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Nelson Squares

Pies and Pastries

Approx. 1ins thick square pie with a filling of soaked bread or cake crumbs with dried fruit and sweet spices, baked. The dish does not seem to be associated with the town of Nelson, but may be a commemoration of the heroic admiral. Kirkland's 'Modern Baker' of 1907, says that;
This is a much-despised confection, the position of which is near the nadir of the craftsman's ambition, yet it has its uses and its excellences ... This sort of cake is made in bakeries for using up cake cuttings and other scraps that might otherwise be wasted. It is sometimes given the opprobriously sounding name of "shonky"

We know it first from advertisements from Beagle & Co ("The Champion Grocers") of Lincoln in 1896, though there is this intriguing earlier mention from 1860...

Nottinghamshire Guardian - Thursday 27 September 1860

Similar to the 'Gur Cake' of Dublin.

Not Nelson Squares, as such, but the similar Irish 'Gur Cake'
Image: "Rwxrwxrwx"

Compare with Chester Cake

Our correspondent 'Emma' tells us (2020) that
"Dad's background was that his family were wholesale greengrocers from Nechells in Birmingham. He was born in 1929 and knew this recipe from childhood. The only place I remember seeing it for sale was in Caernarfon in a cake shop across the way from and facing the castle when we were on holiday and I was about 10, so about 1978. I can remember dad telling the lady in the shop that he knew it as Nelson's Eye, so clearly it was known by something else there.
He used to tell me it was called Nelson's Eye because it was black and mashed up in the middle just like Nelson's eye!"

Original Receipt from Nottingham Journal - Thursday 13 October 1932

Economy. All odd pieces of cut cake or small pastries should kept covered until you have time to make them into some each dish as Nelson Squares. To make these roll out piece of short pastry into a square which will fit easily into the baking tin. Make the remnant of cake, etc. into crumbs, add a little mixed spice, currants and sufficient golden syrup to form stiff paste. Put on the pastry rather thickly, wet the edges, cover with pastry, brush over with sugar and water and bake in moderate oven for 15 to 20 minute. When cold cut into small squares or, of course, strips if preferred.

Original Receipt from www.waitrose.com

WC Rowe's Nelson squares

We spoke to Cornish bakers WC Rowe, who used to make these pastries 20 years ago to use up scraps from the bakery. They kindly supplied this recipe.

Preparation time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 30 minutes, plus cooling
Total time: 1 hour, plus cooling 60 minutes
Makes: 16

500g ready-made puff pastry
1 medium egg, beaten
300g cake crumbs from a sponge such as madeira cake, or trifle sponge
125g mixed dried fruit
2 tsp ground mixed spice
Caster sugar for dredging

Preheat the oven to 190C, gas mark 5. Butter a 22cm-square baking tin, at least 3cm deep.
Roll out the puff pastry to a rectangle measuring about 28cm x 50cm. Cut into two sections so you have one square of around 28cm x 28cm and a rectangle of around 28cm x 22cm. Use the square to line the base of the baking tin - the pastry should come up the sides of the tin. Trim the rectangle to a square measuring 22cm x 22cm and set aside.
In a large bowl, mix the cake crumbs, dried fruit and spice. Stir in enough hot water (150ml-175ml) to create a stiff paste. Spread this evenly over the pastry in the tin, leaving a slight gap around the sides. Brush the edge of the pastry with some of the beaten egg. Cover with the reserved square of pastry, and pinch the edges together with the bottom layer of pastry, to form a complete crust so that the filling is enclosed. Brush the pastry with more beaten egg, then use a fork to prick holes in the top of the pastry. Bake for 30 minutes until golden and puffed up. Leave to cool in the tin, then turn out, dredge with caster sugar and cut into squares.

For other dishes associated with Lord Nelson, see:
Nelson Balls

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