Eccles cakes, a close cousin of the Banbury cake, originated in Eccles, now part of Salford, Greater Manchester, UK. Like so many geographical dishes, the exact origin or original recipe is unknown. In fact, every family and bake shop in Eccles appears to have their own secret recipe, which they are loathe to share with anyone. Some culinary historians think that Mrs Elizabeth Raffald’s recipe for Sweet Patties, from her book “The Experienced English Housekeeper” was the basis for the Eccles cake. Mrs Raffald’s cookery book was published in 1769, the recipe in question can be seen below.
In 1793, James Birch opened the doors of his Vicarage Road bake shop, serving up what we now know as Eccles cakes. He was the first person to commercialise their production and sales, and after 17 years of success, he relocated his shop to a space across the street; his second shop can be seen above. Unlike the Cornish clotted cream I previously covered on this blog, the Eccles cake does not benefit from Protected Geographical Status. Therefore, despite not being baked in Eccles, the cakes can still be labeled as Eccles cakes.
Every generation, family, and bake shop has their own recipe for the cakes, and have done since before James Birch opened his doors. Amazingly, the recipe was not memorialised in a cookbook till the 19th century. Today, they are enjoying a revival, riding the coattails of the culinary world’s movement towards traditional and historical foods. St John’s Restaurant, run by architect-turned-chef, and one of my personal heroes, Fergus Henderson, has Eccles cakes on the menu. I highly recommend Henderson’s cookbooks, “Nose to Tail Eating,” and “Beyond Nose to Tail.”