Sunday, September 25, 2005

Goosnargh Cakes from Lancashire


Goosnargh cakes originated in the village of Goosnargh in Lancashire - one of those English placenames which you just have to say out loud for the pleasure of saying it. Goosnargh cakes are in fact type of shortbread or shortcake, so are actually a form of biscuit.

I have always been a bit puzzled about what the difference was between a shortbread and a shortcake so I did a swift bit of research:

The 'short' in shortcake or shortbread, refers to the use of 'shortening' (butter or lard) in the mixture, which gives a soft, crumbling texture to the end product, but with a certain 'snap' - think how a finger of shortbread can be broken up so satfisfyingly into smaller lengths to pop in the mouth. Historically shortcake and shortbread were one and the same - a form of sweetened pastry (flour, sugar, butter, water) rolled out, cut into shapes, and baked as biscuits. Shortcake has nowadays also come to mean a dessert which comprises of stacked shortcake/bread biscuits, strawberries and cream.

Shortbread/cake tends to be associated with Scotland, but different forms of the biscuit have been made elsewhere in Britain, and regional varieties have their own distinctions. What makes Goosnargh cakes different is that they are flavoured with ground coriander and caraway seeds (according to 'The Oxford Companion to Food', although the recipes I found used one or the other flavouring, not both). I love the flavour of caraway seeds, and have a large bag of them in my cupboard crying out to be baked.

My recipe was based on one from the Green Chronicle website, which has quite a few recipes for regional British dishes. The Green Chronicle aims "to celebrate and encourage the excellence and diversity which still exists in British food production today." However, the recipe the site gives for Goosnargh cakes does not include caraway seeds, and I only loosely followed the method that they gave.

Here is the recipe I baked to:
(made about 20 biscuits)

225g unsalted butter
125g golden caster sugar (plus more for putting over biscuits)
350g plain flour
1/2 tsp ground coriander seeds
1 1/2 tsp caraway seeds

1. Preheat oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Grease two baking sheets.
2. Cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
3. Sift flour over the creamed mix, add the coriander and caraway seeds, mix with wooden spoon until mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
4. Using your hand work mixture together to form smooth paste. Take out of bowl and onto floured surface and knead gently so that dough is smooth and ready to roll out.
5. Roll out to about 1/4" thickness, and using a circular cutter (mine was a 2" one), cut out circular discs of dough.
6. Place the discs onto the baking sheets, and sprinkle with caster sugar.
7. Put the baking sheets into your fridge (having cleared all your chilled wine off one shelf to make room). Leave for 30 minutes/1 hour until well chilled.
8. Pop into oven and bake for 15-20 minutes until just turned golden brown. Keep an eye on them as the minute you leave the room they overcook.
9. Remove from oven and sprinkle with more caster sugar. Leave to cool slightly then transfer to a wire rack.



Yes, they do build up a thick layer of sugar on the top. Some of it fuses with the hot biscuit, but if you haven't got a really sweet tooth, I suggest you knock a bit off the biscuit before eating.



The finished biscuits had that shortbread snap to them, giving a crisp, crumbly finish. The caraway flavour was clear, but the coriander was lost - perhaps the caraway was too dominant and the coriander unnecessary. So why would either of these two flavours added to a biscuit baked in the North of England. I'm afraid I couldn't find the answer. Both spices were popular for many British baking goods, so the Goosnargh Cakes were following a wider fashion.

The only additional snippet of information I could find about these cakes, was that traditionally they were eaten at Whitsuntide, as part of the associated festivities. Whitsun, or Pentecost, is observed on the seventh Sunday after Easter so the date varies from year to year, but falls in May. Of the British traditions and festivals which are associated with this weekend, many involving dancing, may poles, or rolling cheeses down steep hills are still practiced.

If you are interested in tasting some genuine Goosnargh cakes, they are still produced locally and sold in the village Post Office.

16 comments:

shuna fish lydon said...

This is such a beautiful and informative piece, thank you.

I started to do my first dedicated baking in London with The W1 Book of Baking. Surrounded by all that amazing dairy I could not resist.

