ALEXA, what is Sly cake?

Sorry I don’t know that one.

Well, I’ll tell you then!

Sly Cake goes deep into our Yorkshire baking heritage and definitely needs a comeback before it vanishes forever.

Baking is something we all do well at in Yorkshire, and Sly cake used to be found around the West Ridings of our great county a century ago.

Traditionally squashed dark fruits like currants and sultanas were used, being sweetened with sugar and butter.

It is very similar to the crackney recipe I published a few months ago – both were sold in our family baker’s shops around the Keighley area.

There are also other variants used in this recipe, like dates, figs and walnuts, and it used to be baked in an old dinner plate with the name Sly suggesting it comes from nothing, a secret, a cunning sense of crafty Yorkshire ego.

Bet you’re curious about the word ‘’secret’’ – what kind of secret is hidden?

The appearance is boring on the outside – crispy and dull – but when you bite into it you soon discover the rich juicy middle filling, also know as cheat’s pastie in some hamlets.

It’s true to say Yorkshire baking has acquired a lot of odd names over the centuries like Moggy cake, Fat Rascals and Parking Pigs to name but a few.

Sly cake fills a flat pastry base, and only sly fox Yorkshire folks would called it Dead Fly’s Cemetery. Like the saying goes, ‘ear all, say nowt, eat all, sup all, pay nowt; and a true Yorkshire baker will never know.

Digging into the origins of this lost and forgotten recipe, I was intrigued to read it was published in the early editions of the Be-Ro books after the Second World War, tempting children to bake with mother using the scrap pastry cuttings for much-sought-after teatime treat.

Foreign visitors may attempt to cut such a sticky sweetness with a knife and fork in our quaint tearoom.

We prefer to honour our cup of tea most afternoons at four o’clock, giving in to temptation at elevenses

Where else will you find ‘ladies fingers’ sharing heritage with Sly, or should I say Shy, cake.

Who said Yorkshire baking is boring?

It’s true to say, eating cake without cheese is like a kiss without a squeeze, but don’t ask Alexa that question!

Recipe for Sly cake



275g/10oz plain flour

150g/5oz butter, cold and cubed

50g/2oz caster sugar

Pinch of salt

A little cold water to make a soft dough


150g/5oz sultanas or currants or both

200g/7oz dried dates or figs, chopped

75g/3oz crushed walnuts

50g/2oz granulated sugar

2 teaspoons mixed spice

Zest and juices of a small lemon

150ml/5fl oz water

Egg or milk to glaze


1. In a large mixing bowl, add the flour, salt, sugar and butter.

2. Rub in the cold butter until it resembles fine breadcrumbs and starts to stick together.

3. Add a little water to make a soft dough.

4. Wrap the pastry in cling film and allow to rest in the fridge while you make the filling.

5. Chop up the dates and walnuts into small pieces and add to a sauce pan with the sultanas, grated lemon zest and juices,

6. Add to the pan the mixed spices, granulated sugar and water, and cook, stirring all the time until the water evaporates.

7. Leave the filling to cool and firm up. Pop on the kettle.

8. Preheat the oven to 190c/Gas Mark 5.

9. Divide the pastry into two round pieces and roll one out to fit a large dinner plate (greased) or similar baking dish.

10. Spread the fruit flat on top, egg-wash the edges, then roll out the other piece to fit the top, sealing the edges with thumb and finger or fork.

11. Glaze with egg or milk, and bake for around 40 minutes till golden brown.

12. Lightly dust with sugar and allow tto cool in the plate, before slicing up and enjoying a slice with a cup of tea or as a pack-up sweet treat.