Tuesday, 26 November 2013

My proustian moment: simple rock cakes

A taste of childhood - the humble rock cake

Food can so often evoke powerful memories. Whether it be the aroma of freshly ground coffee, the sensation of biting into a soft, ripe peach or the taste of a homely apple crumble; what, when and where we eat food can transport us to another time or place in a moment.

The French author Marcel Proust was famously moved to reflect upon his childhood memories when taking a small bite from a madeleine. The madeleine is a pretty, delicate French cake, baked in a special mould. It is indeed a lovely treat but Proust can keep his madeleines. The treat which takes me on a nostalgic journey to my former years is slightly less elegant. In fact, elegance is nowhere to be seen. It is not even desirable here! You see, I have an inordinate fondness for the humble rock cake.

Rock cakes are craggy, ugly little cakes but beneath their rugged exterior, they are actually rather delicious. A rock cake is probably one of the first things that I baked and, as they are very forgiving, they are ideal for a kitchen project with small children on a rainy afternoon. 

We have had builders working on our house for the past week and, in need of some comfort amidst the chaos, I decided to take a jaunt down memory lane and recreate the cakes of my childhood. As I stirred the mixture together, I recalled helping my mother (and grandmother) make these treats standing on a stool in order to reach the mixing bowl and then dolloping the blobs of mixture onto the baking tray.

A rock cake is part cake, part scone. The exterior should be slightly crusty and crunchy with sugar and the interior delicately spiced, generously fruited and have a fairly robust texture (you are not aiming for 'light and airy' here!). You can choose dried fruit and spice to suit but I favour currants and mixed peel only as this is how I remember them from my childhood. Other plausible additions include dried cranberries, chopped glace cherries, lemon or orange zest. The cakes are at their best when eaten warm from the oven or on the day of baking but you can store in an airtight tin for a couple of days. Warming them for a few minutes in the oven does revive them somewhat!

My son gets very little sugar in his diet but I have to admit that I couldn't resist giving him a rock cake to sample. No surprise that he absolutely loved it and I look forward to making these with him when he is a little older.

Rock Cakes
Makes approx 9


200g self-raising flour
1tsp baking powder
1 tsp mixed spice
75g demerara sugar, plus extra for dusting
100g butter, diced
1 egg, beaten
2-3 tbsp milk
100g currants
50g mixed peel

1. Pre-heat the oven to 170C and butter or line a couple of baking trays (I use reusable silicone sheets).

2. In a food processor, whizz together the butter with the flour, baking powder and mixed spice until it resembles fine crumbs and tip into a mixing bowl. Alternatively, rub the butter into the flour mixture by hand. Stir in the sugar and fruit.

3. Mix in the egg and just enough milk to make a thick, firm and sticky dough. Try not to over mix.

4. Dollop heaped tablespoonfuls of the mixture onto the baking sheet, leaving room between each one as they will spread a little. Do not worry about shape - they should be rustic-looking! Sprinkle the top of each with demerara sugar.

5. Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.

I am entering my rock cakes into the Tea Time Treats Challenge hosted by Karen at Lavender and Lovage and Kate at What Kate Baked.  Karen is hosting this month's challenge and has chosen the theme of dried fruit - a great way to use up some of the fruits left over from making Christmas cakes and puddings. There is already a most fantastic list of entries and I am looking forward to browsing through and getting inspired. Being greedy, we love teatime in this household and always feel slightly bereft when the cake tin in empty!

Tea Time Treats


  1. WONDERFUL post and entry Antonia, a humble rock cake also takes me back to my childhood too and I love these simple bakes, and often make a batch when I am feeling a little under the weather! Thanks for adding them to Tea Time Treats this month. Karen

  2. Mmm, these look so delicious, Antonia. I love anything with candied peel and currants!

  3. I have fond memories of eating and then making rock cakes myself as a child. So easy, inexpensive and moreish:)


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