One of my first memories of baking is being stood in my Nanna’s kitchen, helping her make rock cakes. The wooden spoon, the mixing bowl I affectionately called the dog bowl (because that is exactly what it looked like), the stiff batter that was almost unmixable to the child that I was then.
There was usually at least two batches (one with cinnamon, the other without.) Sometime there were cherries, or even desiccated coconut. I was always fascinated by the fact that there was no recipe for Nanna’s rock cakes. Just “eight ounces of flour, three ounces of butter…” and so on. Too stiff? Add a bit more milk. Too slack? Add a tablespoon of flour. Looking back, I see now that Nanna has given me the tools to develop recipes, to adapt. They say baking is an exact science. I believe, for the most part, that it is. But there’s no accounting for the experience of a Nanna.
A humble beginning.
Like many British classics, the humble fruit crumble being another example, the rock cake finds its origins in World War II. Rock cakes contain less egg and sugar than, say, a Victoria sandwich (and there’s also no jam). In a time when sugar was like gold dust due to rationing, the simple rock cake was actually promoted by the Ministry of Food, even suggesting the use of oatmeal to bulk out the mix in place of flour (due to its inexpensiveness.)
Rock cakes are extremely simple to make, and I think that’s why Nanna liked making them so much. The basic mix is the perfect vehicle for flavour and, yes, there may be classic flavours (like cinnamon and raisin) but you can pretty much put whatever you like in them and they will turn out fine. As a weekend treat, I very often like to use dried blueberries and vanilla. Raspberry and coconut is also a great flavour to try. You could even add a tablespoon of cocoa and some chocolate zest! I’ve provided a traditional recipe here, but the limits really are endless.
Nanna’s Rock Cakes
- 200 g plain flour (7 oz)
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 75 g butter (2½ oz)
- 75 g sugar (2½ oz)
- 1 egg beaten
- 75 g raisins (2½ oz)
- ½ tsp cinnamon ground
- Preheat the oven to 180°C and line a baking sheet with baking parchment.
- In a mixing bowl, mix together the flour and baking powder together then rub the butter into the flour until you have a fine breadcrumb texture.
- Add the sugar to the breadcrumb mix and stir to fully combine.
- Add the beaten egg to the mix, followed by the raisins and cinnamon. Mix until fully combined. The batter should be thick and a little difficult to stir.
- Take a large tablespoon of mixture and dollop onto the prepared baking sheet, without smoothing. You want the small mound of rock cake batter to have a rough, uneven surface as this is what makes it a 'rock' cake.
- Once all of the mixture is spooned out onto the baking sheet, place into the oven on the middle shelf for around 20 minutes (or until the rock cakes are golden brown.)
- Remove from the oven and allowed to cool fully before serving. (Raisins are extremely hot, straight from the oven! Trust me!)