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Ecclefechan is the name of a village in the border country between England and Scotland; no doubt, if this is the birthplace of these tarts, natives of that area carried the recipe with them when they emigrated west, to North America. And, with only a small stretch of the imagination, you can relate both to the Pennsylvania Dutch Shoofly Pie, a sweet, gooey molasses-based filling in a rich pastry crust. The migration of recipes, and their concurrent evolution, is a subject that's endlessly fascinating; we're glad to help Eccles Cakes along on their continuing travels via our website.
2 cups (8 1/2 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks, 6 ounces) butter, or a mixture of butter and lard or shortening
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 cup (2 ounces) cold water
1/4 cup (1/2 stick, 2 ounces) butter or margarine
1/2 cup (2 1/2 ounces) currants
1/4 cup (1 ounce) mixed peel, diced, or other dried fruit, diced
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) brown sugar, packed
2 to 3 tablespoons (about 1 ounce) coarse sugar crystals (optional, for decoration)
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) milk
Pastry: In a medium-sized mixing bowl, mix together the flour and salt. Cut in the butter and lard or shortening until it's fairly evenly distributed, with some larger pieces remaining. Sprinkle with the teaspoon of lemon juice and the water, 1 tablespoonful at a time. Add just enough water for the dough to hold together. Mold the dough into a ball, then flatten into a disk. Wrap well and refrigerate for 30 minutes or longer.
Filling: Melt the butter; pour it over the currants, diced peel or dried fruit, and brown sugar, and mix well.
Assembly and Baking: Divide the pastry dough into two pieces; refrigerate one half while working with the other. Sprinkle both your work surface and the pastry dough with flour. Roll the pastry into a 1/4-inch thick circle, and cut it into circles with a 3-inch or larger biscuit cutter. Place 1 heaping tablespoon of the fruit mixture in the middle of each round. Brush the bare edges of the pastry with water, then gather the edges to the center to make a "purse". Turn the bundles over, and use a rolling pin to gently enlarge and flatten the bundles. Cut four parallel slices in the top of each cake to let the filling show through.
Brush the cakes lightly with milk, then sprinkle them with coarse sugar crystals. (Use regular granulated sugar if you don't have any coarse sugar.) Place the cakes on parchment lined or lightly greased baking sheets, and bake them in a preheated 450F oven for 18 to 20 minutes, or until they're golden brown.