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The Wee Treat That Wowed Ottolenghi's Pastry Chef

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What dish defines how Londoners are eating now? We asked leaders in the city's food scene to share a recipe that says "London" to them. Helen Goh is Yotam Ottolenghi's longtime collaborator on all things dessert and the co-author of his forthcoming book Sweet.

It was a few months after I had arrived in London. Compared to Melbourne (where I had lived for nearly thirty years), a culinary hub where interesting, affordable food was never far away, the scene in London seemed to me to be dichotomized between high-end, Michelin-type restaurants and me-too chains on the high street. In theory, you could get everything; in practice, you often ended up with nothing.

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My husband and I decided to try St. John in Smithfield. I knew that Fergus Henderson had made his name championing nose-to-tail eating, but other than that, didn’t know what to expect. The meal was unexpectedly delicious. Bold, pared back, unpretentious (bone marrow and parsley salad; a single perfectly braised carrot for an entrée) and probably the first meal I had had in London that was like nothing I had ever eaten. 

Fergus Henderson's Red Salad

Fergus Henderson's Red Salad by Kristen Miglore

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Fergus Henderson Can Make You—Yes, You—Want to Eat Pig's ... by The Curious Pear

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Then it came time to choose dessert.

Now, I usually go for luscious, fruit-based desserts. The description for the Eccles cakes (caramelized currants encased in pastry) didn’t sound very appealing. I didn’t even know what an Eccles cake was. Also, I don’t love cheese, and this was paired with Lancashire. It sounded an odd combination, which was probably the reason I decided to try it. Everything else had been so good, I thought I’d go for it on trust.

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Fergus Henderson's Eccles Cake
Fergus Henderson's Eccles Cake

The dish was presented unadorned—a puck of pastry, a wedge of Lancashire cheese. The (puff) pastry, oozing dark caramel from its deep slashes on top, was tender and flaky. A thin layer of sugar crust cracked delightfully when I first bit into it—no exaggeration to say this excited me. Inside, buttery currants (or other fruit?), a bit sticky, with that deep caramel flavor. On its own, it was beautiful; complemented by the savory note of the cheese, perfection. 

Eccles cake with Lancashire cheese. It takes me straight back to London, to St. John's, and to dish I probably couldn’t have found anywhere else in the world.  

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Fergus Henderson's Eccles Cake

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Makes 12 pastries

For the puff pastry:

  • 1 pound 2 ounces bread flour
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt
  • 4 1/2 ounces cold unsalted butter, diced, plus 1 cup cold unsalted butter, divided
  • 1 cup cold water
  • 2 teaspoons white wine vinegar

For the filling and assembly:

  • 1 3/4 ounces unsalted butter
  • 4 ounces (scant) dark brown sugar
  • 7 3/4 ounces currants
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 3 egg whites, beaten with a fork
  • Shallow bowl of superfine sugar

To see the rest of our Food52 Goes to London guide, head here.