I mentioned on Saturday that I was making gur cake. I really didn’t expect the response I would get on all my social media channels from Dubs (people from Dublin), Corkonians (who call it chester cake) and Deise natives (from Waterford, who call it donkey gudge cake apparently). This is a cake that has huge heritage, and yet comes from a very humble beginning.
There’s an old Dublin term used to describe a young boy, a messer, somebody who gets up to mischief. That word is “gurrier”. In the early 1900s this was a kid who probably lived in the city centre tenements, they’d duck and dive around the city centre, grabbing food as and where they could. In the bakery, any cake cuttings and stale bread on the floor at the end of the day went to the gurriers, who would bring them home to transform into a treat (Gur Cake) that is still made to this day in Manning’s Bakery. If you’d like to read more about life in the tenements at the turn of the century, see can you get your hands on a copy of “Gur Cake And Coal Blocks” by Éamonn MacThomáis. It’s not in print anymore but I know there are copies in public libraries around the country and I’m sure there is a copy in Marsh’s Library and the Trinity College library too.
What I love about this cake is that it uses up leftovers and doesn’t leave a bit of waste from baking a cake. I love that it is traditional, it harks back to harder, more frugal times, and that it just goes to show the ingenuity that people had to make food stretch further. Gur cake is a traditional Irish food. Apparently there’s a meeting tonight to try and designate EU status in Cavan to boxty. How on earth somebody in Dublin hasn’t started the process for gur cake, I just don’t know!
I made portercake last week and as per usual I made too much, then forgot to freeze it so I ended up with a full loaf of stale cake to play around with for this recipe. You can make far less, or if you’re lucky enough to pick up a stale fruit cake then it makes the best gur cake and also eliminates a couple of steps in the preparation process. Other filling suggestions that would work include gingerbread and crystallised ginger, madeira cake and chocolate chips, or brown breadcrumbs and soaked fruit.
Gur Cake (serves 12)
- 200g shortcrust pastry
- 500g stale cake crumbs (I used portercake here)
- 150ml strong tea
- 150ml orange juice
- 1 teaspoon each of ground cinnamon & ginger
- 20g caster sugar (for dusting)
Preheat a (fan) oven to 160 degrees Celsius and line a deep baking tin well. I used a tin that was 18cm x 25cm and then a further 8cm deep.
Divide the pastry in half and roll each section so that they will fill the tin. The pastry doesn’t need to rise up the sides so a little bigger is okay because you can trim the pastry. Place half the pastry into the bottom of the tin and trim if you have to. Prick all over with a fork.
In a large bowl, combine the cake crumbs, tea, orange juice and ground spices. Stir well. Spoon the wet mixture on top of the pastry base and smooth until it’s level.
Place the second half of the pastry on top of the filling and trim if you have to. Prick the pastry top all over with a fork. Sprinkle the top with caster sugar.
Bake in the oven for 90 minutes. Remove and allow to cool completely before slicing.