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Rare Auld Dublin

Gur Cake

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.

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.

The Summary:

  • 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 [1] 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.

The Variations:

  • 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.
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