sexta-feira, 12 de setembro de 2008

Pontefract cakes

My friend as often had her family name linked to a cigarette company, the name Dunhill conjures up the smart lighter and sleek cigarette holder but not so frequently, well never, associated with the true family link, that of the Pontefract cake.

In the Middle Ages, Pontefract Castle was one of the most important fortresses in the country. It became a royal castle in 1399, upon the accession of Henry Bolinbroke to the throne. Richard II subsequently died in the castle the following year after being one of many important prisoners to lodge there.
Also known as Pomfret cakes, Pontefract cakes are sweets; squishy little coins of liquorice made in the West Yorkshire town of the same name, once the most important area in England for liquorice cultivation. The liquorice plant, whose sweet, aromatic root gives the characteristic flavouring, grew splendidly in the soft loam earth and was soon put to good use in cough mixtures by monks at the nearby Priory. By the early 17th century, liquorice extract was being produced in small stamped discs, but still sold for medicinal purposes. Then local apothecary George Dunhill hit upon the idea of adding sugar, and the Pontefract cake was born. Melted into creamy custard and baked in the oven, they make sublime desserts with an intriguing flavour. I like them with a fruit 'leather' made from the first pink, forced rhubarb of February.
Now if you want to try pontefract-cake custards here is arecipe

Preparation time : 30 minutes
Cooking time : 40 minutes
Total time : 1 hour 10 minutes

Makes: 6


568ml carton double cream
350ml whole milk
80g Pontefract cake sweets
6 medium egg yolks
150g caster sugar


  1. Heat the cream and milk together in a saucepan to just below boiling. Meanwhile, chop the Pontefract cakes into small pieces (scissors make the job easy). Add them to the cream. Simmer over a gentle heat, stirring regularly, until the Pontefract cakes have dissolved into the cream. Remove from the heat and leave to cool a little.
  2. Preheat the oven to 170°C, gas mark 3.
  3. Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until creamy then stir into the cooled cream mixture. Pour the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve and use to fill 6 x 130ml oven proof ramekin (you may have some mixture left over). Stand the ramekins in a roasting tin and pour in enough hot water to come three-quarters of the way up the sides of the ramekins. Cook for about 40 minutes, or until set. Remove from the roasting tin and leave to cool.
  4. Serve at room temperature with along with pieces of rhubarb leather for dipping.

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