Tag Archives: dried fruit

{12} Festive Ecclefechan Butter Tarts

Merry Christmas to everyone! Here is the final instalment of my 2013 festive baking marathon. I had intended to get them all done by Christmas Eve, but the social whirl, preparing for Christmas day and need to spend a fair amount of time in the garden tidying up after storm damage meant that I didn’t quite hit that target. However, we are still in the limbo period between Christmas and New Year, so at least this offers an easy little recipe to have a go at when you’ve had your fill of Disney films and chocolates.

Last year I made some mince pies to round of the baking madness, so this year I’ve done a bit of a variation on a theme. However, I understand that mincemeat can be a bit of an acquired taste, so instead I’ve made some miniature versions of a Scottish classic, the Ecclefechan Butter Tart, which also have lots of fruit and nuts in them, but rather than the spices, they are enriched with a thick mixture of butter, brown sugar and egg. This is all mixed together and baked, so it puffs up a little on the surface, while inside it is soft, moist and sticky. Ideal as an easy alternative if you have guests coming who just can’t get into mincemeat tarts.

eccelfechantarts1

While it is tradition to use dried fruits like currants and sultanas, plus glacé cherries, walnuts and citrus peel, you can play around quite a bit with the filling. For example, brown sugar is traditional in the filling (giving a slight toffee note), you can easily use white sugar if you want a lighter filling so that other ingredients are not overpowered. Rather than lots of currants and sultanas, you could opt instead for mostly candied orange peel for a more citrussy affair (perhaps a little like that other Scottish delight, the Edinburgh Tart). By that stage, you’re probably getting rather far from a true Ecclefechan tart (and it would be a shame to have to forgo the highly amusing name when presenting to guests), but go with what you like.

I think it is important to get the pastry as thin as you can. I rolled it out, then pressed it in a buttered muffin tray to get it very thin. When you make them with these proportions, you might think there is not that much filling and feel they look a bit mean. All well and good, but the filling is very rich, so if you make them too big, you’ll probably struggle to eat even one of them. Just keep this in mind if you are tempted to double the quantities!

eccelfechantarts3

When serving these tarts, they are great at room temperature, but I’m sure you could warm them slightly. I’ve left mine plan, but you can finish with a little water icing, or a sprinkling of icing sugar for a more festive look.

You might also recognise this tart from a previous post. Yes, I’ve made this before as a large tart to be served by the slice, so if you want something grander for a party, then that’s also an option.

eccelfechantarts2

So…there we have it! The Twelve Festive Bakes of Christmas for 2013! I hope you’re enjoyed these recipes and they’ve given you a little bit of inspiration.

To make miniature Ecclefechan Butter Tarts (makes 12):

For the pastry:

• 150g plain flour
• 50g butter, cold, cut into cubes
• 25g icing sugar
• 1 egg yolk
• cold water

1. In a bowl, rub the butter into the flour. Once the mixture resembles breadcrumbs, add the sugar and mix well.

2. Add the egg yolk and just enough cold water so the mixture comes together (1-2 tablespoons of water is probably enough). Cover the pastry in cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

3. Grease a non-stick muffin tray with butter. Roll out the pastry very thinly and use a circular cutter to make discs to put in the tray holes. Use your fingers to press down the pastry, pushing it up the sides to make it as thin as possible. Spike the bottoms with a fork, and pop the tray into the fridge to chill while you make the filling.

For the filling:

• 65g butter, melted and cooled
• 100g soft brown sugar
• 1 egg, beaten
• 1/2 tablespoon white wine vinegar
• 25g walnuts, chopped
• 100g dried mixed fruit (currants and sultanas)
• 25g chopped candied peel
• 25g glacé cherries, chopped

1. Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F).

2. In a bowl, combine the sugar, butter and eggs. Stir in the vinegar, walnuts, dried fruit and cherries. Divide among the 12 pastry cases.

3. Bake the tarts for 12-15 minutes until the pastry is golden and the filling is slightly puffy and lightly browned in the centre (turn the tarts during baking).

