chocolate into small pieces and heat in a microwave in 15-second bursts, stirring occasionally until ¾ melted. Remove from microwave and continue stirring until fully melted. set chocolate aside for 5 minutes to cool and stiffen slightly (this is the lazy girl’s way to temper chocolate).
Place a round of orange gelatin atop each cake round. Dollop each gelatin round with chocolate and gently nudge the chocolate to the edge, fully covering the gelatin. It’s okay if the cake edges aren’t completely covered. Set aside until chocolate is fully set. Store covered for up to two days.