January is really a month with little to redeem it. The festivities are done and dusted, it’s still dark and dreary and Spring seems a lifetime away. Not to mention the overbearing, matronly pressure of keeping those virtuous (boring) resolutions. For those of you who haven’t given up sugar or wheat, I’d like to offer a little light at the end of the tunnel. Something to see you through. These gorgeous, sweet dumplings of warm, spicy dried fruit are a joy to make and eat. The recipe I followed uses a rough puff pastry, made from scratch. Needless to say, you can of course use shop-bought pastry if you don’t want all the hassle (and believe me, it is hard work). But if you fancy a bit of a challenge and to practise some pastry-making skills, give it a go.
Classic Eccles Cakes
from Leiths Cookery Bible
You will need:
For the rough puff pastry:
225g plain flour
pinch of salt
140g butter- very cold
90-135 ml ice water
For the filling:
55g light brown sugar
30g chopped mixed peel
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg, freshly ground
1/4 tsp ground ginger
zest of 1/2 lemon
1 tsp lemon juice
For the glaze:
1 egg white
1. Sift the flour with the salt into a chilled bowl. Cut the butter into cubes about the size of a lump of sugar.
2. Add the butter and cut with a knife in a scissor motion until breadcrumb-like in consistency (use a food processor if you have one). Add just enough water to bind the paste together (start with 90ml, then add the rest 1 tbsp at a time). You know it’s ready to be brought together when you only have large flakes of dough in your bowl- no dry crumbs.
3. Knead very lightly to come together. Wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for 15 minutes.
4. On a floured board, very carefully roll the pastry into a sheet, about 30 x 10 cm long (use a palette knife to help it keep a rectangular shape) and 1 cm thick. Take care to not over stretch and break the surface of the pastry. Roll in the same direction and take care not to get too much flour on your pastry.
5. Fold the strip into 3 like a letter (bottom section up first, then upper section down) and turn so that the folded edge is to your left, like a closed book.
6. Again, roll out into a sheet, about 1 cm thick. Fold into 3 again and chill, wrapped, in the fridge for a further 15 minutes.
7. Repeat this rolling and folding procedure twice more. If the butter still looks streaky in the dough, repeat the procedure again. Chill for about 30-40 min.
8. Preheat the oven to 220 degrees C. Roll out the pastry to the thickness of a £1 coin. Cut out 12.5cm rounds using a biscuit cutter or glass. Refrigerate until firm.
9. Melt the butter in a saucepan and stir in all the remaining filling ingredients. Cool.
10. Place a generous teaspoon of filling in the centre of each pastry round. Dampen the edges of the pastry with some water and press together at the top, forming a small ball.
11. Trim away any excess pastry with a small knife. Place on a baking sheet and turn each ball over and flatten lightly with a rolling pin until the fruit begins to shine through the slightly translucent dough.
12. Beat the egg white with a fork until frothy and brush the top of the Eccles with it. Sprinkle with sugar before using a sharp knife to make 3 small, parallel cuts on the top of each cake .
13. Bake for approx 20 minutes until lightly browned. Leave to cool before tucking in.