Recipe: Fat Rascals
- Credit: Charlotte Smith-Jarvis
'There's nowt like a cup of tea and a slice of cake,' I can hear my friend Mat say in my mind in his singsong Yorkshire lilt as I remove a tray of Fat Rascals from the oven.
As cute (or menacing) as a button, their smell is both evocative and comforting. Butter, sugar, spice, citrus. It's a trick to resist them when they're freshly baked. Their crumbs tender and yielding. Nuggets of jewel-like candied peel and dried fruit giving a delicious chew.
I'd been inspired by the most recent BBC series Remarkable Places to Eat, featuring smooth-talking First Dates Frenchman Fred Sirieix. I'm late to the party I know (it first aired at the end of March) but came across the show while channel-hopping after a long day at work - there's something very soporific and calming about watching people eat and talk about food. TV Prozac.
In episode one of series three, Fred's whisked away to Yorkshire alongside lovely Nadiya Hussain, with a jaunt to the famous Betty's of Harrogate on the way for afternoon tea, fondant fancies, and these little beauties.
There's nothing particularly remarkable or fancy about a Fat Rascal. In essence they're a rock cake with a bit more pizazz. Versions and variations can be found across the British isles (albeit without the kitsch glace cherry eyes and almond fangs). Ireland has its dense railway cake (I prefer Ballymaloe's version - Stripy Cat - replacing currants or raisins with chocolate chips). Norfolk's nostalgic treasure chest holds shortcakes - flecked with dried fruit and liberally dusted with sugar. Then there are the often saffron-shaded heavy (or hevva) cakes of Cornwall, ripe for slathering with clotted cream and lashings of jam.
If you want to feel soothed. If you want to show someone a bit of love. If you fancy a bit of baking without being stuck in the kitchen all day, these cakes (or are they scones) will give maximum return for very little effort. From bowl to plate in less than 30 minutes.
A note on fillings and toppings. Raisins or currants are the traditional route, but I rarely have them in the cupboard, so mine were made with chopped dried dates, lending a gorgeous fudginess. So go with whichever you like. Unless you have access to a good deli selling high quality peel and cherries, if you want to impress I highly recommend Morrisons The Best range for these. The Italian candied orange peel and Italian glace Morello cherries from the superstore are literally some of the best I've baked with. I'd love to see your creations. Email me: firstname.lastname@example.org
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300g self-raising flour
1tsp ground cinnamon
125g unsalted butter, cold and cubed
100g caster sugar
1tbsp finely chopped candied orange peel
1/2tsp lemon extract
125g raisins/currants/dried chopped dates
1 large egg
1 egg to wash, beaten
Blanched or flaked almonds
Set the oven to 200C and line two trays.
Combine the flour, cinnamon, sugar and butter, rubbing with your fingers until you have breadcrumbs. Now add the fruit, peel, lemon extract, egg and milk. Mix with a knife to just combine. Don't overwork the mix or it will become too heavy.
On a lightly floured surface, split the mix into six equal pieces and shape into rounds about the size of your palm - to just under an inch thick.
Place on your prepared trays. Brush with the other egg. Cut six glace cherries in half and place on the buns to make eyes. Then use three almonds per bun to make teeth. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until slightly risen and golden. Best served warm with butter, spreads or cream. Try to resist dunking it in your tea like Fred!