I’ll come right out with it.
While there will be music and art and poetry and drama and goodness-knows-what-else on offer this coming Friday as part of Culture Night, there’s not, it would seem, much going on that relates to food and drink.
To be fair, the slogan for the evening is “what will you see?” and not “what will you eat and drink?”, so I suppose that the opportunity to see, if not drink in, the remains of an ancient Dublin pub on the night is a reasonable compromise.
With that in mind, I went along to look at one of the new venues opening their doors to the public as part of this year’s event. The Dublin Civic Trust is housed in a restored Georgian shop and merchant’s house near Dublin Castle.
More to the point, the Civic Trust is home to a fascinating exhibition of pieces from ‘The Irish House’. This was a fabulously stuccoed Victorian pub which was sited on Wood Quay and, though long since demolished, its external scenes of Irish nationalist heroes made it a remarkable building during its time. It was, no doubt, an intriguing place to have a pint of porter, though you will just have to use your imaginations for that part.
There will, however, be no need to imagine the fish and chips that you will find yourself demolishing after your visit to the Civic Trust. The townhouse is just around the corner from Leo Burdock’s, the oldest (and bestest) chipper in town. And while it may not be an official Culture Night venue, it’s as real a piece of Dublin culture as you can eat.
After all of that, you might, perhaps, be expecting a recipe for fish ‘n’ chips. Instead, here’s another piece of eminently edible Dublin culture: Gur Cake.
Those of you who have spent any amount of time in Dublin may have met some gurriers – the local brand of young lad, generally thought of as being up to no good. To ‘go on the gur’ meant to mitch (or skip school in other words) and so-called gur cake, made traditionally from leftover stale bread or cake, was one of the cheapest things to buy from the baker, so young lads ‘on the gur’ would buy pieces of gur cake to fuel their school skipping activities.
You will find this in Dublin bakeries still, though nowadays it will more usually be labelled fruit slice (or possibly Chester cake) – moistened bread or cake crumbs mixed with fruit and treacle or sugar, and spread between two sheets of pastry. It’s a simple and economical thing to make which, these days, makes it seem like an old cake for new times.
- Makes around 54 3cm x 3cm squares of cake & takes approx. 1 hour 30 min to prep, including time for pastry to chill and fruit to soak + 30 min to bake
For the pastry:
- 250g plain flour
- 125g cold unsalted butter, cut into approx. 1cm cubes
- pinch of salt
- approx. 3 tblsp cold water
- a little milk to brush on the pastry (optional)
For the filling:
- 300g stale bread (about 8 slices of sliced pan)
- 350ml fresh, strongly brewed tea
- 150g mixed dried fruit (sultanas, raisins or whatever else takes your fancy)
- 2 tblsp treacle
- 2 tblsp golden syrup
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- 0.25 tsp cinnamon
- 0.25 tsp cloves
- pinch of salt
You’ll also need:
- Rectangular baking tin – mine was 27cm x 18cm and about 4cm deep
The Pastry Steps:
- Let me preface this by saying that if making pastry is something which causes you grief, your first step here should be to refer to Jenni’s tips on pie crust to ensure that you have a happy pastry experience.
- In a large bowl, whisk the flour and salt together well.
- Rub the butter into the flour until the texture resembles coarse meal, but with some larger (approx. pea-sized) lumps of butter remaining.
- Sprinkle over a tblsp of the cold water, and toss the flour and the water together. Squeeze a handful of the mixture – if it sticks together and doesn’t crumble apart, it’s ready. If not sprinkle on some more water and repeat.
- Roll the pastry out (ideally between a couple of sheets of parchment paper) so that it’s large enough to make a base and lid for your baking tin, then chill for at least 30 minutes.
The Filling Steps:
- Remove any very thick, hard crusts from the bread.
- Place the bread in a medium-sized bowl and pour the tea over it. Allow the tea to soak in and soften for a minute or two, then mash well with a fork. You need just enough liquid to wet all of the bread – the mashed bread mixture will be stiff rather than overly liquidy.
