Gur Cake

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.Gur Cake - Wholesome Ireland - Irish Food & Parenting Blog

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.

Enjoy gur cake with a cup of strong tea.Gur Cake - Wholesome Ireland - Irish Food & Parenting Blog

58 thoughts on “Gur Cake”

  1. Fabulous and so well presented. I am favouriting this.

    I should check out that book as my granny (born circa 1900) was from The Liberties.

    xx Jazzy

  2. Well that’s fascinating: both the origins and the ingredients! I’ll be trying this for sure xx

  3. My dad has Gur Cake and Coal Blocks and I’ve been meaning to read it for ages – you’ve just reminded me! We used to get a cake like this in London, it was one of my mum’s favourites and I wonder did it remind her of home. It was just called fruit slice – not nearly as colourful as Gur Cake 🙂

  4. As a Corkonian living in Waterford I have been laughed at for calling this Chester Cake….I was the one laughing when I heard they call it Donkey’s gudge here!

  5. Yep North-South Food has a recipe in the Guardian for a fruit/squashed fly slice. It’s similar but there are regional variations. That book is a great insight into growing up in the tenements. x

  6. You’re right about gingerbread – makes great gur cake. Something I always make spares of anyway

  7. Dr Hows Science Wows

    Great cake, especially loved the history.. never heard of it before, must ask my parents if they know of it! I will have to try it!

  8. CatherineAnn Minnock

    My father really enjoys these cakes, and wanted to add that in Moate, Westmeath in the 1950s, they were known as “Plum duffs”!

    Really enjoyed reading about the “gurriers”, a list should be made… I bet there’s a different neame in every county!

  9. Oh childhood memories aplenty. My gran used to make this when I was little. I have a little christmas cake left over … it is bound for makings of gur cake now.

  10. Have read the two gur cake recipes you have and i am trying this one as we speak. hope it works out for this afternoons picnic. Used half breadcrumbs and raisins.

      1. Delicious! Happy faces all over this house. I used the pre-made pastry and managed to make a quiche and a gur cake from one sheet. After doing a little reading I discovered you don’t even need crumbs, just soak the bread, slices/heels/cut off crusts, in the juice and tea and mush it up. There is very little sugar in this and with the raisins or mixed fruit you have a nice, child friendly ultimate frugal cake. Thanks.

  11. I’m from Waterford, and my mother always referred to the cake as Chester Bread – never heard it called donkey…

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      1. Ohhh Hahaha, Well I made the cake, and it was still very good! I think the orange juice adds depth of flavor! Thanks for responding!

        1. Hey, do you live in Ireland? Your name Caitriona suggests you might. If you do I would really like to talk to you about something.

    1. Julie Beswick-Valentine

      Relieving the fruit stall in the markets or picking up fallen fruit ( don’t judge – times were hard) otherwise just strong black tea was used. My mam would often use stewed apple instead but we are culchies and have apple trees, however dried fruit was only to be seen in our house at Christmas.

  14. My mam used to make this in (Newcastle(Geordie).
    She was a cook during the war, and used to add rum essence, . Delicious…. With or with out….

  15. This Austrian here is trying this with stale Guglhupf. One hour to go until we can try it. It’s a bit if a shame that I can’t compare it to what it “should taste like”.

  16. In Australia, we knew this as “Squashed Flies Pie” or the easier to pronounce “Dead Fly Pie.” The more polite just call it fruit slice, which is most boring.

  17. I’m a Dubliner and yes i’ve Had Gur cake takes me back with pleasant memories. However, my Aunts recipe to my memory had a mixture of raisins & sultanas. Great desert with hot custard.


    1. Oh brilliant, I don’t tend to have it with custard but great suggestion! Isn’t it lovely how we all have our own recipes and memories of how to make things. Have you tried making it in her recipe at all?

  18. Lynda Washbrook

    Hi Caitriona, I was born and raised in Waterford, it was in the 1960 on our way home from school we would stop to buy chesterbread. Depending on which bakery made it the consistency went from dry to juicy. I have made it myself here in Canada along with the Waterford Bla….as i miss them both. A very interesting read, my uncle Tommy was from the Liberties so i am well familier with the term Gurrier.
    Many thanks,

  19. We used to buy a piece of this cake the size of a half brick for 11p, it filled you up for the day while we bunked off school in the late 70s L,pool puddin cake we called it.

  20. Paulette Wilson

    Thanks for this fabulous read and wonderful recipe. I come from Newfoundland Canada and we grew up with tea time. Which funny, was sometimes ten o’clock at night. Never heard of Gur cake but can’t wait to try it! At Nanny’s and aunties houses in the country we had tea at every meal. Another at ten PM. And we slept very well. Anyways, I’ll be making this Gur cake which is new to me. ,,, very soon!! Thanks a million!

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  22. susan kimball

    Never knew the name of it but my son who lives in Galway liked it very much. Now, thanks to you, I will make it for him.

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