Over the years, English cuisine has developed many qualities, but perhaps the thing we’re most famous for is our sweet tooth. The art of baking has been closely associated with England for centuries, and it is in the development of cakes for every occasion that English baking has been most inventive. What started as a luxury for the wealthy during the Middle Ages gradually became accessible to the rest of the population and now, there is an enormous range of cakes, biscuits and fruit buns that have a distinctive English flavour. Here are some of the most popular and famous cakes produced in England and sold around the world.
The Eccles cake is one of those baked products that divides opinion in England, but if you like currants or raisins in your cakes, then this is the one for you. First produced in Eccles in the city of Manchester, it is packed with dried fruit that is wrapped in flaky pastry and cooked until the whole becomes a solid mass of warmth. It was traditionally part of the English school dinner, and has developed into a distinctively English cake, drawing its appeal from its simplicity.
Occasionally referred to as a Victoria sandwich, this famous sponge cake comes high on the list of every cake-love in England. Named in honour of Queen Victoria, the sponge became popular during the 1800s when afternoon tea became an established English tradition. The thick wedges of sponge laced with jam became a firm favourite of the upper and middle classes and there are few more reliable cake contenders in the English baking firmament.
The Chelsea bun, which has some similarities to the cinnamon rolls popular in Scandinavia, was first made in the 1700s at the Chelsea Bun House and has become a popular traditional teatime cake. Baked with cinnamon, lemon peel allspice and other aromatic ingredients, the Chelsea bun was reportedly a favourite of King George II, and it was even recorded that he would walk every morning to the Bun House to buy the buns for himself and the Royal household.
The use of carrots as a sweetener dates back to the 900s when Arabian chefs are reputed to have used carrots in place of honey to provide sweetness to their desserts. There are versions of carrot cake in many countries, but it grew in popularity in England during the Second World War, when rationing meant sugar and other ingredients were in short supply. Originally, a plain cake, it received a twist in the 1960s with the addition of cream cheese icing, which turned the dessert into the classic tea time favourite that we know today.
Named for the Portuguese island of Madeira, and for the sweet dessert wine produced in that part of the world, Madeira cake was created to be the ideal accompaniment for dessert wins. But the cake soon became popular in its own right and there are recipes for Madeira cake dating back to the 1700s. The simple, but enticing cake received another boost in popularity when Eliza Acton, one of the most influential of English cooks, included a Madeira cake recipe in her 1845 book, Modern Cookery for Private Families.
Its delicate colours and sophisticated recipe make the Battenberg cake a much loved and yet hard to recreate English cake. It is served in a rectangle, formed from different coloured cakes, which are sliced, arranged in a chequerboard pattern, and then wrapped in marzipan. When made correctly, it is an impressive spectacle, and a true test of the baker’s art. Originally created for the wedding of Princess Victoria and Prince Louis of Battenberg, it is a distinctive English treat.
Few baked products better convey the cosiness of traditional English life than the warm scone, adorned with clotted cream and strawberry jam. Whether you like your jam on top of your cream or vice versa, it’s the centrepiece of the classic English cream tea. In fact, the scone has its origins in
Scotland. The Scottish bannock, a quick and easy to make bread that is grilled over open flame is the predecessor of the scone, which was named after the town where Scottish kings were once crowned. The earliest recorded example of a scone being eaten was in 1513, but in the centuries since, the scone has developed into a quintessentially English tea time treat.
Sticky toffee pudding
Sticky toffee pudding has a reputation as being one of the most traditional of English cakes, but in fact it is the most modern food on this list. It was created at a hotel in the Lake District in the 1970s, though the original recipe is said to have come from a Mrs Martin, who lived in Lancashire. An intensely sweet sponge, sometimes covered in chopped dates and then baked in a golden syrup, may have been inspired by an attempt to create a US style muffin, but whatever its origins, it has become one of England’s favourite desserts in a short space of time. Usually served with ice cream or custard, it is a modern classic, and likely to remain a firm favourite for a long time to come.