While the English are not known for food, a fact which is substantiated by sardines on toast and black pudding, I have taken a liking to countless elements of the unloved cuisine. The posh names that accompany other ethnic dishes are substituted by monikers like spotted dick and flies graveyard. Both are named after the currants embedded within, but as I might have mentioned I have an irrational aversion to dehydrated grapes and in the words of Eloise, I simply must must must avoid them at all costs!
Luckily, I had the opportunity to make what I dubbed flyless graveyards more commonly known as Eccles Cakes. What strikes me so about English fare is its ability to bring me into a nursery rhyme and tuck me in with bedtime stories about fairies and maidens. I am an unequivocal anglophile and as such I will continue to cook English puddings and cakes, pies and the like.
I first learned about Eccles Cakes in a cookbook I have called, "Breakfast, Lunch and Tea," from a patisserie in Paris called the Rose Cafe. Yesterday I had planned on making something more complex, challenging my newfound skills, but after teaching little figure skaters all afternoon and then studying for finals and writing an essay on Virginia Woolf and Sigmund Freud, all I had energy for were Eccles Cakes. To begin, simply take about 3/4 cup of unsalted butter and knead in about 2 cups of flour and a pinch of sugar.
Add 3 tablespoons of ice cold water and roll into a ball. Put that in the refrigerator for 10+ minutes and in the meantime make your Eccles' mixture. Take 5 1/2 ounces of brown sugar and add 1 ounce of melted unsalted butter. Mix this together completely with a spoon or a whisk. Then add 6 oz of currants, 1 zested lemon, a few shakes of cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice and a dash of brandy or Grand Marnier. Mix this all together and make sure you smell it (just to see how good it smells).
Set that aside and take the dough out of the fridge and roll it out until it's about a 1/4 of an inch thick. Use a small bowl or large cup/mug (3-4 inch diameter) to cut out 12 circles. Then add a teaspoon of your mixture to the center of every circle, wet your finger with water and press down on the circumference of dough. Draw up all the sides and pinch them together, then roll into a ball. That is the bottom of your pastry. Brush the dough with egg white and make three horizontal slices (1/2 inch long) or a cross on the top. Set your oven to 375 F and cook for 10-12 minutes or until your cakes are tanned and slightly hard on the exterior.
You can eat Eccles Cakes for dessert as we did with a scoop of vanilla or lemon ice cream or for breakfast as I did this morning on my way to skating with a cup of hot cocoa. While the temperature was 17 F, the Eccles Cake warmed my soul...(not my toes however).