Our book club has just finished reading Charlotte Bronte’s The Professor. To be honest, it was, like Villette, hard going and almost enough to have us wishing we’d ended our journey through Bronte-ville with The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. We did, however, commit to reading them all, so have now begun Shirley, following which we can move onto Jane Austen. (Insert relieved sigh.)
Anyways, the end of a book club book means it’s time for a book club baking session where we bake something inspired by the book.
Set (mostly) between Yorkshire and Belgium, I wasn’t short on inspiration. The challenge was choosing something that could be baked in 60-90 minutes, where everyone could easily source the ingredients, and as some of us were going to be staying away from home at the time of the bake, required minimal equipment. I also wanted something that was (at least vaguely) festive.
So, dear Reader (if you’ve read Charlotte Bronte you’ll get this), I’ve gone back to something I baked when we were reading Wuthering Heights (the link is here) but hadn’t chosen for our book club at the time. Something distinctly Yorkshire – Parkin.
I have, however, used a slightly different recipe this time to what I did last year – mainly to keep the ingredients list super simple. More on that, however, later.
Parkin, sometimes known as Ginger Parkin, Yorkshire Parkin or even, Thar or Tharf Cake, is a sticky ginger cake that originated in northern England – primarily Yorkshire and Lancashire. It would have originally been made with the local grain (oats) and honey, and later, when sugar imports made it cheap, treacle molasses. It also would have been cooked on a griddle (only the rich had ovens) and probably was more like a flapjack than the cake it is today. Although having said that, it’s also sold in some parts of the county as a biscuit or cookie. We tried them like this when we stayed at Westow (near Malton) in 2019.
Original recipes would have contained no flour at all – refined wheat flours being more from the south of England. Nor would they have contained any sort of raising agent – that being a Victorian invention (baking powder was first sold commercially in 1843). Most modern recipes will, however, include a combination of oats and flour and bicarb soda or baking powder.
As well as the oats/flour debate, the recipe differs in colour depending on where in the county you are. The closer you are to Lancashire, for example, the more likely the recipe is to be made with golden syrup and caster sugar, whereas further east it’s made with a combo of treacle and golden syrup and brown sugar. The latter is a little more crumbly, at least in the first few days after baking, but both versions are lovely.
As for the festive side, Parkin is associated with Guy Fawkes Night, the pagan feast of Samhain (from which Halloween has developed) and Martinmas on November 11, which marks the end of the harvest and the end of the agrarian year.
Okay, to the recipe. This one is from Yorkshireman, James Martin.
As well as being great as an elevenses, he serves it with ice cream, rhubarb and a spiced cider syrup made by boiling together 200g golden syrup, 100ml dry cider, and a half teaspoon each of ground ginger and mixed spice with a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg.
It’s an absolute doddle to make – pretty much melt and mix. The hardest part is not cutting it on day one as it’s one of those cakes that becomes more sticky and less crumbly as it sits, so is best if left for a few days (or couple of weeks in the case of the older recipes) after baking.
My husband has, however, gotten around this problem by slicing a square in half lengthwise and buttering it to have it with his coffee.
Finally, a note on the ingredients. One of our book club members lives in Canada where golden syrup isn’t as readily available (although it is, apparently, available) as maple syrup – so she used that and it turned out fine.
What you need
- 225g self-raising flour
- 110g caster sugar
- 1 tsp ground ginger (although I double this)
- 1 tsp bicarb soda
- 25g porridge oats or oatmeal (not the quick oats type)
- 1 egg
- 200ml milk
- 55g butter
- 110g golden syrup
- 22cm square cake tin, greased and lined with parchment/baking paper
What you do with it
- Preheat the oven to 150C/300F/Gas 2.
- Sift the flour, ginger and bicarb into a large bowl. Stir in the oats and sugar
- In a small pan over a low-medium heat, gently melt the butter and syrup, but don’t allow it to boil
- Beat the egg into the milk
- Gradually pour the butter and syrup into the flour and stir. The mixture will be thick and clumpy and smell like Anzac biscuits.
- Pour in the egg and milk and stir until smooth and pour into the lined tin. It will be a looser batter than you might expect
- Bake for about an hour or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Depending on your oven, start check for done-ness at around the 45 minute mark