© Denzil Green
Eccles Cakes are small, flat, individual-portion sized pastries.
On the outside, they have a flaky crust, and inside, they are filled with candied peel and currants, mixed with sugar, nutmeg, allspice and butter.
The pastry is rolled out into thin circles, and a small amount of filling put in the centre. The pastry edges are folded over the centre and sealed.
The pastry is flipped over, pressed down with a rolling pin, then a few slits are cut in the top. It is brushed with water, sprinkled with sugar, then baked.
In 1769, a recipe for something similar to Eccles Cakes appeared in “The Experienced English Housekeeper” by Elizabeth Raffald. She called them “Sweet Patties.” Hers used apples, oranges, currants mixed with nutmeg, egg yolk, brandy, and gelatin from a boiled calf’s foot, enclosed in puff pastry. They could be fried or baked.
In 1793, the pastries started being made by a James Birch, and sold from his shop at the corner of Vicarage Road and St Mary’s Road (now Church Street) in Eccles, Lancashire. He had run the shop since 1785, according to Land Tax records. He called the shop Birch’s. A blue plaque now marks this spot.
In 1810, he moved to a larger building across the road (as of 2005, this location is now a dry cleaner’s shop.) Signage identified the store as Birch’s, and promoted the business as “Eccles Cake Makers.”
A former employee, James Bradburn, set up business in the former location (Vicarage Road) on the corner. He had the store rebuilt in 1835. A rivalry naturally sprang up between Birch’s, and Bradburn’s store. Bradburn put up a big sign on the side of his building say “Bradburns: The only old original Eccles Cake Shop. Never Removed [Ed: moved].” Bradburns survived at least until 1953, if not a few years later. The building was demolished in the late 1960s.
Eccles means “Church” (from the same Greek word ‘Ecclesia’ that gives us “ecclesiastical” today.
Eccles Cakes were named after the town of Eccles in Lancashire, England.