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From Battenberg to Victoria sponge, from Cornish pasties to steak and ale pie, here are the best British bakes for any occasion from birthdays to street parties.
Britain has a beautiful long history of traditional baking. Different areas of the country are famous for their own quintessential cakes and pies, and ways of serving them. This collection brings together some of our best-loved classic British bakes, both sweet and savoury, from all over the country. Whether you’re baking a birthday cake, looking for patriotic Jubliee cakes, or you just fancy testing out your skills, there’s something for everyone.
“I love making classic cakes,” says award-winning baker, Sophia Butler, whose mobile tea room, The Sugar Tea Room, brings afternoon tea directly to you. “They’re simple, but always popular. You can make them look amazing with quite easy cake decorating ideas, like adding seasonal fruit like strawberries or raspberries on top.”
Sophia continues; “For a first bake, I always recommend a Victoria sponge. You can make it in almost any tin you have at home, and the ingredients are simple. In fact, you’ve most likely already got them in your kitchen. Use an electric whisk if you have one, or not if you don’t, and it’s easy for kids to join in with the mixing. It’s a big winner for a street party too – you just need napkins for handing out slices. Alternatively, cupcakes are great because they’re easy to pass out to neighbors. I love making Victoria sponge, lemon drizzle, and carrot cake cupcakes for my street.”
Best British bakes
1. Bakewell tarts
Makes: 16 | Skill level: Easy | Total time: 1hr 35
One of the most popular traditional British bakes, gracing afternoon tea menus up and down the country and a staple of any bakery’s cake aisle. Bakewell tarts might originate from Bakewell in Derbyshire, but the town is actually much more associated with Bakewell puddings – a baked cousin of the tart: un-iced and served hot. In fact, they rather shun the tarts in Bakewell. But we absolutely love them.
These mini versions are so delicious and a beautiful British bake. A perfect mouthful to accompany an afternoon cuppa, or to serve up with sandwiches as a full high tea. They are easy to make and you can speed things up by using readymade shortcrust pastry if you prefer.
Get the recipe: Bakewell tarts
2. Pork pies
Makes: 6 | Skill level: Medium | Total time: 1hr 25
Pork pies are a British classic, with the revered Melton Mowbray variety being so famous and traditional that they’ve been awarded protected origin status. What makes these pies so unique is the amazing hot water crust pastry – golden, crumbly, and delicious. It’s not quite as simple as shortcrust pastry to make, but our recipe takes you through it step by step.
Once you’ve mastered the crust, we’ve got a step-by-step guide to making your own pork pies by Dickinson & Morris, Melton Mowbray’s famous pie-makers, too.
Get the recipe: Pork pies
Makes 9 | Skill level: Medium | Total time: 32 mins
Scones have been dividing Britons and bringing them back together for centuries. Do you pronounce them like ‘gone’ or like ‘bone’? Is it cream first or jam? With raisins? Without? Pretty much the only thing we can all agree on is that we like eating them for afternoon tea with lashings of cream, fruity jam, and a cuppa.
“People often think scones are hard to make but they are actually very quick and simple,” says Sophia. “The trick is not to over-handle the dough and to keep it slightly sticky. A hot oven is a must too to get a lovely colour on top.”
Get the recipe: Scones
4. Victoria sponge
Serves: 8 | Skill level: Easy | Total time: 30 mins
Possibly the most classic British bake. Named after Queen Victoria, who used to eat it at teatime. In fact, the whole practice of afternoon tea was created by the Duchess of Bedford, who invited the Queen to join – and the trend was started. This cake is simple and perfect, it’s still the most popular choice at National Trust properties across the country today.
Sophia says, “You just can’t go wrong with this classic. This was the first cake I made with my mum and I still make it weekly for my customers. You can make a large version, or split it between 8 individual cake moulds to make mini versions. A dollop of strawberry jam in the middle, buttercream and half a strawberry on top for decoration.”
Get the recipe: Victoria sponge recipe
5. Butterfly cakes
Makes: 10 | Skill level: Easy | Total time: 35 mins
Cupcakes might have stolen the limelight with their acres of sugary buttercream, but butterflies are the traditional British version. And we think they’re far superior. Traditionally the tops are sliced off these mini sponge cakes to make space for a jam and cream filling. Then the top is cut in half and stuck back on to form butterfly wings.
These cakes are so lovely and easy to make, they make a great project to do with the kids. This recipe even takes you through with a step-by-step video.
Get the recipe: Butterfly cakes
6. Sticky toffee pudding
Serves: 6 | Skill level: Medium | Total time: 1 hour
Sponge puddings served with custard have a long history but Sticky Toffee Pudding is actually a relative newcomer. It was invented around the late 1960s but pretty much became an instant classic and has graced pretty much every pub menu ever since.
This version, replete with the essential dated, is by This Morning chef Phil Vickery. The caramel sauce is from a tin, which makes it quick and easy to do and the results are delicious.
