Lisa’s Letters Home: Bonfire Baking

Lisa’s Letters Home: Bonfire Baking

Remember, remember the 5th of November. It’s Bonfire Night on Monday here, which has to do with Guy Fawkes who tried to blow up the houses of parliament a very long time ago. His thwarted attempt to blow everyone up has since been marked by making Guy effigies and setting them alight and setting off copious amounts of fireworks. Who says the Brits don’t know how to have a good time?

Each year we take the kids to watch the fireworks, and generally we spend the evening freezing our toes off while the kids ignore the fireworks. They do pay attention to the edibles, though –  thermal flasks full of hot chocolate and (rainproof)  boxes full of sweet treats.

A bonfire is also lit, making a perfect outdoor oven for baked potatoes wrapped in foil. Other traditional food includes sausages, cinder toffee, and a very lovely cake called parkin. Parkin is like a sticky gingerbread cake, native to the Yorkshire region. It’s dense, spicy, warming, and makes your house smell like Christmas. I’d only seen it on television so I had no real idea what it “should”  taste like,  but this recipe by James Martin ( was given the thumbs up by an actual Yorkshirewoman and man. I’ll take that as a good sign.

It’s one of those things that gets better (and mellower) with age, so you can make this one a few days ahead of time. Serve it warm if you can (the purpose being it’ll help your hands from going numb when you’re standing around looking at fireworks) but room temperature is fine. You can also use any leftovers crumbled in layers for a pumpkin mousse trifle, for any of our American cousins looking for something a little different for Thanksgiving.

The original recipe calls for 2 Tbsp of ground ginger, which I found very overpowering. Feel free to use the full amount if you like a kick, but I’ve reduced it to 1tbsp for this recipe. I’ve also left out the stewed rhubarb and sauce, so feel free to refer to the recipe link for details if you want to try it out. For ease of transportation and portability on bonfire night, I just make the cake every year.

This cake alone makes standing in the pouring rain for a couple of hours worthwhile. That, and the mulled wine.


3/4 cup (170 g) self-raising flour
pinch salt
1 Tbsp ground ginger
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 tsp ground mixed spice
1/2 cup (120 g ) oats
1 cup (250ml) golden syrup/corn syrup
75ml black treacle/molasses
2/3 cups (150 g) unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
2/3 cups (150 g) soft dark brown sugar
2 medium eggs, beaten
2 Tbsp (30 ml)  milk



Preheat the oven to 140C/275F. Grease a 20 x 30cm/8 x 12in pan and line with greaseproof paper.

Sieve the flour, salt, ginger, nutmeg and mixed spice into a large bowl. Mix in the oats.

Place the golden syrup, treacle, butter and sugar into a small saucepan and heat gently until melted and well combined. Stir this mixture into the bowl with the dry ingredients.

Add the beaten egg and milk to the bowl and mix to make a soft, almost pouring, consistency. Pour the mixture into the cake tin.

Transfer to the oven and bake for 1-1¼ hours, or until firm in the centre. Remove from the oven and leave in the tin for 5-10 minutes before turning out.

Cut into squares and serve, preferably after about 3 to 4 days when the parkin will have become nice and sticky.

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  1. Helen
    November 03, 06:34 Reply

    we too, have been making this exact recipe for years yet have never made the sauce. is rhubarb even in season at this time of year?

    Also your picture could actually have been taken in our kitchen last night, is *exactly* what ours looked like.

  2. Lisa Durbin
    November 03, 07:30 Reply

    I’m just not a fan of rhubarb – anything that requires two tonnes of sugar to make it palatable just isn’t my thing. 😉

  3. Julie Crooks
    November 03, 07:56 Reply

    On the topic of rhubarb, which I admit I love – rhubarb eton mess made with stewed rhubarb (chilled)& a little ground ginger, in place of the strawberries, which as I get older I find I like less & less, is delicious.

  4. Lisa Durbin
    November 03, 08:17 Reply

    I think it’s a bit of a texture thing with me, too. I have issues with celery and something about rhubarb reminds me of it. Maybe I could make a compote sort of thing out of the ginger and mix it in with Eton mess instead? I do like the sound of that!

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