Helen Goh's date and walnut 'Eccles' cakes recipe

Middle Eastern ma'amoul meets English Eccles cakes.
Middle Eastern ma'amoul meets English Eccles cakes. Photo: William Meppem

I have taken the idea of a Lancashire Eccles cake and drawn on a Middle Eastern date-filled ma'amoul biscuit to create this delicious pastry. Retaining the hockey puck shape of the traditional Eccles cake, a northern English treat, I've used a "rough puff" as a shell for the date and walnut filling which is lightly scented with orange blossom water. The secret is in the contrast between the sticky, slightly caramelised date mixture and the light, flaky pastry.

Ingredients

For the flaky pastry

250g strong white bread flour

1 tsp fine sea salt

250g butter, cold, cut into 2-3cm cubes

125ml ice-cold water

1 tsp lemon juice

For the filling

2 tsp orange zest (from 1 medium orange)

60ml orange juice

50g coconut oil (or unsalted butter)

50g dark brown sugar

¼ tsp salt

200g pitted dates (chopped into roughly 1cm pieces)

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp orange blossom water

40g walnuts, roughly chopped

For the pastry topping

1 egg white, lightly beaten

20g walnuts, finely chopped

20g sugar

Method

1. Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl, then rub in the cubes of butter loosely with your fingertips. You want large flakes so be careful not to over mix. Combine cold water and lemon juice and sprinkle over the dough, mixing lightly to form a shaggy mess, with bits of butter visible. Gather the pastry together, then shape roughly into a rectangular block and wrap loosely in cling film. Place in the fridge to chill for 30 minutes.

2. Roll the pastry out on a lightly floured workbench to a rectangle approximately 40cm x 20cm. The dough will still look quite rough at this stage, with streaks of butter. Fold the top third of the pastry (short end) down to the middle, then fold the bottom third up, so that they overlap. Turn the dough so that the seam is now on the right, and roll into a 40cm x 20cm rectangle, folding into thirds as before. Wrap in cling film and place in the fridge for 30 minutes to rest.

3. Combine the orange zest, orange juice, coconut oil, brown sugar and salt in a medium saucepan and stir gently over low heat. When the coconut oil has melted, increase the heat and simmer for 1 minute until syrupy. Remove from heat and add dates, cinnamon, orange blossom water and walnuts. Stir to combine, then set aside to cool completely to a soft paste. Divide into 12 balls and place on a large plate. (The mixture may be refrigerated for up to three days.)

4. When ready to assemble and bake, preheat the oven to 205C. Cut pastry in two. One at a time, roll out to a thickness of about 4mm, then use a side plate (or saucepan lid) of about 12cm diameter to trace and cut out circles of pastry. Refrigerate them while you repeat with the other block of pastry. Re-roll the pastry offcuts if necessary, to get the 12 circles altogether.

5. Place a date ball into the centre of each pastry circle, gather up the sides and pinch to seal in the middle. Place on parchment-lined baking trays, seam side down, 3cm to 4cm apart, then flatten gently. Repeat with the remaining pastry and date mix.

6. Combine the chopped walnuts and sugar in a bowl. Brush the tops of the pastries with the egg white then sprinkle with walnut sugar mixture. Use the tip of a small knife to make two small cuts in the middle of each pastry. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until lightly browned.