Treacle is a bit of a Marmite confection. Made from the syrup that remains after sugar is refined it has a slightly bitter flavour and resembles tar. As such it stands to reason that it was used as a more economical sweetener from the Victorian era onwards. One quality you can’t deny treacle is its ability to add a divine gooeyness to dishes whether it be a marinade for ribs or a pudding. I was never a huge fan of treacle as a child (too much like liquorice for my liking) preferring it’s blond sister, golden syrup. This is probably why I adored treacle tart which is more frequently made with the fairer sibling.
Robust treacle puddings often pop up in Victorian cookbooks like Francatelli’s Plain Cookery for the Working Classes (1852) but not so much treacle tart. In English Puddings (1981) Mary Norwak points out that treacle tart is quite a modern recipe:
“It is in fact a comparatively recent invention to English Tables, as golden syrup was not made until the 1880s. Perhaps a clue to its origin lies in the old way of making gingerbread by mixing breadcrumbs with honey and spice. Many people flavour the crumbs and syrup tart filling with a pinch of ground ginger and lemon juice, and some 19th century tarts were made with dried fruit, peel and thick treacle, so perhaps festive gingerbread was a delicious memory and somebody decided that the mixture would taste just as good in a pastry case.”
An Alternative Christmas Pud?
As an adult I have grown to appreciate treacle’s more intense flavour. Delia Smith uses both types of syrup in her treacle tart. I have followed her lead in this adaptation of Ambrose Heath’s recipe from More Good Food(1933). The addition of lime is just enough to take the edge off the intense sweetness. This is gorgeous with creme fraiche, custard or vanilla ice cream and a great alternative Christmas pudding for those who don’t like dried fruit.
23cm pastry case baked blind or 500g sweet shortcrust pastry
50g desiccated coconut
Juice & zest of 1½ limes
2 tbsp dark rum
1 tsp ground ginger
250g stale wholemeal breadcrumbs (or you could use white)
200g golden syrup
Preheat the oven to 180℃.
Place the coconut, lime juice, zest and dark rum in a large bowl. Leave to infuse for 30 minutes.
Add the breadcrumbs and ground ginger to the coconut mixture.
Heat the golden syrup and treacle together until runny. Pour over breadcrumb and coconut mixture and stir thoroughly to combine. Spoon into precooked pastry case.
Bake at 180℃ for around 20 minutes. Allow to cool slightly before serving.