This deliciously sticky ginger cake from the north of England is traditionally eaten around Bonfire Night, when its dense oatiness makes it the perfect thing to pass round from a tin as you watch the fireworks. Robust enough to travel well, and moist enough to keep for weeks, it’s also a sound choice for camping, hiking and packed lunches at any time of the year.
Prep 15 min
Cook 1 hr 30 min+
Makes 16 pieces
80g golden syrup
170g butter, plus extra to grease
200g wholemeal flour
200g medium oatmeal (see step 3)
3 tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground nutmeg
175g soft dark brown sugar
¼ tsp fine salt
1½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 Melt the treacle, syrup and butter
Heat the oven to 160C (140C fan)/310F/gas 2½. Weigh out the treacle, syrup and butter into a medium saucepan (I recommend using a spoon dipped in boiling water to make life easier with the sticky ingredients – they should just slide off) and place on a medium heat, stirring occasionally, until melted together. Do not let the mix come to a boil.
2 Grease and line the baking tin
Take off the heat and set aside. Generously grease a roughly 20cm baking tin (or an 18cm x 23cm rectangular one, though a little bigger or smaller won’t matter too much) with the extra butter and line with baking paper, if necessary making small cuts in the corners to help it fit better.
3 Mix the dry ingredients
Combine the flour, oatmeal (note that this is not the same as the rolled oats often sold for porridge down south; if it isn’t stocked in your usual shopping destination, it can usually be found in healthfood shops; if you prefer a rougher texture, use coarse oatmeal instead), spices, sugar, salt and bicarb in a large bowl and whisk to mix.
4 Add the treacle mix
Pour the treacle mixture into the dry ingredients, stirring until no more dry pockets of flour are visible. Beat the egg with the milk, then stir into the cake mixture to create a batter that’s loose enough to pour into the tin – if it’s still a bit too thick, add a little more milk.
5 Pour into the tin and bake
Pour into the tin, level the top, then bake until it’s just firm in the centre and the cake springs back when pressed with a cautious finger – this will probably take between an hour and a half and an hour and three-quarters, but check it regularly towards the end to ensure the parkin doesn’t overcook.
6 Cool, then cut into squares
Leave the cake to cool in the tin for at least 30 minutes, then turn out, cut into squares and either serve warm (it’s lovely with ice-cream) or leave to cool completely and store in an airtight tin for up to three weeks – like malt loaf, the texture will improve after baking and become stickier with time.
7 Alternative flavourings
If you’re not a fan of ginger or nutmeg, you can substitute them for other warm spices: cinnamon, allspice, ground cloves, cardamom or mixed spice will all be good here (add them to taste), as would grated citrus zest or chopped stem ginger. You could also fold chopped nuts, seeds or dried fruit into the mixture to make it more substantial.
8 To ice or not to ice
Parkin is not traditionally iced but, as a southerner, I say break the rules if you feel like it. Sift 225g icing sugar into a bowl, then add the zest and juice of a lemon to bring it to a drizzling consistency, adding more water if necessary. Spoon over the top of the cooled cake and leave to set.
9 Vegan and gluten-free options
Vegans: Meera Sodha has an excellent-sounding plant-based parkin recipe on the Guardian website. And, given its high oat content, parkin is also relatively easy to make gluten-free – use gluten-free flour blends, or replace the wheat with oat flour for a denser, but still delicious result.