St. John's Eccles Cakes with Lancashire Cheese
Fergus Henderson’s St. John is the restaurant that launched a thousand pig logos—and many imitators. Since it opened in 1994 in a whitewashed former smokehouse next to London’s wholesale meat market, St. John and Fergus Henderson have become much-copied gastronomic icons. It is easy to see why Henderson is held in such high regard by fellow chefs. With the restaurant’s commitment to nose-to-tail eating and food that is unadorned, almost to the point of stark minimalism, the menu at St. John does not compromise. It is true to itself.
In the kitchen, Henderson is self-taught and has never worked under any other chef. He is acutely concerned with the ritual and symbolism of eating. This orientation, combined with his professional training as an architect, is reflected in a sense that Food Is Art at St. John. The capitalization is important, and it is reflected in the manner in which Fergus himself speaks, with pithy aphorisms delivered from behind his owlish glasses.
The town of Eccles is now a suburb of the city of Manchester in the north of England, but it was traditionally part of the county of Lancashire. Rich in currants and spices, these cakes are the perfect accompaniment to the fluffy “buttery-crumble” of the local Lancashire cheese.
THE FILLING: Melt the butter and sugar together in a medium-size skillet. Add the currants, allspice, and nutmeg. Let cool before using.
THE PASTRY: Heat the oven to 400°F. Roll the puff pastry out to a thickness of 1⁄3 inch. Cut out rounds approximately 3½ inches in diameter. Place a spoonful of the filling mixture in the center of each round; pull up the sides of the pastry to cover the filling. Pinch the ends to seal tightly. Turn over and make 3 slits in the top of each cake.
Brush the top of each cake with some of the beaten egg whites. Dip into the sugar. Arrange the cakes on two baking sheets. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until dark golden (keep an eye on them so they don’t burn). Eat the Eccles cakes hot or cold, served with a wedge of Lancashire cheese.
Written by Francis Percival
Photography by Keiko Oikawa