Coventrys, Godcakes and Congleton Cakes

It’s all about triangular pastries this week.

Let us start with Coventreys (middle pastry in the above photo). Essentially, these are jam turnovers, but there are a few key characteristics that set them apart from your average turnover. For a start they are triangular, formed by cutting circles of puff pastry, adding a teaspoon of raspberry jam and folding in the edges of the pastry to form an equilateral triangle. These are then turned over and laid on the baking sheet with the seal underneath. The edges of the pastry are notched using either a flat-ended spatula, or a knife. This has two purposes. Firstly, it allows the steam to scape during baing, and secondly, it permits the jam to peek through in an attractive manner.

Godcakes (on the left in the above photo) also hail from Coventry, but according to Harris & Borella (All About Pastries, c1900) are actually more well known in their home town than regular Coventrys. Godcakes too are triangular, formed in the same way as regular Coventreys, but are baked with the seals upwards and visible. Their filling is of a rich mincemeat, and derived their popularity from being given as blessings by godparents to their godchildren, the three sides being symbolic of the Holy Trinity.

There’s some differing opinions as to when this gifting of pastries might have taken place. Harris & Borella maintain it was at Easter, whereas other sources claim New Year’s Day or even the festive season itself. This might be down to the filling. Nowadays we tend to associate mincemeat very much with Christmas, but originally it was eaten pretty much all year round, and a number of eighteenth century cookery writers, including Hannah Glasse, have recipes specially tailored for consumption during Lent.

There’s certainly a long history of symbolic cakes tied to the church. A ‘God’s Kichel’ is mentioned in Chaucer’s Summoner’s Tale, and defined as

Kichel: A flat Christmas cake, of a triangular shape, with sugar and a few currants strow’d over the top – differing, only in shape, I believe, from a bun. Cocker says “Kichel is Saxon – a kind of cake of God’s Kichel, a cake given to God-children when they ask blessing of their God father.”¹

The third pastry is, I confess, something of a mystery in that I have not been able to find much detail about them at all. Congleton Cakes, aka Count Cakes, have long been celebrated. They are of triangular form, with a raisin inserted at each corner; and, from being eaten at the quarterly account meetings of the Corporation for more than a century, they are called ‘Court Cakes’. The three raisins are thought to represent the mayor and two justices, who were the governing body under the charter of James I. By others, they are supposed to symbolise the Trinity. ²

Aside from their shape, and the detail of the three raisins at the corners, there’s no further information that I have been able to find. The pastry, if indeed it is that, might be shortcrust, sweet shortcrust, puff or hot water crust. It might even be bread dough, either plain or enriched. The filling might be jam or mincemeat or apple or currants or something else entirely. I’ve gone with puff pastry and a mincemeat filling, as the names ‘court’ and ‘count’ have a whiff of expense. However, the high temperature needed to bake the puff pastry well and truly crisped the three raisins, which is what got me thinking the paste might be something plainer, shortcrust perhaps (like Chorley cakes), or even an enriched dough (like the original Banbury Cakes). They might not even be a filled pastry at all, but a fruited dough which has merely been cut into triangles, but it’s all guesswork unless someone can fill in the gaps.

If anyone has any information on these mysterious baked treats, please do get in touch.

Coventrys, Godcakes & Congleton Cakes

The instructions can easily be adapted to whichever of the three pastries you’d like to make, so it’s going to be a one-size-fits-all kinda recipe. To make about 8 cakes.

1 sheet of ready-rolled puff pastry
raspberry jam (Coventrys) OR mincemeat (Godcakes/Congleton cakes)
large raisins (Congleton cakes)
eggwhite (for glazing)
caster sugar (for glazing)

