Wakes Cakes

Many foods have a story to tell and often the things we eat today have their roots firmly embedded in our British heritage.

For many, summer signals the moment to head off to the coast and countryside and relax from our daily toil for a week or two. These days a quick discussion with work colleagues and an approval from the manager will get some holiday time booked. All relatively simple.

During the 18th and 19th centuries time-off was practically unheard of. Textile mill workers would often labour seven days a week for long hours and low pay. Obviously this regime put a lot of strain on families and absenteeism was a common problem for mill owners.

Wakes were originally religious festivals that commemorated church dedications, a time when people normally would want to take time off work and be with their families. Mill owners, not being overly generous with rights for their employees, found that their workers would often be absent at this time, so eventually seeing sense, they agreed that all the mills should close for a week to give everyone a (unpaid) holiday.

Eventually, the wakes were adapted into a regular summer break when the week would be the focus for fairs where Wakes Cakes were sold and eagerly eaten. These weeks, occurring at different times, are still celebrated in the Midlands and Northern England albeit in different ways.

This recipe is an old Derbyshire Peak District version and although referred to as ‘cakes’ the end product is actually much more a biscuit. They have a rich crisp texture with chewy currants and interesting little flavour hits from the caraway seeds.


  • 340g plain flour
  • 226g butter
  • 170g caster sugar
  • 1 egg beaten
  • 85g currants
  • 14g caraway seeds
  • grated zest of 1 lemon
  • caster sugar to sprinkle


To download a printable recipe card, just click on the icon.


Preheat the oven to 190C / 375F / Gas 5.
Cream the butter and sugar together in a bowl, add the beaten egg and mix in all the other ingredients to make a firm dough.
Roll out thinly (5mm) on a floured surface, cut into rounds with a 6cm cutter, sprinkle with sugar and place on a greased baking tray.
Bake for 10-15 minutes until lightly browed.
They should be crisp and sweet like biscuits.

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