It started innocently with one Eccles cake because I never had it before. It was good, not amazing, but good enough to make me want to taste more to confirm that the first one was not a fluke. Before long, here I am, writing about Eccles cakes I’ve consumed in the last several weeks.
The accidental one
The first one I tried was an accident. I didn’t mean to try it then and there. But after a long meandering trek through Richmond Park, we ended up in an ASDA. Thirsty and hungry, I eagerly searched for a snack to tie me over until we get to a hot meal. As usual, I had trouble deciding what I wanted. Casually browsing in the baked goods isle, I happened to see some Eccles cakes in clear plastic containers.
They looked fresh.
Outside, while waiting for the bus, I eagerly took my first bite.
My first thought was that these were pretty yummy.
The pastry was fluffy, the filling light, borderline sparse. The shell envelop had the same consistency as those packaged croissants. Chewy and pillowy, but not flaky. The filling consisted of a few raisins and a little bit of jelly like sauce. Not overpowering.
Overall, for a snack that cost 1 pound for 2 pastries, I thought the price was fair and the food decent. This only piqued my interest in finding and trying a fresh Eccles cake.
The intentional Eccles cake
My second experience was at St. John bakery at Neal’s Yard. Everything was so different from my ASDA experience. Comparing the two would be like comparing apples to oranges.
For starter, the appearances were so different. While the supermarket version looked light and pillowy, St. John‘s Eccles cake appeared to be a solid envelop. About an inch and half thick, it felt quite substantial.
Biting into this little package revealed layers upon layers of flakiness surrounding a dense core. The filling was more of a thick paste and did not have a jelly-like in texture. This Eccles cake was absolutely delicious!
The only itsy bitsy complain I had was that it was simply too sweet for my not-so-sweet tooth. The generous currant filling was too much for me to handle. I ended up taking out half of filling because it was too overpowering (in a good way, but overpowering nonetheless).
Maybe this is why in the restaurant, they serve this dessert with a wedge of strong Lancashire cheese – to balance out the flavors.
This Eccles cake definitely hooked me.
The not expecting much one
I first saw Real Lancashire Eccles Cakes in a Tesco Express, hidden in a corner in a crammed aisle. I didn’t buy them then but I made a mental note to add them to my grocery list.
Well, I got them when I did our weekly grocery run at Sainsbury’s a few days later. They were £1.60 for a pack of 4. The packaging was rather plain, a bit “old school” if you will. I didn’t try them right away, but thought they would be good with a cup of tea.
To be honest, I didn’t expect much. After all, this is a grocery store, a.k.a mass produced, version, even if it appears to be old school.
Well, what do I know?
It more than exceeded my expectation. Again, no idea what kind of pastry the outside was (my best guess is that it’s flaky because I don’t see any puffed layers beyond the space between the filling and the top).
This was YUMMY with a capital Y.
In fact, I think the filling struck the perfect balance (at least for my tastebuds). It was not pasty like St. John’s, neither was it overly sweet. Also, it was not as runny as my other grocery store Eccles cake experience. Best of all, I could taste and make out the texture of the actual vine fruits.
I really really enjoyed it!
I think this would make a perfect gift for my foodie friends back home.
The on the side Eccles cake
I visited Hirst Bakery in Lewisham in search of gypsy tarts to try.
After ordering what I went to get, I spotted Eccles cakes from the corner of my eye. So in the name of research, I walked out of the cute little shop with a mini gypsy tart (my main goal for this visit) and an Eccles cake on the side, just because.
This Eccles cake was flatter and wider than the others. The brown sugar on top was partially caramelized. It did not feel “packed” like some of the other versions I’d tried. The signature slashes on top were also not distinctive.
To be honest, I was probably too quick with my ordering. I should have looked at it a little longer. Maybe I would have realized that this was not going to be something I would enjoy. It, visibly, had way too much sugar on top. Not only was there caramelized brown sugar crust, there were also additional granules of sugar sprinkled on top.
The inside was airy, with a sparse amount of vine fruits, and more brown sugar.
Way too nauseatingly sweet for my taste. I did not enjoy crunching on sugar crystals.
The saving grace of this Eccles cake was the freshness and flakiness of the pastry, especially the parts that were not encrusted in sugar. I think it would go great with a strong tea to balance out the sweetness.
The might as well addition
By this time, a few weeks had gone by. And I had more than made up for my lost time- having had various repeats of the Eccles cakes mentioned above. I was ready to move on to to discovery the next chapter, (i.e. pies), of my exploration of traditional British foods.
Having read about London’s oldest organic bakery, The Old Post Office Bakery, I set out to to look for for a Chelsea bun, Victoria sponge and/or bread pudding to try.
Well, on the day I visited. The bakery did not have breading pudding. Nor Victoria sponge. And they had run out of Chelsea buns.
Deflated, but not defeated. I scanned the trays in front of me, searching for my consolation prize. Everything looked good, but everything looked bread-y, except for a short stack of Eccles cake.
It wasn’t what I came for. And to be quite honest, I felt a little hesitant after my last impulse Eccles cake purchase. This one looked very sugary- lots of granulated sugar on top, as well as non-existent slashes…hum….
But what the heck, I needed a sugar fix and thought I might as well further my research. Looking back, I think Eccles cake god was not ready for me to move on quite just yet.
Boy, was I glad for that impromptu decision.
It was by far my favorite Eccles cake during my short affair with them.
The look and feel of this pastry was very similar to that of St. John’s Eccles cake. It felt substantially, maybe even hefty for such a little package.
The pastry was flaky. When I bit into it, the layers simply shattered in all directions. The filling was just sweet enough, but not overly so. It was neither pasty nor syrupy. It was just “wet” enough to compliment the flakiness of the outer shell. The bakery added its own twist by mixing in bits and pieces of dates into the traditional currant/raisin mix.
It was simply divine. My might as well Eccles cake turned out to be the prince in frog disguise.