Rock Cakes

18 May 2015


I ate a rock cake.

And DAMN, I liked it.

It all happened during Listowel Writer’s Week in County Kerry on a particularly blustery week in May 2012. I wasn’t intending on attending the renowned writers’ festival, in fact, I had never heard of such a gathering which is satirical because, 1. I was steadfastly working on creating a career in writing, and 2. it was taking place only 20 minutes from the farm.

No, I was on my way to the cattle mart, and it was literally lashing sheets of rain, sideways drops coming down so hard and fast that I had no option but to pull over in Listowel town. I was sitting idly awaiting a break in the rain, leafing through a beat up issue of Bon Appétit that I had found under my seat when I noticed a charming little café through the passenger window. Since there was no sign of cow evidence on my clothing and my wellies were next to new, I foraged for my brolly in the back and made a run for it.


When I walked through the door, I was struck by the warmth, of not only the bustle of interesting, clever looking patrons, but of the scent of an old wood-burning stove in the corner and steamed up windows with cushioned seats at the front. I glanced at my watch, looked back outside at the heavy rain and decided there would be no harm in staying for a spell. I found a seat at the only available table edged into a corner next to the counter and requested a coffee.

I sat sipping on a scalding hot cappuccino, peeking at literature for the writers’ festival left behind on the table while observing a group of gentlemen in tattered Irish tweed coats in lively conversation with one another in front of me. As they drifted out of the room, I noticed an array of baked goods on top of the beautifully appointed vintage bakery case. A basket of scone-like pastries with a sign identifying them as “Rock Cakes.” stood out to me as peculiar. Curious, I walked over and asked the barista what they were. She dutifully explained that rock cakes were essentially a combination of scone and cake with currants inside. “Would you like to order one?” she gently asked, “Oh, how could I resist?” I cheekily answered. She placed a rock cake on a dainty plate and handed it to me. I sat back down, took a nibble, and was absolutely bowled over by the tenderness and sweet flavour of something called a rock cake.

Before I knew it, I was finger-dabbing rock cake crumbs from the plate as the rain cleared, and it was once again time to carry on with farm business. I grabbed the Writers Week brochures and my umbrella, and bid adieu to the little café on the corner, promising to come again.


Apparently, rock cakes became popular in the UK and Ireland during the Second World War, when eggs and sugar were at a premium. They are called Rock Cakes or Rock Buns not because they are hard, but because the rough tops resemble rocky outcroppings . If made with the best possible ingredients, these cakes can rival both scones and cakes. Substitute chocolate chips for the little ones (or little ones at heart) and they are really quite a treat. Nowadays, like to pack “choccy rock cakes” for a country picnic, but they will always remind me of that rainy Writers’ Week day.

Rock Cakes

Makes 6

1 cup/225g all purpose flour
1/3 cup/75g caster (superfine) sugar, plus extra for sprinkling.
2 tsp baking powder
8.5 tbsp/125g unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 egg
About 2 tbsp/30ml milk
A good pinch of salt
Plus, optional, any or all of:
1 ¼ cups chocolate chips, dried currants or sultanas,
1-2 tsp mixed spice or vanilla extract, the finely grated zest of 1 orange or 1 lemon

Line baking trays lined with nonstick paper, and heat the oven to 200C (180C fan-assisted)/400F
Sift the flour, sugar and baking powder into a large mixing bowl, add the cubed butter and rub it through evenly.
Add chocolate chips, dried fruit and/or spices.
Beat the egg with the milk in another bowl, along with any flavourings such as extracts or essences that tickle your fancy.
Pour the egg mixture into the dry ingredients and mix to a stiff, but spoonable dough – add a dash more milk, if you think it needs it.
Scoop egg-sized dollops of the dough on to the tray in rows of two, keeping them rough looking.
Sprinkle with sugar.
Bake for 15-20 minutes, until just turning golden-brown.
Cool and serve.
Scullery Notes: If prepared with currants or dried fruit, serve with clotted cream and jam.

You may have noticed that I have added an Upcoming Events page to the blog, some fun stuff on the calendar! I have two tickets to give away to the Irish Country Magazine Reader Evening on May 27th, leave a comment below to be in the draw, it would be great to see you!

Also, I’ve added a little page about The Farm for those interested in how we are set up here.

