Monday, February 14, 2011

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Sinfully Delicious: How to Make Eccles Cakes

Every year, around my birthday, Ken makes my favorite treat:  Eccles cakes, a pastry so irresistibly delicious, they were once illegal.

"Eccles Cakes are a Lancashire specialty, named after the town of the same name.  They were very popular in the seventeenth century until they were banned (along with mince pies) in 1650 by the Puritans, who thought they were sinfully rich.  Oliver Cromwell went so far as to pass an act of Parliament authorizing imprisonment of any person found guilty of eating a currant pie."  Great British Cooking:  A Well Kept Secret, by Jane Garmey
I visited England for the first time back in the mid-1980s, and it was there I tasted Eccles cakes for the first time.  I liked them so much, I sought out and bought a British cookbook, just so that I could have the recipe.  I wasn't much of a cook in my younger days, so life went on and the recipe went untried for years, but I never forgot how delicious they were.  Eventually, 20 years later, I convinced my husband to make a batch for me as a treat.  

Could the reality of these simple little pastries stand up to 20 years of imagining?  After remembering them fondly for so many years, would I be disappointed when I got to taste one again?

No indeed!  The first bite of an Eccles cake, warm from the oven is always even more meltingly, overpoweringly delicious than I remember from the last time I had them.

So I decided to post directions on how to make them here on my blog.  Everyone should be entitled to taste Eccles cakes as often as they like!

Eccles Cakes Recipe
(makes about 3 dozen)

  • 1 package of ready-to-bake frozen puff pastry sheets (17.3 oz, 2 sheets per box)
  • 1 box of dried currants (10 oz.)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter

  • 1 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • Milk (approx 1/2 cup)
  • Granulated sugar (approx. 1/4 cup)


1.  Remove the puff pastries from the package and lay them out flat to thaw.

2.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees (F).

3.  Combine the currants, brown sugar, butter, allspice, and nutmeg in a small saucepan.

4.  Heat gently, stirring occasionally until the butter is melted and the ingredients are well mixed.  Remove from heat.

4.  On a smooth floured surface, roll out the puff pastry dough with a floured rolling pin until it is about 12" x 16".

5.  Cut the rolled pastry dough into 4-inch rounds.  We use a small custard ramekin as a guide.  When you have cut all the circles you can, collect the remaining scraps of dough, knead them back together, then roll them out again and cut the rest of your circles.

6.  Place one spoonful of the currant mix into the center of each pastry round.  Brush the edges of the pastry with a little milk to moisten.

7.  Fold the edges of the pastry up around the currant mixture and press into place.

8.  Turn the little bundle over to hide the seam.  Arrange the cakes on a cookie sheet lined with baking parchment.  Cut 2-3small slits in the top of each pasty to make a place for the steam to escape.  Brush the tops with milk and sprinkle with granulated sugar.

9.  Bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown.  Serve warm.

    Saturday, February 5, 2011

    Building a Livestock Loading Ramp

    Today Ken built a ramp for loading and unloading livestock into our car.

    One of the advantages of raising small breeds of livestock:  When we transport our sheep or pigs, we almost always haul them in the back of our Subaru Outback.  We spread a tarp out, then cover it with a layer of hay bedding.  It doesn't matter if it's cold and rainy out or 106 degrees; inside the car, the animals get the same comfortable temperature as the human passengers.

    With the sheep, we usually just grab them and boost them in, but that's easier said than done with pigs.  And also, it's not always easy for the animals to hop OUT of the car at the end of the ride.  So we decided that we needed to build a ramp to make loading and unloading easier for all of us.

    First, Ken made the basic framework out of 2x4s that I salvaged from a section of old broken down fence.

    The bottom end is cut at a slope so it can rest flat on the ground.  The top end is notched to fit onto the car's bumper.

    After attaching the fiberboard platform to the framework, Ken tests the ramp for strength.

    If you want livestock to use a ramp willingly without getting scared, you have to give them good traction so they don't slip.  Three rubber doormats should do the trick!

    Ken fastens the doormats down with slats, which also provide more traction to prevent little hooves from slipping.

    A very important design feature:  When the finished ramp is in place, it rests so that the back of the car can be opened and closed freely without interference.

    A bucket of grain attracts many volunteers to test out the new ramp.

    Sheep approved, the new ramp is a success!

    While en route, the ramp can be tied securely to the car's roof rack, so that it's available to unload the animals at the other end of the journey.