Worth making? Absolutely. This is a very simple, yet rich, alternative to mincemeat pies at this time of year, so idea for those that don’t like (or want a change from) all that spice.

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Little Simnel Cakes

In keeping with the Easter theme, I’ve tried to make a traditional Simnel cake, but in miniature form. To to be clear, these are miniature cakes. Let’s just not use the work “cupcake”.

A Simnel cake is an Easter tradition – a spicy fruit cake which also includes a decent amount of marzipan. You probably have to love marzipan to want to eat Simnel cake, but if you do, you’ll love it. Circular reasoning, but true.

It has a long pedigree, first appearing in mediaeval times, and was originally associated with Mother’s Day, but with time, this has come to be linked with Easter. The Easter connection is also seen in how the cake is decorate with marzipan – there should normally be eleven marzipan balls on top, representing the true apostles, minus Judas. For rather obvious reasons.

The mixture itself is really simple to make, and can also be changed depending on what you’ve got in the cupboard and your personal preferences, provided you keep the quantities the same and don’t do silly things like replacing raisins with fresh pineapple. Dried fruit can be swapped out for another type of dried fruit, but sweet, juicy fruit could do all manner of things to the mixture. By all means experiment, but you’ve been warned. I used candied peel, sultanas and raisins, but a few chopped nuts, dried cranberries, dried blueberries or even dried pineapple or mango would all work too.

The marzipan is the fun bit. Traditionally, the bright yellow marzipan is used, and by all means, go with that, but I prefer the look of white marzipan, which I think is rather more elegant.

Now, you do get a real marzipan hit with a Simnel cake. It’s not just on the cake, it’s in it too. You can either chop some into chunks and fold into the batter, or roll out a disc and place in between two layers of the uncooked cake batter, so that marzipan bakes into the cake. Then you finish the cake with another layer of marzipan and the marzipan balls, and finally – brush with egg white and pop under the grill to give the cake a lovely burnished golden look. Otherwise, use a handheld blowtorch to bring a little more finesse to the burnishing. There may be reason for this touch, but I don’t know what it is, beyond the fact that it’s traditional and looks rather pretty.

For the record, and for the curious, the recipe below can easily be scaled up to make a full cake (20cm diameter), but just be sure to adjust the cooking time accordingly.

Happy Easter!

To make mini Simnel cakes (10 mini cakes or one normal size):

For the cake:

• 300g self-raising flour
• 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
• 1 teaspoon mixed spice or Lebkuchengewürz
• 120g butter
• 120g soft brown sugar
• zest of 1/2 lemon
• zest of 1/2 orange
• pinch of salt
• 3 tablespoons golden syrup(*)
• 300g mixed dried fruit (**)
• 50g chopped candied peel
• 2 eggs
• 100ml milk
• 200g marzipan

Preheat the oven to 150°C (300°F). Grease and line a large muffin tray with paper cases.

Mix the flour and baking powder. Rub the butter into the flour using your fingers. Add the rest of the dry ingredients (spice, sugar and dried fruit) and mix well. Add the egg, golden syrup and milk. Stir well, then add until the mixture is soft but not runny, and drops easily from a spoon.

Put half the mixture into the muffin cases.

Next, divide the marzipan into pieces and roll into discs. Place one into each muffin.

Add the rest of the mixture on top of the marzipan, smoothe down, and place in the oven to cook for around 30 minutes (until an inserted skewer comes out clean). Leave the cakes to cool then decorate with the marzipan.

(*) If you don’t have maple syrup, use dark corn syrup, rice syrup, agave nectar or maple syrup.
(**) Currants, raisins, sultanas, cranberries, blueberries…whataever you want, as long as it’s dried.

For the decoration:

• 300g marzipan
• 3 tablespoons strained apricot jam or quince jelly

• 1 egg white

Use one-third of the marzipan to cover the cakes. It is easiest to use icing sugar to dust a worktop,  roll out the marzipan with a rolling pin, then use a circulate cutter to cut a circle for the top of each cake.