  • Heat the oven to 220°C, 200°C Fan.
  • Sprinkle the pastry with flour and roll out a little thinner (3-4mm).
  • Cut plain circles of pastry, about 10cmin diameter.
  • Dampen the edges with a little water to help with sealing the cakes/
  • For Coventrys, spread a teaspoon of raspberry jam in the centre, then fold the edges in over the jam to make a triangle. Press gently, then turn the pastry over and place seal-side down on a baking sheet lined with parchment.
  • For Godcakes, spoon a rounded teaspoon of mincemeat into the centre, then fold the edges in over the mincemeat to make a triangle. Press gently, then place seal-side uppermost on a baking sheet lined with parchment.
  • For Congleton Cakes, place three large raisins at equal distance around the edge of the pastry. Spoon a rounded teaspoon of mincemeat into the centre, then fold the edges in over the mincemeat to make a triangle, ensuring the raisins are closely folded in the pastry.
  • Whichever style you have made, brush over with lightly whisked egg-white and sprinkle with caster sugar.
  • Using a flat-ended spatula, or a knife, make notches in all three sides of each pastry. For Coventrys, don’t make the cuts too deep, as the jam might leak out during cooking.
  • Bake for 18-20 minutes, turning the baking sheet around after 10 minutes to ensure even colouring.
  • Cool on a wire rack.

¹ “Suffolk Words and Phrases: Or, An Attempt to Collect the Lingual Localisms of that County”, Edward Moore, 1823

² “The English dialect dictionary”, J. Wright, Volume 1 A – C, 1898

Cream Cakes

I spend a lot of our holidays in southwest France prowling around patisseries and artisan boulangeries with eyes like saucers, admiring the delicate and stylish combinations of cream and fruit and chocolate and truffle and glaze and, and, and….

However, in order to get there, it is rather a mammoth road trip, so I generally make sure I’ve got a handful of recipe books with me in the car to while away the hours. With no other reading matter to hand, I find it’s a good way to make sure I actually READ some of the hundreds of books on my shelves and I invariably discover something I’ve overlooked before. Sure enough, this year, yet again, I have re-discovered a recipe in a dusty housewives’ pamphlet from umpty-plonk years ago that reveals itself to be a real gem and, despite my hopeless and complete admiration for the exotic and awe-inspiring patisserie creations of France, I am enchanted all over again by British simplicity.

The recipe for these cakes was so brief I almost passed it by, yet curiosity caused me to pause and read it over, wondering what ‘trick’ there was; surely the small paragraph didn’t contain making, baking AND decorating instructions for cream cakes?

Sure enough, it didn’t, because the recipe was for cakes MADE with cream. Specifically, substituting cream into the mix instead of butter.

So simple – flour, sugar, eggs, cream, baking powder. I just had to try them.

And they were delicious, and a complete breeze to make; no fretting over whether the butter is soft enough, or whether the sugar is dissolved sufficiently. They rose, magnificently domed, in the oven and are light and tender of crumb.

If I had just one niggle, it was that they were sweet. Tooth-achingly so. I couldn’t resist tweaking them a little. Even the sugar-pop posing as my daughter prefers this version. Of course she ate the sweet batch too, but she prefers these.

There’s no added flavouring – you could add some if you like, but I urge you to try the recipe just once, with farm-fresh eggs and rich double – or even clotted – cream.

The simplicity, lightness and flavour will be a delight.

Promise.

Cream Cakes

The cakes in the photo are made in mini layer tins I bought in my local The Range, 4 x 10cm diameter pans for £2.50 (also fab for Yorkshire Puddings – I bought 2 sets) and I put 100g of batter per pan and made six. If you’re using large cupcake/muffin tins, I suggest just 50g of batter per ‘hole’, and thus twelve cakes. Cooking time is the same for both sizes.

150g caster sugar
2 large eggs
125ml cream – double or clotted
150g plain flour
1.5 tsp baking powder

  •  Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C Fan.
  • Crack the eggs into a bowl and add the sugar. Beat with a balloon whisk (or by hand or stand mixer) until the eggs are frothy and the sugar dissolved – about 5 minutes.
  • Add the cream and whisk in.
  • Sift the flour and baking powder together and stir into the rest of the ingredients – the balloon whisk/attachment is best for this, less washing up too!
  • Grease and line your tins, or use cupcake cases.
  • Spoon your mixture into your tins. Spread the batter to the sides, leaving a hollow in the middle. They will still dome up during cooking, but this way it should be a little more controlled.
  • Bake for 15 minutes until risen and golden brown.
  • Cool on a wire rack.
  • I think these are delicious served warm, lightly dusted with icing sugar and with a drizzle of cold cream poured over and a few fresh berries on the side. You can also split them and fill with whipped cream and berries or jam, or indeed any way that takes your fancy!