Slan Abhaile,




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19 Responses to “Rock Cakes”

  1. My mother and I made these countless times when I was a little girl in Scotland (Rock Buns from our Lofty Peak cookbook, a flour company). I’ve been wanting to make them for ages, but never remember to just do it! Now my oven’s dead, so I’ll have to wait until I get a new one to make them. Murphy’s Law, haha! 😉

  2. […] homemade sweet treats Courgette cupcakes Parsnip Cake with Walnuts and Raisins Rock cakes Shortbread Wild bilberry cheesecake muffins Blueberry chia seed muffins Family Flapjacks […]

  3. Skye says:

    So lovely, as ever, Imen. You write so beautifully – I always love reading your posts. Xx

  4. These are as lovely looking as your story. I can’t wait to make them.

  5. Miranda says:

    Oh I’m so making these, pretty soon!!! Already in love with this blog, and only just found it today – though I’m quite familiar with your instagram account, but it did take me a while to put two and two together!!!

  6. Judith says:

    Oh my! Many decades ago I learned to make scones and they have been my go-to breakfast baking. But when I saw this, I literally stood up and went straight into the kitchen to try them out AND THEY ARE HEAVENLY! They are just as you describe – a little bit scone and a little bit cake. I am in love. Only problem is I can’t stop eating them! Thank you 🙂

  7. Michelle says:

    My dear grandmother made rock cakes, bless her, but they really were like rocks, filled with glace cherries. I’ve never been tempted to make them until reading this….such a charming story. x

  8. Oonagh says:

    I think you mean “ironic”, not “satirical”.

    • imen says:

      Hi Oonagh, thanks for your comment/concern. I actually did mean satirical….it’s a synonym of ironic, but, to me, has more of a wink to it…’s quite laughable that I didn’t know that such festival was happening…it was almost mocking me. Hope that helps you understand my word selection =) Warmest regards, Imen x

  9. Carmel says:

    When I was in primary school in Ireland (80’s) there was a nun who would take us for an afternnon a week for a cookery class. Rock cakes were on the repertoire every year. I had this recipe and more besides all copied down into a notebook. I think the intention was to make us either good wives or nuns ! I wish I could find that notebook now!

  10. Lovely post Imen. Hope you make it to Writers’ Week this year and maybe even Listowel Food Fair 18-21 June

  11. Jill says:

    The recipe has a very small amount of flour compared to a traditional rock cake formula, is it really just 25g?

    • imen says:

      Hi Jill, you are right! That was a typo, apologies. It’s 225g of flour. I hope you give them a try! Thank you for alerting me 🙂

  12. Kate says:

    I love a rock cake! They make me think of my granny and are somehow so much more delicious for their craggy imperfections x

  13. A British delight!

  14. These look lovely. I’ve never really thought of what rock cakes might actually be! So, it’s good to learn something new. I wonder how some candied ginger and lemon zest would be in these?

  15. Emily Grace says:

    Imen, this is lovely and your new farm page paints a larger picture of your life and setting for your stories. Thanks for sharing !

    I realize I should be focused on your rock cake recipe, but my eyes immediately cut to the buttercup (yellow weed flower in the pics – what do you call them in Ireland? ). And I wondered if your dairy man dislikes the buttercup as much as my cattleman does? (: “Grass farmer first,” he says, and mumbles on about useless buttercup, etc. I’ve always thought it pretty, so photograph away, and if you don’t mind I’m going to tell my Farmer that yours has buttercup and a wife who thinks it pretty, too. He needs the camaraderie and consolation, I’m sure.

    So fun to bake and farm in Ireland with you for a few minutes…

    Emily Grace

  16. kale says:

    I love coming here. It’s an escape the way a good book takes you in and makes you believe you live in a different place or a different time. Thank you for writing Imen! cheers from France

  17. Linda says:

    The rock cakes look yummy ., and I love reading your posts. My son is home from college for the summer break, and I told him that we are going to do a ‘from scratch summer’ where we try to make all items from scratch – I do plan to use quite a few of your recipes because they all look good ( and easy enough to do as well). I like the farm page as well – a lot more going on at the farm than I first imagined. Thanks for the posts – they provide a little ‘mini break’ from work when you post. Best to you and your family.

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