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Traditional British Desserts

Tuesday 31 October 2023

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Britain has a long and rich history of producing delicious desserts, which is not surprising - it is the best part of a meal, right? Join us on a culinary journey around the UK to discover some of the most popular traditional British desserts and their origins.

We’ve put together recipes of four traditional British puddings that locals love. From the Cornish coast to the Scottish Lowlands, you can bake these beautiful British puddings at home. Alternatively, if you’re in town, we’ve mentioned some local eateries where you can pick up the dessert made by an expert.

Eccles cakes

Technically not a cake but a pastry, Eccles cakes are a traditional British dessert especially beloved in the North West. Eccles cakes originated in (you guessed it!) the town of Eccles in Greater Manchester. Round and flat in appearance, they consist of a buttery puff-pastry filled with dried fruits and spices, and are baked until they are flaky golden brown. These cakes make the perfect treat for afternoon tea and are easy to make at home.

Why not try an Eccles cake with afternoon tea at the Manchester Art Gallery Café? The Gallery Café is located just a 12-minute walk from Manchester Piccadilly station.

Ingredients: Makes 10 Eccles cakes

For the pastry

  • 350g plain flour
  • 250g cold butter
  • Juice of half a lemon

For the filling

  • 25g butter
  • 200g currants
  • 100g light muscovado sugar
  • Zest of 1 lemon and orange, plus a few tbsp of orange juice
  • 1tsp each of cinnamon, ginger and allspice
  • 50g mixed chopped peel

To glaze 

  • 1 egg white
  • Demerara sugar to top

How to make Eccles cakes

  1. Dice the butter and put in the freezer to harden. Mix the flour and salt in a bowl and lightly rub in the butter until you have a breadcrumb texture. Add the lemon juice and 100ml cold water slowly in stages, mixing before each addition, until you have dough.
  2. On a floured surface, roll the pastry out into a rectangle (about 20x30cm). Fold the two ends of the pastry into the middle, then fold in half. Chill the pastry in the fridge for 15 minutes, then roll the pastry out again and refold the same way three more times. Make sure you rest the pastry for 15 minutes between each roll and fold. Then leave to rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
  3. Melt the butter for the filling in a large pan. Remove from the heat and stir in all the other filling ingredients. Make sure they’re completely mixed, then set aside.
  4. Once the pastry has chilled, preheat the oven to 220°C and line a large baking tray. Roll out the pastry on a floured surface, it should be a bit thicker than a £1 coin. Then cut out eight circles about 12cm wide and place around 1tbsp of the filling into the middle of each circle.
  5. Pinch together the sides of the circles using a little water to make them stick. Turn the pastry over so the smooth side is upwards and put them on a lined baking sheet. Press down to flatten slightly, and repeat with the rest of the circles.
  6. Once all the cakes are formed, be sure to seal up any breaks in the pastry and cut two small slits into the top of each cake.
  7. Brush generously with the egg white and sprinkle on some sugar. Bake for approximately 15-20 minutes until golden. Allow to cool before eating, as the filling will be very hot.

A landscape photograph of Porthcurno Beach in Penzance in the summer.


Cornish Hevva Cake

Despite the name, a Cornish hevva or ‘heavy’ cake is not particularly heavy and is essentially a light fruit cake. Another traditional English dessert, this delicious Cornish delicacy was traditionally made by fishermen’s wives to welcome their husbands home from a successful fishing trip. Its main distinguishing feature is a criss-cross pattern marked on top of the cake, resembling a fishing net.

You can try this classic Cornish speciality at Rowe’s Bakers. They have bakeries all over Cornwall, but there are two within a ten-minute walk of Penzance station.

Ingredients for one thin cake

  • 175g plain flour
  • ¼ tsp fine salt
  • 1-2 tsp ground ginger or cinnamon, or a combination
  • 40g granulated sugar
  • 80g unsalted butter
  • 75g currants
  • 25-50g chopped mixed peel
  • 2tbsp milk or water

How to make a Cornish hevva cake

  1. Preheat the oven to 190°C and lightly grease a baking tray.
  2. Mix the flour, salt, spices and sugar together. Rub in the butter until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Mix in the other ingredients including just enough milk or water to make a stiff dough.
  3. Lightly flour a surface and roll the dough out to about 1cm thick in a rough oval shape. Carefully place onto the baking sheet. Make a criss-cross pattern on the top with a sharp knife.
  4. Bake in the oven for about 25-30 minutes until golden.

Welsh Cakes 

Welsh cakes - the traditional treat of Wales - have been enjoyed since the late 19th century. They were a favourite with coal miners, thanks to their small size and delicious taste. This popular griddle-baked delicacy is a cross between a scone, a pancake and a cookie and is incredibly unique in taste and texture.

Try this Welsh favourite at the Fabulous Welshcakes bakery in Cardiff. As the name suggests, it is dedicated to baking speciality welsh delicacies. There are two Fabulous Welshcakes in Cardiff, one just a ten-minute walk from Cardiff Central Station.

Ingredients for eight Welsh cakes

  • 225g self-raising flour
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 100g butter or margarine, plus extra for cooking
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 50g currants
  • 1 egg, beaten with 3tbsp milk

How to make Welsh cakes

  1. Mix the flour and salt together in a large bowl and rub in the butter or margarine. Add the sugar and currants and stir well.
  2. Pour in the egg mixture and mix until you have a stiff dough.
  3. Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface until 5mm thick and cut out rounds with a pastry cutter.
  4. Grease a flat griddle pan or heavy frying pan and place over a medium heat. Cook the cakes in batches for about 3 to 4 minutes each side until they are golden brown and have risen slightly.
  5. Sprinkle with a little caster sugar and serve immediately.

Edinburgh Castle on a sunny day, taken from Princes Street Gardens.

Scottish Shortbread 

Shortbread is a traditional Scottish dessert. This decadent buttery biscuit has been a year-round favourite for centuries and was particularly popular with Mary Queen of Scots. It originated from dried, hardened dough left over from bread making. The yeast in the bread was replaced by butter and shortbread was born. This irresistible Scottish favourite is incredibly simple. Consisting of only four ingredients, it makes the perfect treat to bake at home.

Indulge in this crumbly delicacy at the Shortbread House of Edinburgh, a 20-minute bus journey from Edinburgh city centre towards Leith.

Ingredients for 18 pieces

  • 240g all-purpose flour
  • 230g unsalted butter, cubed and softened
  • 120g caster sugar
  • ½ tsp salt

How to make Scottish shortbread

  1. Preheat oven to 180C. Grease a square baking tin with butter.
  2. Mix the caster sugar, flour, salt and butter in a bowl until it resembles breadcrumbs but is soft and comes together as a dough.
  3. Pour the mixture into the greased baking tray. Use your fingers to firmly press down the mixture. Prick the shortbread with a fork, creating rows of small dots.
  4. Bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes or until light golden and firm. Let it cool and then cut into fingers and serve.

As well as sampling local delicacies, there’s loads to do in the destinations we’ve mentioned, as well as other cities and towns all over the UK. If you’re keen to have a staycation, make sure you take advantage of great savings with our Advance train tickets.

Written by Abby

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