Thor CakePosted: November 4, 2012
When I was young, one of my favourite books was A Country Child by Alison Uttley. The descriptions of her Derbyshire farmhouse home reminded me very much of my grandmother’s house in Shropshire and although I never invited the entire school back to see an Easter egg nor had a brush with death from falling tree limbs, her childhood reminiscences seemed pretty much idyllic to my eyes.
In 1966, Ms Uttley brought out a book of recipes and reminiscences from her late-Victorian childhood called Recipes from an Old Farmhouse. One of the recipes it contains is for Thor Cake, a traditional Derbyshire bake for Bonfire Night.
“We ate it under the stars, with mugs of hot milk, or spiced elderberry wine for adults. We watched the sparks fly, we shouted at the fireworks as we had our feast.”
Some linguists believe Thor Cake can be traced back to Anglo-Saxon times when ‘theorf’ or ‘tharf’ meant unleavened. In Scandanavia, the winter solstice saw a celebration in honour of the god Thor, commemorating the creation of the world from darkness, and as the longest night, was known as Mother-Night. It was this celebration that became known as Yule. The peace offerings dedicated to Thor were unleavened cakes, sweetened with honey. The invasions of the Vikings brought these celebrations to these Isles, and I find it astonishing to think that eating this cake around a celebratory fire is a tradition that stretches back more than a thousand years.
For a number of years I’ve been trying to find a recipe for Parkin that I like. I like oats and treacle and spices, so you’d think that Parkin would be right up my street, but no. I’ve baked many a recipe, bright-eyed with hope – only to end up with some dried up slab you wouldn’t want to drop on your toe – not twice, anyways. Even when I have curbed my impatience and waited the required several weeks before cutting into it, each time all I’ve got is disappointment. But with Thor Cake, I can abandon forever the Parkin Pursuit, because this cake, my friends, is awesome!
This particular recipe produces a cake that is soft and chewy, lightly spiced with ginger and brightened with candied peel. I have a personal rule when trying old recipes for the first time, and that is, out of respect for the original author, to bake it as written. I’ll be honest with you, sometimes it’s very difficult, when you’re asked to do something that goes against all your previous expence. Sometimes, these doubts are justified, but mostly I am pleasantly surprised. I must admit I had my doubts with this recipe, because it seemed awfully liquid: a quick zoom around the internet revealed that other recipes added flour to the oatmeal. But I resisted the urge to tinker and so when the instructions said to knead the mixture like dough, all I could do was pour it into the tin. But I shouldn’t have wavered – it baked wonderfully in its allotted 45 minutes and is so unbelievably delicious, I doubt it will last the week.
Alison Uttley’s Thor Cake
450g medium oatmeal
225g Demerera sugar
15g ground ginger
0.5tsp ground mace
0.5tsp ground nutmeg
60g candied lemon peel – chopped
60g candied orange peel – chopped
112g black treacle
225g unsalted butter
- Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
- Grease and line with parchment a 20cm square tin. Use whatever tin you have to hand, but you want the mixture to be quite thick in the pan. It doesn’t rise much in cooking, so don’t worry if you find the tin looks rather full.
- Put the dry ingredients into a bowl and mix well.
- Stir in the egg and the candied peel.
- Warm the treacle and the butter over a low heat until the butter is melted.
- Pour the treacle/butter mixture into the dry ingredients and mix well. The mixture will seem very wet. That’s OK.
- Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and bake for 45 minutes.
- Cool the cake in the pan.