Eccles Cakes

Possibly first made commercially and sold in 1793 by one James Birch in his bakers shop in Eccles, probably based on an earlier recipe for her so-called "sweet patties" by Mrs Elizabeth Raffald in her cookery book of 1769. Made with shiny topped flaky pastry and filled with dried fruits, sugar and spice. Proprietary brands are to be avoided as they bear little resemblance to the real thing - available at good local bakers. A round fruit filled pastry with three distinctive slashes on its top which is brushed with egg and dowsed in sugar prior to baking. So scrumptious was it thought to be that it was banned by the Puritans, but locals continued to make and eat them in secret! So called due to originating in Eccles (now part of the Metropolitan Borough of Salford).

Eccles Cakes hail from Lancashire, England and get their name from the town in which they were first sold.

Today they are popular worldwide with the Manchester-based Lancashire Eccles Cake company making 600,000 cakes a week of which thousands are exported to the USA, Germany and Spain.
   
What are Eccles Cakes
Contrary to what the name implies, they aren't cakes but  are more a  flat pastry filled with dried fruit.  Many families have their own special recipe which has been guarded and handed down through the generations, with some containing fresh fruit such as apples in addition to the currants or raisins, alcohol such as brandy and spices such as nutmeg.

Origins of  Eccles Cakes
The predecessors of  Eccles Cakes often included the use of mincemeat (see separate history of mincemeat), yeast, rum or brandy. Perhaps one of the first recipes for something similar was published in  Mrs Elizabeth Raffaid's 1769 book The Experienced English Housekeeper,  although they were referred to as "sweet patties" in that publication.

It is thought that this was the recipe on which  a shopkeeper called James Birch based modern day Eccles Cakes, was he sold in 1796 in his cake shop in Eccles.  The delicious pastries became very popular  and were even being exported to America and other parts of the world, including the West Indies,  as early as 1818.
 
However, it wasn't all plain sailing for Eccles Cakes,  as they were actually banned when the Puritans took power in England in 1850, for being too rich and extravagant to be served, particular at the church at Eccles which held a yearly service known as The Eccles Wakes, after which a fair would be held serving food and drink, including Eccles Cakes.  When the monarchy was restored, so were the cakes.

More recently, Eccles cakes were back in the news with proposals being put to the European Commission to stop bakers calling items "Eccles Cakes" unless they have actually been made in Eccles, much like the French with Champagne. We believe the verdict is still out.
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