Get the recipe: Sticky toffee pudding
7. Mary Berry’s lemon drizzle cake
Serves: 8 | Skill level: Easy | Total time: 1 hour
Lemon drizzle cake is a simple sponge topped with a lemon and sugar syrup that sinks into the crumb. This version by Mary Berry is absolutely traditional and impossible to beat. The crunch of the hardened, lemony sugar against the soft moist sponge is exactly what you want from this epic British bake.
And if you’ve never made your own it’s easier than you think. It only takes an hour and the smell while it’s cooking is amazing.
Get the recipe: Mary Berry’s lemon drizzle cake
8. Apple crumble
Serves: 6-8 | Skill level: Easy | Total time: 40 mins
Crumbles are traditionally made with fruits that are in season, when they’re cheapest and at their most delicious. In early summer that means rhubarb crumble. By mid-summer and early autumn, we’re onto the king of crumbles: apple.
This simple bake is made by topping the apple pieces and sugar with flour, butter, and sugar topping. This easy-peasy version also has oats for extra texture, or you can add in chopped pecans for crunch or ground almonds for sweetness.
Get the recipe: Apple crumble
9. Hairy Bikers’ steak and ale pie
Serves: 4-6 | Skill level: Medium | Total time: 1 hr 40
The urge to wrap chunks of steaky meat and gravy in a pastry shell is as old as cooking and in Britain, we do it with aplomb. A hearty steak and ale pie are as British as they come. Made with stewing steak and ale, and topped with a thick pastry crust, it’s an all-occasions feast. Enjoy it as a special weeknight dinner with chips or mash, or even as a great alternative to a roast for Sunday lunch.
This version by pie connoisseurs, The Hairy Bikers is packed with juicy meat, mushrooms, and veg and topped with golden flakey puff pastry. It’s hard to beat.
Get the recipe: Steak and ale pie
10. White loaf
Makes: 1 loaf – about 15 slices | Skill level: Easy | Total time: 1 hour 10 plus proving time
We owe the French for baguettes and croissants, but us Brits are no slouches in the bread baking stakes either. Master the art with this classic white loaf by Paul Hollywood.
Baking your own bread might sound like a challenge but it’s actually pretty easy, and this loaf is a great place to start. It’s simple but special enough to be worth the effort. It makes great sandwiches or an accompaniment to summer salads or charcuterie boards.
Get the recipe: Paul Hollywood’s white loaf
11. Mary Berry’s chocolate cake
Serves: 6 | Skill level: Easy | Total time: 50 mins
Chocolate cake always makes a brilliant birthday or special occasion bake – it’s so decadent and delicious. For almost as long as chocolate has been around, we’ve been putting it in cakes. It’s one of the nation’s favourite treats.
“A firm favourite with kids and adults alike,” says Sophia. “Take the decoration to the next level by piling chocolates and sweets on top. Or fruit – my kids love making a chocolate cake with me and adding strawberries on top.”
Get the recipe: Mary Berry’s chocolate cake recipe
12. Swiss roll
Serves: 8-10 | Skill level: Medium | Total time: 32
Contrary to what the name suggests, this roll of cake, jam, and buttercream does not actually originate from Switzerland. Truth be told, it doesn’t originate in the UK either, but we have adopted it and taken it to our hearts.
This cake is fun to make and learning to roll it is a great skill to master. This recipe takes you through the process with a how-to video and the results are really impressive.
Get the recipe: Swiss roll
13. Scottish shortbread
Serves: 24 | Skill level: Medium | Total time: 1 hour
Buttery, crumbly shortbread is a classic dish that hails from Scotland – some stories say the recipe was perfected by Mary Queen of Scots. It was traditionally eaten at weddings, Christmas, and other celebrations, but we’d happily have a piece with a cup of tea any day of the week.
‘Short’ refers to shortening – butter – which gives the shortbread its fantastic crumbly texture. This recipe is beautifully buttery and delicious, for a really traditional result.
Get the recipe: Scottish shortbread
14. Mary Berry’s iced fairy cakes
Serves: 12 | Skill level: Easy | Total time: 30 mins
Perfectly proportioned little sponge cakes made even better with a sweet icing topping. Fairy cakes are one of our favourite bakes because they’re so easy to do. Perfect for making with the kids, who can help with the icing and decorating too.
This gorgeous recipe is from the British queen of baking, Mary Berry, and it’s pretty fool-proof.
Get the recipe: Mary Berry’s iced fairy cakes
15. Toad in the hole
Serves: 3-4 | Skill level: Medium | Total time: 1 hour 5
This bizarrely named dish has, thankfully, never had anything to do with toads. It was originally a way to make cheap cuts of meat go further – by submerging them in Yorkshire pudding batter. Sausages are the number one choice now, and it’s still a great way to make an affordable but really filling meal.
This recipe includes gravy – a pretty essential extra. Serve with mashed potatoes and peas for a brilliant Saturday night supper.
Get the recipe: Toad in the hole
16. Cornish pasty
Serves: 6 | Skill level: Medium | Total time: 1 hour 10
Meat and vegetable pasties were popular with manual labourers up and down the British Isles: a portable meal that needed no cutlery. But probably the most famous of all is the Cornish pasty, made famous by Cornish miners since the 17th Century.
