For some of us it’s Ordinary Time again, and for others, this week is Whitsuntide. Whitsuntide– the week following Pentecost, or Whitsunday– was traditionally a very important holiday in the British calendar year. Beginning as a vacation week for Medieval villeins, for centuries it has been celebrated with Bank holidays, church parades, girls in white dresses, Morris dancing, and fundraising festivals known as “Whitsun Ales.” Though its importance has largely fallen by the wayside in modern times, Whitsuntide’s celebration of summer and the first fruits (both spiritually and agriculturally) makes for worthy observance.
Like the county of Wiltsire, Lincolnshire has its own traditional Whitsun cake. This cake is in interesting contrast to the Wiltshire Whitsun Cake, which I baked last week; while the one was a celebration of the first fruits of the season, the Lincolnshire Whitsun Cake uses the fruits of last season– namely, dried ones. It follows the parade of Christmas, Lenten, and Easter foods that incorporate dried fish, meat, and produce from the previous growing season. While I can’t speak to its history, it has a suggestion of the distant past– a time when out-of-season produce was wholly unattainable except in dried form. Rich yeasted dough is layered with spiced dried currants and brown sugar to create a layered pastry somewhere between a cake and sweet bread. The final product is charmingly rustic and homely on the outside, and somewhat more impressive on the inside. And like any layer cake, it is made festive by virtue of its layers.
Lincolshire Whitsun Cake
- 14 Tablespoons butter, divided
- pinch salt
- 2 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
- 1 package or 2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
- 2/3 c. milk
- 1 1/2 c. dried currants or raisins
- 1 c. packed brown sugar
- 1 egg, separated
- 1 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon allspice
- caster sugar for dusting
- Grease an 8″ springform pan, and line the bottom with parchment.
- Put 6 tablespoons of butter in a food processor, along with the salt, flour, and yeast. Pulse until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
- Warm the milk with a further 6 Tablespoons of butter until the butter is melted, then cool to body temperature.
- When the milk mixture is ready, combine it with the flour mixture in a large bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer, to form a soft dough.
- Knead for 10 minutes, then cover and let rest for 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, combine the remaining 2 Tablespoons of butter with the currant, brown sugar, egg yolk, and spices in a small saucepan. Heat until the sugar is moistened and the fruit softened.
- After 30 minutes, divide the dough into four equal parts. Pat one part into a disk to fit the bottom of the springform. Spread with one-third of the currant mixture.
- Repeat the layers, ending with dough. you will have four layers of dough and three of filling.
- Cover the springform and let rest for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350° F.
- Bake for 30 minutes, then brush with beaten egg white and sprinkle with caster sugar. Return it to the oven for another 25-30 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and the cake has shrunk away from the sides of the pan.
- Cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then remove the side of the pan and cool completely. Keeps for a week in an airtight container.