It’s always the chef’s prerogative to cook what they like to eat. In our house it means that mushrooms never cross the threshold as I really, really don’t like them. Luckily I have found a kindred spirit in my husband. It was the same when I was growing up. Mam never cooked cabbage which holds memories of that smell permeating the house and a big pot bubbling on the stove for hours on end. There are a couple of other dishes that she didn’t cook or serve while I was growing up that I can remember (Mam if you’re reading this I said remember!). One of which was Gur Cake.
The first time I remember tasting it was from the Teatime Express shop on Talbot Street which is still nestled in a tight corner beside the Irish Life Shopping Centre. The shopfront is quite small and you could miss it if you didn’t know what you were looking for. To the uneducated eye gur cake a dense slab of fruitcake coated top and bottom with crumbly shortcrust pastry and sprinkled with sugar on top. It is fruity, very filling and not quite as sweet as some of the other treats available from the shop. It’s also about the size of a brick!
I brought 2 slices home that first day and we had one each. I marvelled over the cake and himself laughed at my innocence because I hadn’t tasted it before that I could remember. He told me that it was called Gur Cake because it was what Gurriers ate – a old Dublin word for a messer, and that it was traditionally made with stale bread or cake. So for a few weeks I brought the cake home on Fridays on the way home from work for him thinking I was doing him a favour. He then told me that the Gur Cake wasn’t the nicest because he preferred his moister, almost custard-like in texture and thinner, so less pastry and less filling. The challenge was set.
This is my tested version of Gur Cake. The key to the best flavour is to use stale cake crumbs as hard as possible. I used approximately 300g of left over madeira cake, you can use buns, victoria sponge or any kind of cake you may have in the house, it doesn’t need to be a particular flavour and actually using some chocolate cake crumbs lends to the rich flavour. I crumbled it in my fingers while still moist to a breadcrumb texture then laid it flat on a baking tin the day before baking open to the air to let them “harden” turning over once or twice with a spoon. I guess if you were in a hurry you could harden the crumbs in a low oven.
The next morning I took a packet of premade filo pastry out of the freezer, then I took 100g of raisins and poured a mug of freshly brewed tea (no milk!) over them. The pastry takes about 3 hours to defrost so I left them on the counter and came back to them just before lunch. When I heated the oven to 170 degrees Celcius.
I put the cake crumbs into a large bowl, drained the raisins and added them to the crumb mixture, then added 1 teaspoon each of ground ginger and cinnamon, 2 tablespoons of treacle and stirred. The mixture became a bit claggy but not wet. I poured 100ml of fresh orange juice on top and stirred again. The mixture becomes very very wet and smells a bit like Christmas.
In my oven grill pan – with the grill removed, I first covered it with baking parchment then I layered 3 sheets of filo pastry by brushing melted butter between each layer. The grill pan is smaller than a standard baking tray and the pastry covers the sides as well as the bottom. The filo comes in a packet of 6 sheets so essentially I put half on the bottom, half on the top. On top of the bottom sheets of filo I pour the full cake mixture then repeat the layering with melted butter.
Once the layering is finished I tuck in any of the extra pastry and liberally brush the top with melted butter, then sprinkle well with sugar. Into the preheated oven it goes for about 25 mins. Once golden brown on top I remove the tray and leave it to one side to completely cool before cutting the slices.
I shared slices of this cake with the neighbours over the weekend. Yesterday evening our next door neighbour K dropped back with the empty box I’d given him with a massive smile. He said it was just perfect and exactly how he remembered it as a kid. There is no higher compliment in my book!
Or as we call in Cork, chester cake! (I much prefer its raisinless pink icinged cousin the Russian Log)
Since I started chatting about this again yesterday, I’ve discovered a number of different names including “donkey’s gudge cake” apparently!