Minor British Institutions: Eccles cake

The best way to think about the Eccles cake is to consider it as a sort of flattened, drier version of a mince pie, its puff pastry and raisins occupying the space between the mince pie and the Garibaldi biscuit in the baker's pantheon.

They do indeed originate in the Lancashire town of Eccles, and, like mince pies, have an "eccles-iastical" connection, the name Eccles deriving from the Greek for assembly. They date at least to the 17th century, when they were consumed on the Eccles Wakes feast day. Like mince pies, Eccles cakes were banned by Cromwell's puritans.

The first definitive Eccles cake is said to have been created in 1796 by one James Birch. Bizarrely, the cake was banned from Eccles railway station after consumption by staff of a more alcoholic edition was blamed for a crash. To make the cakes, you'll need flaky pastry, melted butter, nutmeg, candied peel, sugar and currants. But unless you live in Eccles, will they be proper Eccles cakes?

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