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.