Wakes Cakes

Peak District Wakes Cakes
Wakes cakes are a specialty of northern England and in particular the mill towns that where at the heart of the cotton industry. The odd thing is they’re biscuits, not ‘cakes’. Biscuits with a very unusual but pleasant hit of liquorice flavour from the caraway seeds. In some places they would also flavour them with ground ginger, though caraway seeds are more traditional. This is my twist on an old Derbyshire recipe found in Ann Wall’s book ‘Favourite Peak District Recipes’. It makes a rich crisp, buttery biscuit with chewy cranberries that are incredibly moorish.

Apparently Wakes were religious festivals that developed into a summer holiday for the working classes. On the same week each year, the factories of the north would close and entire towns would up sticks to the seaside. Towns like Blackpool would host fairs where stalls would sell the popular Wakes cakes to the holidaymakers.

At least that’s one story. I prefer Ann Wall’s explanation: “Wakes Week was an autumn festival to cheer people before the coming of the long dark nights. Merry-go-rounds, hawkers, stalls with ribbons and gingerbread and of course, Wakes Cakes.” One thing’s for certain, these tasty biscuits cheered me up no end when I made them on a dark wet afternoon last weekend.Creaming butter and sugar together
Biscuit dough
Rolling & cutting biscuit dough

Wakes Cakes:
Makes approximately 20 biscuits

355 g (12 oz) plain flour
240 g (8 oz) unsalted butter – at room temperature
180 g (6 oz) light brown caster sugar
90 g (3 oz) dried cranberries
15 g (0.5 oz) caraway seeds
0.5 tsp baking powder
Grated rind of 1 lemon
Raw cane sugar to sprinkle

Pre-heat the oven to 160 C / 320 F (fan oven). Cream the butter
and sugar together in a bowl until light and fluffy.

Add the beaten egg and mix in the other ingredients to make a firm dough.
Then use your hands to bring it together into a ball.

Roll out on to a lightly floured surface to the thickness of about 0.5 cm, cut
into rounds using a 6cm (2.4 inch) cutter. Sprinkle with raw cane sugar
and place on a lined or non stick baking tray. Bake in the middle of the
oven for 15 to 20 minutes until lightly browned. The biscuits should be crisp.

Allow the biscuits to cool on a wire rack before storing in an airtight container.



  1. These look great. I’ve never heard of ‘wakes cakes’ before, and they sound intriguing. Would they traditionally have included the cranberries, or is that something you’ve added?

    • Hi Georgina, no your quite right the cranberries are my small contribution. Traditionally Wakes Cakes are baked with raisins or currents. The cranberries work really well though and add some colour.

  2. A festival to bring people together to dance, talk and eat together – to celebrate the end of the summer season – what a beautiful idea! Sugar and spice and all things nice… love these ‘Wakes Cakes’ Iain, as well as the story behind them.

  3. A grand addition to afternoon tea – must try them very soon!

  4. They look so delicious . I want to try them for certain. Thanks for sharing the recipe!

  5. My family recipe (Peak District, Derbyshire) doesn’t have any fruit or caraway seeds added at all.

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