Brush the top of each cake with jam/jelly, then put the disc of marzipan on top. Smooth the marzipan, and if you want, use your fingers or a knife/spoon/fork to make a pattern round the edge.

Next, roll out balls of marzipan and arrange 11 on top of each cake. Brush the marzipan with a little egg white, then place under a hot grill or use a blowtorch to heat the marzipan until it is lightly browned.

Worth making? Yes – provided you’ve got the patience to do the fiddly marzipan on top, this cake is simple and delicious.

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Sugar, spice and all things nice – Chelsea Buns

It occurred to me the other day that while I happily call my blog “LondonEats” I have not really looked at London recipes. So time to make a bit of a change, and presenting the famous Chelsea bun.

They are said to originate from the 1700s, and were apparently a particular favourite of the then-new monarchy, the House of Hanover, including George II and George III (he of the “Madness” fame) and Queen Charlotte. History does not, alas, record whether these buns played any role in George III’s deterioration, or indeed in his subsequent recovery.

The name tells you about exactly where they sprang from – a bun house in Chelsea, called – surprisingly – The Chelsea Bun House, located between Chelsea and Pimlico. Even if the original is long-gone, you can still stroll down Bunhouse Place today. Well…actually…this street is now technically in Pimlico, but it’s probably too late to try and change the well-established name of this sticky treat.

So what are they like? Think of an enriched yeast dough (not too sweet), which is formed into swirls and studded with dried fruit, baked in a single tin so that the buns merge into each other as they prove, then glazed with a sweet, sticky syrup which seeps down into the fruit filling. The result is fruity and delicious, and utterly perfect with a cup of tea. Most English cakes are at their best with a cup of tea.

When it comes to exact recipes, there is, as ever, a variety of recipes. Some contain cinnamon, some recipes feature nutmeg, and then there are those with a little or lots of citrus peel, and those that have just currants or sultanas. Even the syrup has lots of variants – ranging from a light glaze through to thick, sticky, sweet  coating with butter and honey.

Taking all this in the round….I came up with my own version. The biggest shock to myself was that I didn’t include any cinnamon. I’m normally a huge fan of cinnamon, but I thought that this could so easily overpower the flavours from the sultanas, brown sugar and honey. In the event, each of these ingredients still imparted a subtle “spiciness” to the finished buns, which was very welcome. The filling was otherwise a combination of mixed dried fruit (currants, sultanas and a few dried cranberries) plus candied peel. But if you want to add nuts, cherries or anything else, then feel free. Spices and fresh citrus zest can also go in there if the mood takes you.

So give them a bash! Perfect to tuck into while you are watching the Royal Wedding on 29 April.

To make Chelsea buns (makes 9, can easily be doubled):

For the dough:

• 100g plain flour
• 125g strong white flour
• large pinch of salt
• 40g butter
• 2 tablespoons white sugar
• 1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
• 120ml milk
• 1 egg, beaten

For the filling:

• 100g dried fruit
• 25g candied peel, chopped
• 50g soft brown sugar

For the glaze:

• 25g brown sugar
• 50g honey
• 1 tablespoon milk

• Pinch of salt

Put the flours and salt in a bowl, and rub in the butter. Add the yeast, sugar, milk and egg. Start mixing with a spoon, then use your hands. Work for around 5 minutes, until you have a smooth dough. Cover the bowl with cling film, and leave somewhere warm until the dough has risen and is about double the size (30-60 minutes).

Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°C) and lightly grease a square tin with butter. Take the dough, knock it down, then on a floured worktop, roll out into a large rectangle.

Now prepare the filling: mix the fruit, candied peel and brown sugar in a bowl. Scatter evenly across the rolled dough. Roll up the dough like a swiss roll (roll lengthwise), seal the edge, and cut into 9 pieces. Arrange cut side down in the tin (the buns might not touch when you put them in the tin – this will change when the puff up, as in the pictures).

Leave the buns to rise for about 30 minutes or until doubled in size. Bake for around 25-30 minutes until the buns are golden-brown. Just before the buns come out of the oven, melt the honey, sugar, salt and milk to make the glaze. Allow the buns to sit for a couple of minutes when the come out of the oven, then brush with the glaze. Leave to cool.

