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Also known as Pomfret cakes, Pontefract cakes are sweets; squishy little coins of liquorice made in the West Yorkshire town of the same name, once the most important area in England for liquorice cultivation. The liquorice plant, whose sweet, aromatic root gives the characteristic flavouring, grew splendidly in the soft loam earth and was soon put to good use in cough mixtures by monks at the nearby Priory. By the early 17th century, liquorice extract was being produced in small stamped discs, but still sold for medicinal purposes. Then local apothecary George Dunhill hit upon the idea of adding sugar, and the Pontefract cake was born. Melted into creamy custard and baked in the oven, they make sublime desserts with an intriguing flavour. I like them with a fruit 'leather' made from the first pink, forced rhubarb of February.
This recipe was first published in February 2005.