How to make parkin, the traditional Northern ginger cake

A slice of dark, sticky and spicy parkin is a northern delight that's a tradition for Bonfire night, but tastes so good it should be eaten all year round, says Debora Robertson.

When I left home to go to university, I was surprised when friends from other parts of the country had never heard of this staple of my northern childhood. I looked on them more with pity than with hunger and, ever since, I’ve made it my business to spread the parkin love as far and wide as possible, baking it in kitchens from Moscow to Paris and Houston, Texas.

Food writer and author of The Great Book of Yorkshire Pudding Elaine Lemm, who grew up in Leeds, says: ‘Yorkshire parkin was the must-have cake for our family bonfire- night festivities growing up and I, like many others I know, cannot imagine a November 5 without it. The scent of parkin cooking and the aroma of ginger, nutmeg and mixed spice is forever the scent of childhood excitement and family tradition.’

Bake the parkin at least four days before you want to eat it, as the flavour improves with keeping. Some traditionalists wrap it in greaseproof paper, seal it in a tin and don’t even cut it for a week. Either way, it will keep well stored this way for about two weeks.

As for serving? Either on its own or, following the principle of what grows together goes together, with some Wensleydale or Lancashire cheese at the end of dinner. And how different is it really from French pain d’épice, so often served with Roquefort? Try it with Stilton, perhaps with a glass of Port or Oloroso, if you want to be especially kind to yourself. Which, of course, you do.

Ingredients

Makes 16 pieces

  • 220g plain flour
  • 4tspn ground ginger
  • 1½tspn mixed spice
  • 1tspn freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1½tspn bicarbonate of soda
  • ¼tspn salt
  • A few grinds of black pepper
  • 150g medium oatmeal
  • 110g unsalted butter, plus a little
    more for greasing the tin
  • 100g Golden Syrup
  • 100g dark muscovado sugar
  • 80g black treacle
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 80ml whole milk

Method

Preheat the oven to 150˚C/130˚C Fan/ 300˚F/gas mark 2. Generously grease a 22cm (8½in) square cake tin with some butter and line with baking parchment.

Put the flour, spices, bicarbonate of soda, salt and pepper into a bowl and whisk together until well combined. Add the oats and whisk again.

Gently warm the butter, Golden Syrup, sugar and treacle in a medium-sized pan, until the butter has melted, and stir to ensure everything is very well combined. Don’t let it boil; you only want it warm.

Make a well in the flour mixture, pour in the warmed butter, sugar and syrup. Stir until well combined, then add the egg and milk. Pour into the prepared tin and bake until springy to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean (about 70–80 minutes). Leave the parkin to cool in the tin for 20 minutes before turning it out onto a rack to cool completely, then cut into squares (or leave it to grow richer, as above).