If you’re wondering what on earth is Gur cake….well, you’re probably not alone. Gur cake is a bit of a traditional Dublin speciality, my home town, back in Ireland. From experience I can tell you that even some Irish people from outside Dublin don’t know what it is! I adore this sweet, moist concoction with a hint of cloves, and I’m sure you will too.
I used to BEG my Nan to make it for me, because of course, hers was the best. I’ve veganized it so that my son, who is allergic to dairy and eggs, can enjoy a bit of Dublin tradition (and boy does he enjoy it, choosing Gur cake over brownies any day). For another taste of Ireland, I’d recommend trying my delicious vegan soda bread.
Alternatively, have a look at some traditional Irish recipes (that we actually eat), veganized, that ended up in my St. Patrick’s day recipe roundup.
What is Gur Cake?
Gur cake, also known as Chester cake, is made of two thin layers of pastry with a thick dark filling. The filling is made with bread, raisins, and spices, soaked in tea until every thing is soft and plump, and then baked. It is one of those recipes where the whole is greater than the sum of its boring-sounding parts, trust me.
An alternative to making the filling with bread is, apparently, to make it with leftover cake, but I’ve never made it that way. Traditionally, it was one of the cheapest desserts sold in bakeries, as it was basically made up of leftover pastry and stale bread.
Legend has it that it’s called Gur cake because kids who skipped school (and so were “on the gur” used to buy it as a snack in bakeries, because it was basically all they could afford. If the expression “on the gur” was used, it had to have been quite some time go as I’ve never heard it. I am, however, familiar with the word “gurrier”, which means an ill-mannered person, a bit of a trouble-maker.
How to make Gur cake
There are a few steps to this recipe, unless you have any leftover shortcrust pastry lurking in your fridge. However it’s still a very easy (and cheap!) recipe to make. You simply need to make up the filling (takes just a few minutes, no chopping involved!), make up the pastry, leave both to soak/chill, then assemble and bake.
Making the filling
Ah, the tasty filling…If you look up pictures of Gur bread, you’ll see that the filling ranges in colour from a light brown to a dark near-black. Personally, for me, the darker the better, as it means more spices, more dried fruit, and brown sugar (which helps keep the filling moist because of the molasses).
For the bread, I use regular shop-bought crust-less bread, because I’m too lazy to remove the crusts. Traditionally Gur cake is made with stale bread, but that’s only because it was leftover in the bakery, and a cheap option. You won’t notice any difference whether you use stale or fresh, as it’s all going to be soaked anyway.
Whether you use stale or fresh bread, do make sure to remove all the crusts. Tear it into large pieces and chuck in a big mixing bowl. Add the tea and mash well with a fork (this should be really easy to do). Then add in the sugar, raisins, and spices.
While if you’re short a spice or two, you should still be reasonably OK, the cinnamon and clove are absolute MUST-HAVE ingredients in this recipe. Put the bowl in the fridge and leave to soak for an hour while you prepare the pastry.
Making the vegan pastry
This is a very easy vegan pastry, as really the filling needs to be the star of the show. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, sugar, and pinch of salt. Next, cut in the cold margarine until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
If you’re having trouble getting the “breadcrumbs” small enough, you get your hands in and rub to make them smaller, but the less you handle the dough ingredients the better. The colder everything is the flakier your pastry will be…
Next, mix two tablespoons of cold water with one tablespoon of a flavourless oil, and mix into the dry ingredients. If, once mixed, you can grab a handle and squeeze and it stays together, then you don’t need anymore water. I usually need a tablespoon more. Work the dough with your hands, as quickly as possible, into a smooth-ish ball of dough. Wrap with cling-film and retire to the freezer for 20-30 minutes.
Assembling your Gur cake
Once the two components are ready, get your pastry and cut into half with a blunt knife. Place one half back in the fridge or freezer, until you’re ready to use it. Dust the countertop with flour, and roll out the pastry to fit the base of whichever (pre-greased) pan you are using.
I totally forgot I had broken my medium rectangular pan so I ended up using a glass dish which wasn’t ideal as it was a little bit too large and had rounded edges, you want to be able to slice the Gur cake into squares. A rectangular pan of about 8 inches by 11 would be ideal, or even slightly smaller as you can make the shortcrust pastry thicker.
Use the rolling pin to transfer the pastry to the tin, and prick all over with the tines of a fork. Give the filling a good stir and smooth it on top, as evenly as possible. Remove the other half of the pastry and repeat the rolling out process, pricking all over with a fork again. Brush a little plant-based milk, watered-down agave, or aquafaba on top.
Bake for 1 hour at 160 C fan/180 C normal. Remove, and let cool in the tin (it will firm up even more as it cools). Loosen the edges from the sides of the pan, slice in the pan into squares, and remove. I wouldn’t try removing in one piece from the tin, as the thin layers of shortcrust pastry will not be enough to hold it together.
Enjoy! This cake will keep in the fridge for up to five days, personally for me it tastes even better the day after it’s been made, as the flavours of the spices develop even more. Do let me know if you try this cake, in the comments below or by tagging me in any of your creations on instagram (@the_fiery_vegetarian).
- 300g bread (crustless or crusts removed)
- 400ml strong black tea
- 100g brown sugar
- 200g raisins
- 1/2 tsp ginger
- ¼ tsp cinnamon
- ¼ tsp cloves
- ¼ tsp nutmeg
- ¼ tsp coriander
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 250g flour
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1.5 tbsp sugar
- Pinch salt
- 125g margarine
- 3 tblsp cold water
- 1 tbsp oil
I would suggest making the filling first, as it needs an hour to soak, in which time you can make the pastry.
Making the filling
- To make the filling, tear the crustless bread up into large pieces and mash in bowl with the tea.
- Add the sugar and spices and mix well.
- Leave in the fridge to soak for one hour.
- Take out of the fridge, mix the baking powder in, and get ready to assemble your Gur cake.
Making the shortcrust pastry
- Mix the flour with the baking powder, sugar and salt.
- Cut in the cold margarine.
- Mix two tablespoons of the water with the oil and mix into the dough until it comes together. dd the remaining tablespoon if needed.
- Wrap the dough with cling-film and chill for 30 minutes in the freezer.
Assembling the Gur Cake
- Preheat the oven to 180C/160C Fan.
- Roll out half of the dough to fit a roughly 11inch by 8 inch rectangular pan which has been greased.
- Transfer the dough (by loosely rolling it around your rolling pin) to the pan, and prick all over with a fork.
- Smooth all the filling over the dough in the pan.
- Take the other half of the dough and repeat steps 2 and 3.
- (Optional) Brush the top layer of pastry with a little plant-based milk, watered down agave syrup, or aquafaba, to help it turn a prettier golden shade in the oven.
- Bake for one hour.
- Remove and allow to cool completely before slicing in the tin.
Serving Size1 square
Amount Per Serving Calories 237 Total Fat 8g Saturated Fat 1g Trans Fat 1g Unsaturated Fat 6g Cholesterol 0mg Sodium 136mg Carbohydrates 39g Fiber 1g Sugar 16g Protein 4g