Sly Cakes are a sweet pastry with a filling of spiced dried fruit. They are a traditional recipe from the North East of England.
When I went for a wander about the Grainger market and visited the French Oven Bakery I found they were selling a cake called Sly Cakes. I had never heard of these before so I decided to see if I could find out more. The cakes themselves looked like currant slices, but with that name they had to have a fascinating history.
Digging further I found out that sly cakes can be found in Lancashire, Yorkshire, Cumbia and Durham. There are various fillings. Traditionally currants, butter and sugar are used but there are also variants that use figs.
Sly cakes are baked in a tin and in many Tyneside kitchens an old dinner plate was used. Sly cakes are thought to be named because they have an plain boring appearance on the outside but when you bite into them you discover the rich filling within. They are also known as Cheats cakes in some places.
Whilst finding out about their history I also found out that there was a link between the town of South Shields, the American Civil War and sly cakes. The story begins in the 19th Century when a Scottish family called Chisholm came to South Shields from America. The family ran a bakery in Thrift Street near the docks. The daughter, Margaret often helped out in the bakery and became interested in a young man, William Whitfield, who lived further up the street.
Mr Chisholm was a strict Victorian father and kept a close eye on this daughter, but not close enough. Margaret was secreting love letters in the cakes which she passed to William whenever he bought something at the shop. This went on for five years.
Eventually they sought permission to marry but when this was denied they eloped. Margaret jumped from her bedroom window and they sped off in a horse and trap, heading north with Mr Chisholm in hot pursuit with a pistol. He failed to catch them and they were happily married. The cakes that carried the hidden love letters are fittingly called sly cakes.
I think it is a lovely story and makes sly cakes so much more interesting. I had to have an attempt at making them. Sly cakes are make in two parts, the outer pastry and the inner filling. I do not often make my own pastry, it is much easier to buy it. This time I decided to have a try. Every time I make pastry the words of my domestic science teacher ring in my ears ” Shortcrust pastry, half fat to flour”. This was a sweeter pastry with sugar added to the mix.
Once the pastry was done I rolled half out and put it in a baking tray. The other half was to top the filling. The filling was made using dried figs, walnuts and sultanas which were chopped and added to a pan with some water. This was cooked until the water evaporated and the filling was sludgy. All that remained was to put the filling on the pastry, cover with more pastry and to bake in the oven.
The resulting slices were lovely, a very rich filling in a lovely sweet pastry. They make a perfect treat with a cup of tea and would also be ideal to go in a lunch box as a sweet treat. The family loved them and I have been told I must make them again.
Read more: Traditional recipes from North East England
Why not pin the recipe for later?
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Have you ever made sly cakes? Let me know below.