Worth making? If you like fruity breads, then you will like these buns. They are very easy to make (if you’ve got a bread machine, you make the first stage using the dough cycle). The result is rich, sweet, sticky and delicious.

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Scottish food: the famous Ecclefechan Butter Tart

You thought I was done with the Scottish food? Guess again! It’s the Ecclefechan Butter Tart!


This is similar to one of the first sweet tarts I ever learned to make, called “Border Tart”. This was a simple pastry shell, filled with dried fruits, cherries and nuts, all in a soft mixture of sugar, eggs and ground almonds. Taking it up a notch, today’s recipe is the slightly fancier Ecclefechan Butter Tart, which originates in the Scottish Borders town of Ecclefechan. The difference between this and the Border Tart is (and from this point, I am probably just making parts of it up) seems to the loss of the almonds, a lot of butter, and a deeper filling in the Ecclefechan Tart. They might also have different fruit…


In fact, I know they have different fruit in them. Mixed dried fruit used to contain sultanas, raisins and – if you were lucky – a few small pieces of bright scarlet glacé cherry. The bag I picked up had two sorts of sultanas (normal! golden!) plus raisins, apricots, peel and dried cranberries. I’m sure granny wouldn’t approve. But no cherry, so I added a goodly amount of them too. It was interesting to see that the ones I found were “natural” and a deep reddish-purple. Probably better for you, but part of me misses the neon red cherries from back in the day.

This recipe came to prominence a couple of years ago, as these tarts were presented as an alternative to mince pies at Christmas. Leaving to one side why anyone would want to replace the mince pie (hey, we only eat them for one month of the year, hardly over-exposed!), I can see why this would be appealing – you have a buttery pastry, a filling of mixed dried fruits and chopped nuts, enrobed in brown sugar, but without any spices. And the texture? Ah, that’s where the magic happens. The best way to describe it is like the filling in similar to a pecan pie, but with lots of fruit instead of just the nuts. Most of the filling becomes a thick, rich, buttery caramel, while the surface becomes slightly puffed-up and lightly browned, contrasting with the dark inside.

As if all this were not enough, there is also one “mystery ingredient” to provoke a no, really? moment – a tablespoon of vinegar. I really have no idea what this does, but it works in this tart, so don’t skip this step. Just be sure to limit yourself to one spoonful, and use a wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar – industrial vinegar is just that little bit too sharp for me, and I don’t think it would work too well here.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little gastronomic tour through Scottish cuisine – how often do you make traditional foods?


To make an Ecclefechan Butter Tart:

For the pastry:

• 100g plain flour
• 50g butter, cold, cut into cubes
• 25g caster sugar
• 1 egg yolk

In a bowl, rub the butter into the flour. Once the mixture resembles breadcrumbs, add the sugar and mix well. Add the egg yolk and just enough cold water so the mixture comes together (1-2 tablespoons of water is probably enough). Cover the pastry in cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. Use to line a 20cm loose-bottomed flan dish, and prick with a fork. Place the tart shell in the fridge while making the filling.

For the filling:

• 125g butter, melted and cooled
• 200g soft brown sugar
• 2 eggs, beaten
• 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
• 50g walnuts, chopped
• 250g dried mixed fruit
• 50g glacé cherries

Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F).

In a bowl, combine the sugar, butter and eggs. Stir in the vinegar, walnuts, dried fruit and cherries. Pour into the pastry shell.

Bake the tart for 25-30 minutes until the pastry is golden and the filling is slightly puffy and lightly browned in the centre (turn the tart during baking).

Worth making? Wow. This tart is superb. Lots of dried fruit might make you think of Christmas, the buttery filling is more like a pecan pie. It’s rich and sweet and a great afternoon treat, either as one large tart or individual little pies. I made it to take to afternoon tea with a housebound friend, and like to think that it helped with recuperation!

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Festive Chocolate Clusters

On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love made for me… festive chocolate clusters! Try singing it – it sort of works. Just.