- Stir in fruit, treacle, golden syrup, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and salt. Mix well and leave to plump up for an hour or two.
- When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 200C
- Remove the pastry from the fridge. Use half of it to line the base of your tin (just lining the base and not the sides). Then smooth the filling over the base layer and top with the rest of the pastry.
- Prick the pastry topping all over with a fork, brush with a little milk if you like, and bake until golden, around 30 minutes or so. Allow it to cool in the tin before slicing into squares and eating with a cup of tea. Skipping school is optional but does add to the whole experience.
- Given the nature of this cake, it’s really all about using what you have on hand. You can certainly substitute molasses and, say, corn syrup for the treacle and golden syrup, or just replace the lot with brown sugar. The finished product actually reminded me of mince pies, what with the buttery pastry and warm, Christmas spices, so I think that you could expand that theme by adding some orange and lemon zest and perhaps a little drop of brandy.
Loved this little piece of Dublin culinary history. I’ve never come across the cake by any of the names you mentioned, but that was because I didn’t know to look for it! :) Now I’ll have my eyes peeled!
I’m so happy to find that Leo Burdock is rated high by local standards. It is always the one I find recommended and we loved it, but you never know if it is truly the best. Glad to know you think so!
I haven’t seen that in years! Probably because I haven’t been in a local bakery in years. The filling ingredients have a lot in common with plum-pudding don’t they? I’m thinking that you could make a plum pudding pie.. ah, yes! A new level of extravigance for Christmas!
We would have loved to visit the Civic trust exhibition, hopefully we will come back next summer! The gur cake looks so scrumptious!
Finally posted about our lunch :)
Wow! In Dublin, they make an incentive for folks to misbehave! I love it, and I’m moving there immediately.
I was in Dublin once for a wedding in 1996, and I remember being simply blown away by the sheer number of “years on her.” I love in such a young country, which is cool in a way, but we do miss a sense of long-ago-history to really bind us.
Enough of that, though. I’m skipping work today and going to find me a gur cake! Thanks for the slice of Dublin history:)
PS Maybe you could start a Food Culture Night w/the tag line “What Will You Taste?”
Lori: I’d actually had the cake many times without knowing either the name Gur Cake or the history; I’ve only been recently enlightened on the matter myself!
Yummy: Hello there – thanks for dropping in! And yes, it does have things in common with plum pudding – a plum pudding pie sounds positively decadent :)
5 Star Foodie: I’d never have known about the Civic Trust if it hadn’t been for Culture Night – and I have passed by there many times!
Jenni: I might just have to skip work with ya, in that case! We can work on the Food Culture Night together while munching on our gur cakes :D
I haven’t heard from these gur cakes before but they surely look so tasty!
Thanks for sharing with us!
You’re welcome Sophie – and indeed they were tasty. I will definitely have to make some more soon :)
Thank you so much for visiting! It’s been forever since I’ve been on your site, I’ve been out of the blogging world awhile. It is soooo good to be back! I read a tweet you posted to Tangled Noodle where you used the word “scuppered”. I laughed because I had no idea what that meant! :)
thanks for the education. i love learning the story behind foods!
Joie de Vivre: …and it’s great to see you back, looking forward to visiting you again :)
Dina: You’re welcome! I’m always curious about the story behind foods myself :)
We have a version of these up north, and one of my favourite traditional buns.
Booze makes me crave savoury though, much rather have them with a cup of tea!
Hi Sarah – I must admit to having been very fond of the bakery version of these for several years. And sure a cup of tea is yer only man when it comes to washing these down :)
What a fun read, and it sounds like a grand time. I of course liked to hang out with gurs so this sounds like my kind of snack.
Hey OysterCulture, you’d enjoy it for sure!
Traditionally we would use the heals (end with crust) of old loaves of bread to line the tin and cover the top of the mixture rather than pastry.
Gur cake is the poor mans desert, like bread and butter pudding. You wouldn’t usually have the makings of pastry. You just use the left over bread and as much fruit as you can afford :)