It’s said a good pasty could survive being dropped down a mine shaft. We’ve not tried that with this one, but we can report it tastes deliciously meaty and the pastry is flakey, crisp, and on point.
Get the recipe: Hairy Bikers’ Cornish pasty
17. Chelsea buns
Serves: 12 | Skill level: Medium | Total time: 55 minutes
Chelsea buns were the Instagram trending bun of the 18th Century – hundreds of years before Instagram was invented. They were first created in a bun house on the edge of Chelsea in London, and legend has it that once 50,000 people queued for them on a single day.
The original Chelsea buns are flavoured with raisins and topped with an icing glaze, but we love this really decadent version with chocolate and cherries, from The Hairy Bikers.
Get the recipe: Hairy Bikers’ chocolate and cherry buns
18. Date and walnut cake
Serves: 12 | Skill level: Medium | Total time: 1 hour 30
Date and walnut is a veteran of bake sales, coffee mornings, and school fetes. This original recipe from Woman’s Weekly magazine in 1939 is one of the oldest recorded, and it’s still an absolute classic.
It’s topped with delicious cream cheese icing and chopped nuts and it is perfect for a slice in the afternoon with a cup of tea or coffee.
Get the recipe: Date and walnut cake
19. Bara Brith Welsh tea bread
Serves: 10 | Skill level: Easy | Total time: 1 hour 30
This Welsh fruity tea bread is traditionally known as bara brith, which translates as ‘speckled bread’.
In 2006 Morrisons stopped selling it due to declining sales and a survey a few years later found over a third of Welsh teenagers had never tried it. This is an absolute travesty because it’s delicious, easy to make, and even easier to scoff. Do your bit to save this piece of Welsh heritage by making this version at home.
Get the recipe: Welsh fruited tea bread
20. Cheese scones
Makes: 8-10 | Skill level: Medium | Total time: 35-40 mins
We’ve already covered scones with cream and jam but it’s not a list of British bakes without mentioning the savoury version too. Cheese scones are so speedy to make. Once you’ve mixed and rolled out the dough and cut out the scone shapes, they take 10-15 minutes to bake – a British classic in no time.
Serve warm with butter, or top with cream cheese and onion jam, or slices of cheddar and pickle.
Get the recipe: Cheese scones
21. Coffee and walnut cake
Serves: 8 | Skill level: Medium | Total time: 55 mins
Another great British bake that is loved by millions. It’s a strange flavour combination, usually using instant coffee. Part of the appeal is the nostalgic nature of the taste. Celebrity chef Nigel Slater once said it would be his final meal.
“Don’t make the mistake of thinking this is just for coffee drinkers,” says Sophia. “The coffee taste mixed with the walnuts is a classic combination which is very moreish! I only drink tea but can’t resist this cake.”
Get the recipe: Coffee and walnut cake
Serves: 16-20 | Skill level: Easy | Total time: 1 hour 10
Parkin is oatmeal, black treacle, and ginger cake that is baked quite hard but softens and turns sticky over time. It’s a staple in the North of England, and almost unheard of in the South. It’s traditionally eaten on Bonfire Night and through the winter, but it’s nice at any time of year.
This recipe is really easy and makes a really lovely, sticky, traditional version.
Get the recipe: Parkin cake
23. Battenberg cake
Serves: 8-10 | Skill level: Medium | Total time: 1 hour
This cake sounds anything but English, but it was actually named in celebration of the marriage of one of Queen Victoria’s granddaughters. She was marrying Prince Louis of Battenberg and this cake was made to celebrate the occasion.
A homemade Battenberg is a truly delicious bake – far superior to shop-bought. It’s a little fiddly to make because you need to create the checkerboard effect, but it’s worth the effort for the impressive results.
Get the recipe: Battenberg cake
24. Welsh Cakes
Serves: 8-10 | Skill level: Medium | Total time: 45 minutes
The second of our great Welsh bakes – these little biscuits size cakes make a very moreish snack. They are a bit like a very flat scone, but you eat them on their own – no need for cream and jam because they’re dusted with sugar so they’re sweet enough.
This version features a dash of Welsh whisky, to make things even more exciting.
Get the recipe: Welsh cake
25. Eccles cakes
Makes: 30 | Skill level: Medium | Total time: 45 minutes
Not a cake at all – Eccles cakes is actually little sweet pies of puff pastry filled with currants. They are from Eccles though.
This version uses ready-made puff pastry. You can make your own but the results from readymade are so good and so much speedier, we think it’s a very worthy cheat.
Get the recipe: Eccles cake
26. Carrot cake
Serves: 8 | Skill level: Medium | Total time: 1 hour 10
The first recipe for a carrot cake actually involved stuffing a carrot with meat, but luckily the modern version is rather nicer. Carrots have lots of natural sweetness, so Britons used them in baking for centuries, but it was during the Second World War, when sugar was scarce, that carrot cake really became popular.
This version is easy to make and topped with classic cream cheese frosting. “Carrot cake is a really lovely way to use up any carrots you have knocking around in the bottom of the fridge,” says Sophia. “They keep the sponge light and moist.”
Get the recipe: Carrot cake