This is just about as simple as baking can get, Pop Tarts excluded. I was attending a friend’s Christmas drinks at the weekend, and had promised to take something. As I have my own drinks event next week, I was a little but protective of my cookies, so I thought about making a little chocolate treat which is packed with all sorts of festive goodies in it. Think a grown-up version of the rice crispie cake.

This was the same crowd that had been wowed by my chocolate tiffin several weeks previously, so it was not a major leap to change from a tray (non-)bake to mini-clusters of seasonal cheer. But I needed a recipe, as I had to get the combination of dry stuff-nuts-fruit-chocolate right. I could wing it, but I did a little research, and saw Chocolate & Zucchini recommended two cups of other ingredients to 250g of melted chocolate. Armed with this rule of thumb, I went forth and immediately started to play around with it. Live dangerously…

Now…drum roll…while I usually work by weight, this time I went with cups. One cup of “dry” stuff, one-and-a-half cups of dried fruit and nuts (I couldn’t resist adding a but more), and then 250g of chocolate. Simple!

For the “dry” stuff, I used spelt flakes. These have a nice nutty flavour and stay super-crisp even when you’ve added them to something, so that adds a welcome bit of texture. I bulked this out with speculoos biscuits I had in the cupboard. If you don’t know these, they are crisp biscuits that you find all over Belgium and the Netherlands. They have a spicy, gingerbread flavour and because they are made with dark sugar, have a caramel-like flavour and sharp snap. Be on the lookout next time you’re in Rotterdam or Antwerp! So I took my treasured speculoos, smashed up a few and threw them in. This would add some festive spiciness, but provide a bit of variety from the usual cinnamon.

For the “fruit and nuts”, I raided the cupboard and went for broke. Whatever I could find. Toasted flaked almonds, chopped glacé cherries, chopped apricots and juicy sultanas. This provided a few different textures, flavours and colours to brighten up my clusters.

All of these tasty good things were going to be lovingly enrobed in melted dark chocolate, and then lovingly spooned into little mini-cupcake cases. The chocolate was also lovingly mixed with a large pinch of finely ground sea salt to enhance the flavour, and a tablespoon of good old British golden syrup, to provide a little rich sweetness, and the make the chocolate a little softer in the finished clusters. I wanted them to set, but not to be rock hard.

Once I had prepared the mixture, I had grand plans to be über-efficient, and put the mixture into a piping bag to fill my cases, but the mixture was clearly setting too quickly on what was one of the coldest nights of the year. So back to basics, just me and a couple of teaspoons. And as you can see, the results are actually pleasingly irregular. Sometimes a sultana perched on top, sometimes flaked almonds peeking out side.

These clusters are delicious. Rich, crisp, juicy and nutty by turns, and – dare I say it – a complete success. They are also endlessly customisable, so just throw in whatever you want, although I am rather taken with flaked almonds and apricots.

For 30 chocolate clusters:

• 1 cup dry ingredients (*)
• 1 1/2 cups nuts and dried fruit, pressed down (**)
• 250g dark chocolate
• Large pinch sea salt, finely ground
• Tablespoon golden syrup (optional)

Place the chocolate, salt and syrup (if using) in a double boiler and allow the chocolate to melt. Stir well.

In the meantime, combine the dry ingredients and the nuts/fruit in a bowl. Combine well, ideally using your hands to break up sticky bits of fruit.

Pour over the melted chocolate, and mix until combined. Use teaspoons to transfer the mixture into mini-muffin cases. Sprinkle with any toppings (tiny flakes of salt, gold leaf, chopped pistachio…or leave au natural) and allow to cool.

Best served at room temperature so that the chocolate is softer and the flavours more intense.

(*) I used 1/3 cup (20g) spelt flakes and 2/3 cup (60g) crushed speculoos biscuits.

(**) I used 35g sultanas, 45g glacé cherries, 45g toasted flaked almonds and 80g dried apricots. And I mean pressed down in the measuring cup, to get the most fruit you can fit into these little treats!

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