Yorkshire Cooking: Sly Cakes

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Sly Cakes.

1Sly Cakes originated in the North of England, probably early in the 19th century, and is likely to be a regional variation on Eccles Cakes, which were sold commercially in the Manchester area from 1793.

Sly Cakes have a pastry surround with an inner core of dried fruits and nuts. It is baked in a rectangle brick-like shape, then cut into squares when cold.

 

It can still be found made in the Northern English counties of Lancashire, Yorkshire, Cumbria and Durham, although each of these areas has its own ingredient individuality.

Some Sly Cake recipes use puff pastry, but this one – from Yorkshire – uses a rich and crumbly shortcrust.

Regional variations on the recipe include the addition of spices, like cinnamon, additional nuts, such as almonds – and brandy-soaked dried fruit: definitely worth a try!

Yorkshire Cooking: Sly Cakes

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Serves: 9- 10 slices

Ingredients
  • FOR PASTRY : 8oz plain flour
  • 2oz margarine
  • 2oz cooking lard (vegetable lard is fine)
  • one egg, beaten
  • FOR THE FILLING: 2oz currants
  • 2oz raisins
  • 6oz dates or dried figs
  • grated rind of one lemon, (I add the juice of half a lemon too, to give it a little more zest. But this is optional)
  • 6 tablespoons water
  • 2oz dark brown sugar
  • 2oz walnuts
Instructions
  1. Put the dates (or figs), plus currants, raisins, walnuts, brown sugar, lemon rind into a food mixer and chop them roughly together.
  2. Place into a pan and add the six table spoons of water. Heat and stir the mixture gently until the water is absorbed
  3. Leave the fruit mixture to cool
  4. Prepare the pastry by rubbing in method, then add the beaten egg to bind it. Chill in the refrigerator for 20-30 minutes
  5. Divide the pastry into two and roll out the first half into a rectangle shape 9" long by 4" wide.
  6. Spread the filling evenly and thickly onto the pastry. It will be about 2-3" inches thick. Leave space around the edges and damp these with water
  7. Roll out the remaining pastry and place over the top to cover the filling. Seal the edges. It will resemble a brick!
  8. glaze the pastry with beaten egg, milk or yoghurt and bake in a medium oven (375F/Mark 5) until it is golden in colour.
  9. Leave to cool then cut into slices when cold.

The Taste

The taste: the dried fruits blend to form a fruity blend – rather like a home-made Christmas pudding.

The crumbly pastry provides a neutral foil for the fruit mixture, and both fruits and pastry combine to give a rich and filling cake.

Don’t eat too much though – it’s very ‘more-ish’.

Easy Stages

Chop and blend the dried fruit, walnuts, lemon peel, and sugar

Chop and blend the dried fruit, walnuts, lemon peel, and sugar

Add six tablespoons of water and heat slowly in a pan until water absorbed. Leave it to cool and make the pastry.
Add six tablespoons of water and heat slowly in a pan until water absorbed. Leave it to cool and make the pastry.

Divide the pastry into two. Roll out one piece to a 9" long x 4" wide rectangle
Divide the pastry into two. Roll out one piece to a 9″ long x 4″ wide rectangle

When the mix is cool, spread it evenly along length of pastry. Leave a small gap along all four sides and brush these gaps with water.
When the mix is cool, spread it evenly along length of pastry. Leave a small gap along all four sides and brush these gaps with water.

Roll out the remaining pastry piece and carefully position over the dried fruit mix. Seal the edges of the pastry case. It will now look like a small brick.

Roll out the remaining pastry piece and carefully position over the dried fruit mix. Seal the edges of the pastry case. It will now look like a small brick.

Bake in a moderately hot oven for 30 minutes until golden
Bake in a moderately hot oven for 30 minutes until golden

When cold, cut into small squares. It will last quite a while if wrapped in foil. That is if you don't eat it all at one sitting.
When cold, cut into small squares. It will last quite a while if wrapped in foil. That is if you don’t eat it all at one sitting.

‘Sly Cake’?

Why ‘Sly Cake’? No one knows for certain, but the ‘Glossary of Yorkshire Words’ (1855) suggests that the name derives from the plain outer concealing – slyly – the rich interior of the cake. Another more romantic explanation from Sunderland suggests that the name comes from a baker’s daughter in South Shields who, against her father’s wishes, smuggled love letters to her suitor in a cake like this one!

They eventually ran away together and got married, the father still opposed to the relationship. However, as the 1855 explanation predates the love story, it is more likely to be the more likely of the two; a pity though, as it’s a nice story.


Colin Neville is a retired university teacher, author of four non-fiction books (on education and local history topics), online seller of art & design-related fine and limited edition books, gardener, chef, granddad.He lives in West Yorkshire, near Ilkley. Currently working on developing an information database of Bradford (Yorkshire) born artists, past and present.

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