With a recipe so high in butter you may also want to try baking them longer at a lower temperature. The taste of the butter shines and the flour takes a back seat. Also lightly toasting the corainder seeds helps bring out their aromas.

anna said...

Wow, thank you for your comments. It is great to have feedback from a professional pastry chef!

What were the first things you baked when you were in London? Anything you would recommend I have a go at?

Amanda Fairless said...

Hello!

I am a native of Goosnargh and my Great Grandmother was a confectioner who baked cakes for the Post Office- including Goosnargh Cakes! I have never seen a recipe for them with both coriander and caraway, but I believe the traditional ingredient is caraway seeds. However, they are always omitted in our family as no one likes them!
I have some lovely memories of eating Goosnargh cakes as a child, and seeing just how much sugar you can pile on the top! (That was before cakes and biscuits were bad for you!!)
It's lovely to see traditional recipes with such tasty pictures- keep it up!
Amanda Fairless

anna said...

Hello Amanda,

Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. It is interesting to know that the coriander is not an authentic ingredient. If you leave out the caraway seeds don't the biscuits become a shortbread (still very tasty though)?

Thanks for the positive comments on my site.

Anonymous said...

I have bought goosnargh cakes from that very post office but I may have a go at baking my own now!

NB Birmingham

anna said...

I would love to hear how your cakes turn out, and how they compare to the genuine article. Do add another comment here with a link once you have had a go...

Plumbing Lancashire said...

My grandmother used to make Goosnargh Cakes for me and my sister a lot when we were younger and I've never tried to make some myself but now I will have to give it a go, thank you for sharing.

Anonymous said...

thanks. Searched the net for a recipe for Goosnargh cakes for an afternoon tea party as its mums 90th b'day. Never knew they were baked for Whitsun so i will try the recipe for Whitsun too! I too have enjoyed the post office's Goosnargh cakes; thanks for sharing.
ali

Singinglady said...

Don't know if this site is still taking comments but it is worth a try

My mother emigrated with her family from Preston Lansc in 1912
Her aunt was a confectioner in Preston and used to make these cakes to sell in her store.

My mother always made them at Christmas but would never tell us the recipe
It was a secret!
She never put in the caraway seeds or the coriander but they were a delicacy to die for!

Sadly she did not give any one the recipe and so we have not had them since she passed away.

We were at a family Christmas dinner last night and talking about former goodies we had through the years

I never even knew how to spell this delicacy until I started to search the net today and found this site among several others

I was thrilled to have the method to make them and will try to do them and maybe start a new tradition here in Ontario Canada for my children and grandchildren but If I do I will make sure they know how to carry it on when I can no longer make them.

Party Organizer said...

This is a simply and amazing recipe!
Thank you for sharing.

Tammy said...

Thanks for this lovely, nostalgic recipe!

The ones I fondly recall buying at Bilsborrow (not far from Goosnargh) Post Office in the 70's were very white and very fat with or without caraway seeds. (They were wrapped in red or blue wax paper to indicate the difference!) Have always been curious to bake them. I have one recipe, that still needs trying out, scrawled in an old cook book that doesn't use any sugar in the mixture, but I wonder if that was an accidental omission? The note goes on to say to leave them overnight coated in sugar and bake the following day. Does this ring any bells?

I remember most the melt in the mouth texture and thickness of the cake, more than the sweetness, so maybe there was not much sugar in them? hmm...

Tousa said...

I grew up in Lancashire and my aunt retired to Goosenargh over 20 years ago. I have always understood them to be distinctly flavoured with caraway, which is what makes them Goosenargh cakes rather than shortbreads, and indeed why I came to this site!

Anonymous said...

My grandma in her 80's makes these and her mum made them before. But they are known as sugar cakes to us and they do contain caraway seeds (no coriander), they always need to be served with a sprinkling of caster sugar on top too!
She comes from Over Wyre not far from goosnargh.

Margaret Ann said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Margaret Ann said...

I come from Burnley, Lancashire and as a child I remember our local bakery made their version of Goosnargh cakes. They were cut a lot thicker than shortbread: about half an inch thick. They were dusted with lots of caster sugar, but had no additional herbs or spices. Now I've seen the recipe, I'll have a go at making some.

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