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    Pontefract-Cake Custards

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    Pontefract-Cake Custards

    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.

    • Preparation time: 30 minutes
    • Cooking time: 40 minutes
    • Total time: 1 hour 10 minutes 60 minutes 10 minutes

    Makes: 6


    • 568ml carton double cream
    • 350ml whole milk
    • 80g Pontefract cake sweets
    • 6 medium egg yolks
    • 150g caster sugar


    1. Heat the cream and milk together in a saucepan to just below boiling. Meanwhile, chop the Pontefract cakes into small pieces (scissors make the job easy). Add them to the cream. Simmer over a gentle heat, stirring regularly, until the Pontefract cakes have dissolved into the cream. Remove from the heat and leave to cool a little.
    2. Preheat the oven to 170°C, gas mark 3.
    3. Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until creamy then stir into the cooled cream mixture. Pour the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve and use to fill 6 x 130ml ovenproof ramekin (you may have some mixture left over). Stand the ramekins in a roasting tin and pour in enough hot water to come three-quarters of the way up the sides of the ramekins. Cook for about 40 minutes, or until set. Remove from the roasting tin and leave to cool.
    4. Serve at room temperature with along with pieces of rhubarb leather for dipping.

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