How to make Yorkshire Parkin

Treacle dripping from a knife

“It’s very sweet, with a distinct ginger flavour; sticky and a clinging texture”

This is Yorkshire parkin as described for those who don’t know it. And if you don’t know it you should.

This ginger-spiced chewy cake is certainly a pleasure to eat.  The pleasure for me, and for you, will not just be in the eating but it will be also in the making

Close your eyes and picture a pan filled with soft dark brown sugar, butter and golden syrup. Then imagine dribbling spoonful after spoonful of sticky black treacle into that pan. 

It’s you and your spoon in an old Regency basement kitchen. And you are enjoying the sensual processes of cooking. It feels like time has stopped, just for a while and just for you.

Parkin is from Northern England. It hails from Yorkshire and has other, even more archaic names such as thar, thor or tharf cake. Words that date back to pagan winter fire celebrations. Parkin is still eaten traditionally on Bonfire night.

The original parkin was not baked in an oven but cooked on a griddle or a bake stone. Fuel was expensive and not everyone had access to an oven.

Parkin’s ingredients have changed over centuries, morphing into the version I give to you below.

Lard or dripping – These were gradually replaced by butter

Oatmeal – Gradually reduced by adding more flour from the 1800s. Many modern recipes now use porridge oats. 

Baking powder –The cake lightened by the addition of baking power from the 1830s onwards.

Black treacle –  By the later eighteenth century treacle consumption was much higher in Northern England than in the south. 

Dorothy Hartley, in the book Food in England, talks of old-fashioned reddish “loose” treacle. So perhaps early Parkin was never made with the pure black treacle we know today. 

Parkin, later in the nineteenth century started to be modified by adding golden syrup together with the black treacle. The refining methods needed to produce golden syrup were not invented until about 1880.

Spices though, usually ginger but also later cinnamon and mixed spice, are a constant and suggest a cake made not for every day but for high days and holidays.

To make Yorkshire Parkin*

  • 100g butter, a bit extra for greasing the tin
  • 100g light brown soft sugar
  • 100g black treacle
  • 100g golden syrup
  • 150ml full fat milk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 125g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 100g porridge oats
  • 4 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground mixed spice

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees centigrade. You’ll need a loaf tin of roughly 900g (2lb). Lightly grease the tin with butter and line with baking paper. The Parkin is a sticky cake and lining the tin really helps to get the cake out easily. A cake wrapped in paper really does something to me too. It reminds me of the shop bought Jamaican Ginger cake of my youth. Do you remember that too?

Weigh the butter, brown sugar, treacle and golden syrup into a pan. If your scales will take the weight of the pan and the ingredients, weigh straight into the pan.

Set your pan on a low heat and let all the ingredients melt down to a dark syrup. At this stage it will smell delicious. Do inhale. Take the pan off the heat and leave to cool. You can transfer it to another bowl to speed up the cooling process. Adding hot liquid to eggs will cook them and spoil the recipe.

Measure the milk into a jug, crack the 2 eggs into it and beat lightly together until you have a light yellow milk and egg mix.

Weigh out the flour, baking powder and porridge oats into a large mixing bowl. Then add the spices.

The cooled treacle mix can be added to all the dry ingredients and given a good stir. Stir until you have something that looks like stiff dough. 

Now gradually add the milk and egg mixture, bit by bit. The mixture will look almost too liquid. It’s going to be fine, don’t worry.

Pour the cake mixture into the lined loaf tin.

Before baking
I made double quantities when I took these photos.

Then slide the tin into your warmed oven for 40-50 minutes. When you see the cake coming away from the sides and when you can put a skewer through its middle which comes out clean it’s ready. Dorothy Hartley adds that “when the middle will not DINT on pressing, it is done”

Let it cool in the tin on a wire rack as it is very brittle while hot. It will need to cool for at least 20 minutes before you can eat it.

“Turn out, cut into square slabs, and store in a wooden box – not a tin – as the Parkin is best kept a week before use and gets a pleasant moist texture”

Dorothy Hartley

* Adapted from Ella Risbridger’s recipe for Reading in the Rafters Parkin in Midnight Chicken and Other Recipes Worth Living For and from Dorothy Hartley’s recipe in her marvellous book Food in England.

Parkin after baking