Classic English Cakes

Grasmere is famous for its gingerbread; in Kendal it’s mint cake that the visitors queue to buy; in Bath it’s the buns and the Sally Lunns.

Nearly every county in England has its own baked speciality although, in these health-conscious days, whether many people ask for farmhouse dripping cake when they’re in Lincolnshire is another matter!

We’re offering you three classic English regional cakes: fruity apple cake from Somerset; spicy parkin from Yorkshire; and Dr. Oliver’s sugar-coated buns from Bath.

Somerset Apple Cake

Somerset and the rest of the West Country may be famous for cider but some of the apples that escape the press end up in this fruity and tasty cake.

  • 350g (12oz) self-raising flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 225g (8oz) margarine
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 175g (6oz) caster sugar
  • 110g (4oz) sultanas
  • 450g (1lb) cooking apples, finely chopped
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • A little milk
  • A little demerara sugar
  • Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC, gas mark 4. Grease an 8” tin.
  • Sieve the flour, salt and cinnamon together. Rub in the margarine until it resembles breadcrumbs. Rub the fat into the flour.
  • Mix in the caster sugar. Make a well in the mixture and stir in the eggs. Finally mix in the sultanas and apples. If the consistency seems a little thick, add some milk.
  • Place the mixture in the tin and sprinkle the top with some Demerara sugar.
  • Bake for 1½ hours or until cooked. Allow to cool slightly in the tin before turning out.

Yorkshire Parkin

The Vikings are said to have brought parkin to Yorkshire, but, wherever it came from, it’s become traditional to eat it on Bonfire Night. In fact, in some parts of West Yorkshire, 5th November is known as Parkin Day.

  • 225g (8oz) self raising flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 110g (4oz) caster sugar
  • 50g (2oz) butter
  • 110g (4oz) golden syrup (heat your spoon before scooping out the syrup as a warm spoon will help the syrup slide off more easily)
  • 1 egg
  • 200ml (7fl oz) milk
  • Pre-heat the oven to 150ºC, gas mark 2. Grease and line an 8” tin.
  • Sieve together the flour, ginger and bicarb. Stir in the sugar.
  • Melt together the butter and syrup, either on the stove or in the microwave.
  • Beat the egg and milk together.
  • Stir the butter mixture into the flour mixture, then add the egg and milk and stir until it’s smooth.
  • Pour into the tin and bake for about 1 hour.
  • You can replace some or all of the syrup with treacle for a more authentic darker colour.

Bath Bun

Said to have been invented by the 18th century physician Dr William Oliver for patients visiting Bath for the spa waters, the original recipe included a coating of sugared caraway seeds, which have long been used to treat stomach ailments as well as coughs and colds. These days the buns are more likely to be topped with crushed sugar and currants.

  • 150g (5oz) plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon caster sugar
  • 2 teaspoons dried yeast
  • 150ml (5fl oz) milk – hand-hot
  • 150ml (5fl oz) water – hand-hot
  • 300g (11oz) plain flour
  • 50g (2oz) butter or margarine
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 75g (3oz) caster sugar
  • 175g (6oz) currants
  • 50g (2oz) mixed peel
Ingredients for the topping
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon caster sugar
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 50g (2oz) sugar lumps
  • A few currants
  • Pre-heat the oven to 220ºC, gas mark 7. Grease 2 baking trays.
  • Place the first 4 ingredients in a large bowl and beat until smooth. Cover the bowl and leave in a warm place for about 15-20 minutes until the batter is frothy.
  • Put 300g (11oz) plain flour in a bowl and rub in the butter or margarine until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add this, along with the eggs, sugar, currants and peel, to the batter. Knead well for about 10 minutes.
  • Cover and leave in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size.
  • Knead the dough again for a few minutes then place spoonfuls of it on the baking trays. You should be able to make 12 buns from this quantity.
  • Cover again and leave in a warm place until doubled in size.
  • While the dough is rising, make the glaze. Beat together the egg, water and sugar. Crush the sugar cubes.
  • When the buns are risen, brush with the glaze and sprinkle with the crushed sugar cubes and currants. Cook for 15 – 20 minutes. Leave to cool before eating.
  • A cup of tea or coffee provides the ideal accompaniment unless you’re in the Pump Rooms in Bath when you will be offered a glass of sulphurous spa water – an acquired taste!

The sweet-toothed Dr Oliver, who was one of the founders of the Bath General Hospital, discovered that his invention was causing his patients to gain weight. To counteract this – and no doubt make more money! – He invented the rather austere Bath Oliver biscuit, which is still sold today.

Regional Recipes

Journey around the UK from your kitchen with classic regional recipes from Devon and Cornwall, Wales and Yorkshire and Lancashire.

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