Which must not be confused with Lancashire parkin, obviously, for that way lies chaos and confusion. Or at the very least a cake lacking treacle, and what a loss that would be to cold weather baking everywhere.
For this is not a warm-weather treat. Oh, no. This is not a light, fluffy cake, produced with a flourish at garden parties, sporting wreaths of whipped cream and crowned delicately with precisely sliced fruit and a scattering of berries.
This is not a cake of gentle flavours, to be paired with sparkling water and elderflower cordial, tasting of captured sunlight and spring breezes.
This is not a cake to be split and layered, to be fussed over and cooed at. This is not a cake that requires faff. This is not a cake to win decorating contests, not a cake to sport candles and multi-coloured icing and names. This is not a cake for pretty plates and delicate forks, for lacy serviettes and doilies.
This is a cake to be chopped into rough chunks and passed around in your oldest Tupperware, grabbed in gloved hands and gobbled up in great hungry mouthfuls while the bonfire roars and sparks leap into the night, crumbs tumbling to the frozen grass and decorating your heaviest scarf and warmest jacket. This is a cake to be accompanied by hot, strong tea in thermos mugs, tea that’s maybe even been fortified from someone’s flask, this is a cake that tastes of the night and the cold and the fire, this is a cake that’s both a hug against the frost and a scream in the face of winter, this is a cake that doesn’t just say autumn.
This is a cake that says, the dark is coming, but we will weather it.
Also it’s just really tasty, so you can ignore all of that and have a good chunky piece in your favourite chair, with the heating on, a blanket over your knees, and a good book beside you. You know. Whatever works.
And I should probably go back to the whole Lancashire/Yorkshire parkin thing, since I started with that before writer brain kicked in. Parkin was originally baked for winter festivals, and the first versions were likely part of pagan celebrations to mark the first day of winter. It’s very much associated with the north of England, and Bonfire Night (5th of November) was actually known as Parkin Day in Leeds in the 19th century.
But while both Lancashire and Yorkshire have strong parkin traditions, the recipes aren’t exactly the same. The main difference being that Yorkshire parkin uses treacle as well as golden syrup, but it’s also more likely to include oatmeal. The oats make for a much denser and more crumbly cake, but you need something substantial to keep the cold at bay. And also to fuel dragonish investigations, because of course this recipe is from the upcoming Beaufort Scales cozy mystery, Bonfire of the Calamities!
It’s out on the first of December, and you can pre-order your ebook now at all your favourite retailers. Or you can just go and make parkin and glory in fierce autumn flavours. That works too (and there’s more details about Bonfire below the recipe should you wish).
- 200 g / 7 oz / 14-ish Tbsp butter
- 200 g / just over ½ cup / 9-ish Tbsp golden syrup
- 85 g / ¼ cup / 4 Tbsp treacle
- 50 g / 3 Tbsp + 1 tsp packed dark brown sugar
- 1 egg
- 4 Tbsp milk
- 125 g / 1⅓ cup oatmeal (or rolled oats blended just until still coarse, not floury)
- 225 g / just under 2 cups self-raising flour (or regular flour plus 1½ tsp baking powder)
- 2 tsp powdered ginger
- 1 tsp nutmeg
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- ¼ tsp ground cloves
- ¼ salt
Preheat oven to 160°C/320°F, or a little lower for fan ovens. Line a square tin with baking paper, or if, like me, you currently have no square tin, use what you have. But it should be the equivalent of around 22 x 22 cm, or a bit over 8 x 8 inches.
Pop the butter, golden syrup, treacle, and dark brown sugar in a pot, and heat until it’s all melted together. Let it cool a little while you combine the egg and milk, then add that to the pot (watching with trepidation to see if scrambled eggs will result, if you’re me). Give it a good mix.
Add dry ingredients to the same pan and mix it all together. Tip into pan. Bake for about 50 minutes to an hour, checking if a toothpick stuck in the middle comes out with gummy crumbs still attached. You want it a little undercooked, if anything. Glory in the autumn-y, spicy smells rolling around the kitchen.
Cool, then wrap tightly and pop in an airtight container, and hide it from both yourself and dragons for at least three days and up to a week before eating. Best accompanied by a frost, a bonfire, and some intrigue.
Adjust the spices to your liking. I added some cardamom as well because it seemed like a good idea at the time (never let me loose near a spice drawer).
Similarly, adjust the golden syrup to treacle balance to what suits your taste. Treacle has a really intense flavour, so more golden syrup will mellow the cake out and make it a bit sweeter.
No treacle? Molasses is basically the same, although it can be a bit stronger and less sweet, so you may want to go with a bit less of it and more golden syrup.
No golden syrup? This is trickier, as there’s no direct substitute. Corn syrup can be used in a pinch, but it lacks the lovely caramel flavour. You can make golden syrup at home, though – see below.
• 300 mL / 1¼ cups water
• 800 g / 4 cups sugar
• 2 Tbsp lemon juice
Combine sugar and water in a saucepan and heat slowly, stirring to dissolve. Bring up to the boil, add the lemon juice, then reduce heat to a low simmer.
Let the mix cook gently until it thickens and takes on a lovely golden colour, which could take anywhere from 40 minutes to an hour. Keep an eye on it, but don’t stir again once the simmering’s started, as you’ll risk crystallising the sugar. You can use a wet pastry brush to remove any crystals from the sides of the pan, though.
Allow to cool for a little, then decant into a glass jar to store. It should pour reluctantly – if it’s too stiff, reheat and add a bit more water. If it’s super runny, reheat and cook down a bit longer.
A good cause gone bad …
Miriam has never seen eye-to-eye with her sister. But when a body’s dumped on the doorstep of a Women’s Institute meeting and all signs point to Rainbow, Miriam knows her sister’s being framed. Rainbow might be monumentally irritating, but she’s no killer.
Going to the police would be the smart move, but even without the damning evidence on hand Rainbow’s got her own reasons for avoiding them. Before long she’s on the run, trusting to Miriam and the W.I. to clear her name. The killer’s left nothing to chance, though, and Rainbow’s in more danger than she realises – and she’s dragging the others right in with her.
Between rogue wildlife, clothing-optional informants, and Rainbow’s own team of obstinate rebels, the W.I. are in a desperate race to dodge the police and dig up the truth. But Miriam’s not backing down. Not this time. This is family, and she’s going to see this case through. Not even the dragons can stop her.
The killer might, though …
Now over to you, lovely readers. What baked goods or other dishes in your part of the world have deeply divided opinions on what the ‘correct’ version is? I’d love to know – let me know below!