An Eccles cake is a small, round, currant-filled cake, made of flaky pastry and topped with coarse sugar. They are named after the English town of Eccles, although it isn’t known who invented the recipe. The dough itself if very buttery and rich, classic flaky pastry – butter pulsed into the dough, then rolled out and folded times and times again. The more times the dough is rolled out and folded, the better. It is also good to let the dough chill in the fridge, so the butter can cool down and firm up. If you wish, feel free to omit the brandy, but I recommend you use it, it is great with dried fruit.
For the dough
200 grams plain flour
150 grams unsalted butter
50 ml ice cold fresh orange juice
For the filling
100 grams dried currants
1 tablespoon brandy
1 medium orange
50 grams salted butter
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground cloves
For the topping
1 egg white
1 tablespoon water
100 grams coarse sugar (optional)
To make the pastry, dice the butter and put it in the freezer to freeze it almost completely. Place the flour into your food processor, add half of the butter and pulse it until the mixture reaches the texture of coarse breadcrumbs. The pulsing is vital so the butter doesn't start heating and melting. Add the cold orange juice, and proceed to pulse into a dough. Add the rest of the almost frozen butter and pulse a few more times until the dough is somewhat combined, with many pieces of butter still visible.
Flour your work surface and transfer the dough to it, then roll it out into a rectangle about 20x30cm (8x12"). Fold the ends into the middle, then fold it in half. Rotate the dough by 90 degrees and roll it out again in the same fashion, then fold. Place the dough in the fridge for about 30 minutes, carefully wrapped in plastic, so it doesn't dry out. Take it out of the fridge, roll it out again, fold in the same fashion, and return to the fridge. Repeat this three more times, then leave to rest in the fridge for about an hour.
To make the filling, melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Take it off the heat and add the spices and peel, then mix for about a minute, add the rest of the filling ingredients, and set it aside. Let it cool completely.
To make the cakes, roll the pastry out to about 2-3 millimetres (⅛-inch) thick, and cut out rounds with an 8 cm (3-inch) cookie cutter. Place a bit of the filling in the centre of each dough circle, brush the edges lightly with water, then gather the pastry around the filling (as a parcel) and squeeze them together.
Roll it gently between your palms, place it on the board so the seam is down and pat them into a thin round disc. Repeat with the rest of the dough, re-rolling the scraps as you need. Arrange them on a large baking sheet lined with baking paper and make two or three cuts in the centre of each disc, brush them generously with the egg wash, and sprinkle with the sugar (if desired). Bake them in a preheated oven, at 200˚C (400˚F) for about 15-20 minutes. Serve them warm or chilled, to your liking. Makes 16 pastries.