The Hevva Cake – or, heavy cake – is a traditional Cornish cake, made simply without leavening or eggs. Associated with the Cornish pilchard industry, its name is associated with the landing of a shoal of fish at which point the huer on the clifftops would cry “hevva, hevva”, the cue for the wives of the fishermen to return home to bake.
Perhaps the closest relative to Cornish hevva cake is the Welsh cake. Though Welsh cakes contain a beaten egg, and are slightly different in texture as a result, their flavours are relatively close. The look of the two “cakes” is where they differ greatly.
Because hevva cake is essentially a signal of the heavy pilchard nets being pulled aboard, it bears a mark reminiscent of the act. Before baking the raw dough must be scored diagonally is two directions so as to resemble a fishing net. It is this, not the flavour of the cake that makes it truly Cornish.
Depending on the recipe you’re using hevva cake contains either butter or lard. Without doubt, lard is the more authentic of the two. Butter, however, conveys rather more flavour than lard and is an ingredient more frequently used elsewhere. Using butter makes for less chance of waste and a better taste all round.
Cornish Hevva Cake
Makes 1 Thin Cake
- 200g plain flour
- a pinch of salt
- ½ tsp ginger powder
- ½ tsp cinnamon powder
- 50g granulated sugar
- 100g salted butter (or lard)
- 100g currants
- 2-3 tbsp milk
- Grease a large baking sheet and preheat the oven to 190C/170C(fan).
- Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl, adding the salt, spices and sugar. Tip in the butter and work the mixture together with your fingers until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.
- Incorporate the currants and bring the mixture together into a stiff dough with milk – 2 or 3 tbsp should be enough.
- Transfer the dough onto a well floured surface and roll out until little over 1cm in thickness.
- Move the rolled out cake onto the prepared baking sheet and score the top so as to resemble a fishing net.
- Bake for 25-30 minutes until golden brown, sprinkle with a little more sugar and serve warm.
Cost: Cornish hevva cake is about as simple as cake gets; it doesn’t even contain eggs. Unsurprisingly, this makes it just about the most frugal cake you could hope for, setting the baker back no more than £1.