The Eccles cake takes its name from the town of Eccles (now classified as part of Greater Manchester, formerly part of Lancashire). As with many spice-laden British pastries, it probably has its origins in religious observations, specifically the feast day of St. Mary, celebrated in Eccles with a festival called the Eccles Wakes. St. John, the famous restaurant in Clerkenwell, London, serves a vegetarian Eccles cake, omitting the traditional lard in the pastry and instead using a puff pastry made with butter.
This should easily make a dozen cakes—if you have pastry left over, it freezes very well.
Excerpted with permission from Nose to Tail Eating: A Kind of British Cooking.
- 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 1 hour before using.
- Once rested, roll the paste into a rectangle about 8 mm 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 1 cm to 1.5 cm 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.
- To make the filling: Melt the butter and sugar together, then add them to the dry ingredients, mix well, and leave to cool before using.
- To make the Eccles cakes: Roll the puff pastry out to 8 mm thick and cut circles approximately 9 cm in diameter. On half of these, spoon a blob of your filling mixture in the center of the circle, then place the other pastry circles on top. Pinch the edges together, gently press to flatten the cakes, then slash the top 3 times (I’m told it is very significant how many times an Eccles cake is slashed). Paint the top with the egg white, then dip it into 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 and are particularly marvelous when eaten with Lancashire cheese.