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.


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.

AnnaW 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?

Anonymous said...


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

AnnaW 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

AnnaW 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.

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.

Anonymous said...

壯陽藥 樂威壯 樂威壯 壯陽藥 樂威壯怎麼使用才正確 樂威壯 壯陽藥 壯陽藥品 樂威壯levitra levitra樂威壯 樂威壯哪裡買 樂威壯哪裡買 威而鋼 壯陽藥 樂威壯
春藥 早洩治療 壯陽藥

Alison said...

I came on the web specifically to look for Goosnargh cakes. My grandparents used to give them to my sister and I many moons ago. My memory of them is very clear. They were very very pale with a coating of sugar. They were much bigger than those above and had a heat due to the caraway seeds. They were about the size of an Eccles cake but even ever so slightly fatter and that way it didn't feel like a biscuit at all. We lived in the next village to Goosnargh but it's over 30 years or so since I had one. I hope Goosnargh Post Office still sell them because I have quite a craving for them at the moment.

Have you tried Eccles cakes I wonder?

AKON said...

I am very enjoyed for this blog. Its an informative topic. It help me very much to solve some problems. Its opportunity are so fantastic and working style so speedy. french pastry toronto 

Unknown said...

Yes!!!! This article is too simple that everybody can learn and make cake after reading this article. Thanks!!!

Awesome Birthday Cakes
Beautiful Anniversary Cakes

Unknown said...

Mygandma and grandad Cunliffe lived in Nelson, Lancashire and according to her recipe in her handwritten book, Goosnargh cakes were made only with ground coriander seeds. That is what I remember most. The orangey flavour of coriander seds. They were always a huge treat as were Easter Biscuits. She may have not liked caraway, but I doubt it as her seed cake is to die for! I still make all of these as per Grandma's recipes. ( i am 73 so that gives a time frame)

Gloi said...

My family had a bakery in Preston through the 50s to 70s and sold homemade Goosnargh cakes. They were flavoured with caraway seeds. They were thicker than the ones in your pictures, about 1/2 and inch thick and rather than caster sugar icing sugar was used both in the recipe and to coat the top. They were always popular.

Gloi said...

Goosnargh post office still sells them, I had some recently. There is also someone who makes and sells them at Littletown Dairy farm shop at the other side of Longridge, I think I actually refer the Littletown dairy ones which are a bit softer.

Dojomo said...

My Grandmother used to always make these at Christmas. Not with the seeds in them, just plain but with icing sugar on the top. Kinda a family tradition now. Lovely to know the history.

Anonymous said...

Yippee! Mum made these for us as children. Yes, she was a Lancashire lass. The aroma of the caraway coming through as they cooked seemed very exotic in our Norfolk kitchen. Will be giving them a crack as an extension to the Christmas shortbread baking. Thank you.