British Invasion, Part Two

Well, hi there! It’s Week 18 here at Library Life Hack and we are back in the kitchen with another mystery British recipe.

This mystery goes by the name of “Eccles Cakes”. I was actually introduced to them by another Canadian, and based on their very high ratio of fat and sugar, they quickly became one of my favourite treats. In my hometown of Edmonton, I’ve only been able to find them in one place and that’s Safeway. They’re not cheap ($5.29 for six), which makes them a perfect test subject for life hacking.

yum yum yum!

yum yum yum!

Dan Lepard, Baking Genius
If you read my last post, you’ll know that I had quite a search on my hands when it came to finding a recipe for Genoa Cake. Eccles cakes were a little easier. A lovely-sounding recipe turned up in the U.K. newspaper The Guardian, authored by Dan Lepard, who seems to be a baking genius.

You can use a library database called Press Display to find this recipe in the Jan 6, 2012 edition of The Guardian, or you can pick it up off the online edition, which you’ll find here.

OK, I Cheated a Little
When I made these, I cheated with the pastry and bought TenderFlake ready-made puff pastry, but I mostly followed everything else in the recipe. And when they came out of the oven, they were fabulous! A bazillion times fresher-tasting than Safeway and packed full of currants. (In comparison, the Safeway ones are a little lardy, too.)

Some Handy Hints
If you make these yourself, here’s a few hints:

  • This recipe makes a lot of filling. Buy two 397 gram packages of the TenderFlake pastry, and you should end up with about 18 eccles cakes.
  • The recipe calls for 500 grams of currants, but a pack of Safeway currants is only 449 grams. Just top it up with raisins, if you’ve got them. If not, don’t worry.
  • Double the sugar in the currant mixture, just so that there’s something to hold all those currants together in the filling.
  • Instead of brandy, add Glayva to the currant mixture. (I didn’t have any brandy in the house.) Yum-tastic!
  • When you’re assembling, use only about 50 grams of the currant mixture (1 1/2 tablespoons)
  • I couldn’t really figure out the folding and shaping in Dan Lepard’s recipe. Here’s my workaround, inspired by the suggestion of Mark, husband to my colleague Sarah:
    Mark's clever idea for folding eccles cakes

    The Lazy Girl’s Method for assembling eccles cakes

The Numbers
There isn’t a huge price difference here: homemade eccles cakes work out to about .77 each and Safeway ones are about .88 each. But, like the homemade goat cheese experiment, there’s a major difference in the quality of the finished product. In the end, you’ll save about $1.98 on a batch of homemade eccles cakes. (That qualifies as a tiny cha-ching!)

Let’s Talk About Press Display
I’ll take a quick minute to go back to Press Display, the database tool that I used. It really is the coolest thing. It gives you access to more than 40 Canadian newspapers and hundreds of international papers in dozens of languages. It’s just like reading the newspaper itself, except that it’s online. Here’s a clip of another story about eccles cakes.

Apparently, you shouldn't put these in the microwave

Apparently, you shouldn’t put them in the microwave

It’s free, and if you live in Alberta, all you need to access the full version is a library card. It’s all online and beautifully set up for viewing on a tablet or an iPad.

And that’s it! Thanks for tuning in, and have a great week!

P.S. I am very proud to announce that I am finished one sleeve of the world’s longest knitting project. Just one more to go! (She said, ever-so optimistically.)


British Invasion, Part One

Hello there! It’s Week 17 here at Library Life Hack. This past week, I started reading “The Weird Sisters” by Eleanor Brown. Its overleaf contains a wonderful piece of wisdom:

“There is no problem a library card can’t solve.”

Isn’t that so true? It’s Library Life Hack’s new mantra.

Only Slightly Less Impressive than Christopher Columbus
In April of 2010, two other weird sisters (that would be me and my sister) went on a trip to England, home of the Sainsbury’s chain of grocery stores. In the Sainsbury’s store on Magdalen Street in Oxford, my sister and I discovered genoa cake.

Genoa cake is a light fruit cake and we both loved it. A pound of genoa cake cost about a pound sterling at Sainsburys and somehow, those pounds magically changed hands almost every night we were overseas. We had genoa cake with tea, with aged cheddar, with Marks & Spencer’s pink port, and just by itself. Based on the amount of genoa cake we consumed, we probably should have come home 20 pounds heavier. Each.

The Search Starts
That’s the back story. Now, the front story is that my sister just had a significant birthday and I thought it would be fun to surprise her with a homemade genoa cake, since they are non-existent in our hometown of Edmonton. Finding a recipe seemed like the perfect challenge to bring to Library Life Hack.

“Perfect” turned out to be an understatement. I couldn’t find a recipe book with a “genoa cake” listing anywhere. I put Julia, one of the wonderful virtual librarians at my home library, on the job. She started looking through databases and said she’d email me when she had news.

“Genoa Fail”
The subject line of Julia’s email said it all: “Genoa Fail”. She couldn’t find a recipe either. I turned to the internet and found a recipe that looked trustworthy, on the website of the British “Good Food Channel”, home base for a pile of famous English chefs. You can find it for yourself here.

Ahhh ... just as good as I remembered

Ahhh … just as good as I remembered

And What Happened Next?
It’s finally summer here in my hometown of Edmonton, but I took advantage of a cooler night to see what the Good Food folks were getting me into. The genoa cake was quick to whip up (about 20 minutes) and baked in about an hour.

Ahhh … it was as good as I remembered. Soft spices, lots of candied fruit, but grated orange peel keeps it from being too sweet. The recipe also uses ground almonds to complement the flour you’d typically find in a North American recipe.

A Manly Man’s Fruit Cake Here
The ground almonds make it nice and robust. This is not a fruit cake for sissies — I could picture Carson and Mr. Bates tucking into a slice of my genoa cake after an afternoon of heaving bottles around the wine cellar at Downton Abbey.

Which Brings Us to an Interesting Point
There isn’t a “numbers” section in this week’s post, because there aren’t technically any library materials involved in this life hack. But it’s a good time to talk about two valuable things you’ll find in pretty much every library: library staff and public computers.

If you’re searching for something and you’re stuck, ask the staff at your local library. They have an amazing wealth of skills when it comes to pulling information out of obscure places. And they are extraordinarily helpful. If library staff can’t find something, no one can.

I have a home computer, but if I didn’t, the first fallback I’d be looking at is also my local library. Library computers are a lifesaver when your own computer has to be repaired, or if you’re travelling. You won’t think this is a big deal — until you find yourself without a computer for a few days. Then it’s a big deal. Trust me.

Back to the U.K. Next Week
And that’s it! Next week, we’re headed back to England, as I try re-creating another English treat I’m very fond of — Eccles Cakes. Until then, I hope it’s summer where you are, and have a wonderful week!

P.S. I’ve almost finished the first sleeve on the infamous Week 8 sweater. I think this is destined to become the longest knitting project in history.