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Q: When is a cake not a cake?
A: When it’s a Pontefract Cake!

Never mind flour, sugar, milk and eggs. All you need for this cake recipe is liquorice and a strong Yorkshire tradition. Pontefract Cakes – coin-shaped liquorice sweets with a picture of a castle stamped on top – are a “must try” if you venture to West Yorkshire, especially in the vicinity of Pontefract, Wentbridge or Wakefield.

Originally called Pomfrey or Pomfret cakes (old names for Pontefract) and sometimes referred to as Yorkshire Pennies, they were first produced in the 18th century. A young George Dunhill, who went on to become a chemist, took some medicinal liquorice that his family was growing around the old Pontefract Castle, added a touch of sugar, and created a sweet little delicacy that made him and his village famous.

Yes, liquorice has medicinal value. It was traditionally used to treat digestive complaints,
coughs and sore throats. (A warning: too much of a good thing can also lead to health

And no, liquorice is not native to the UK. It’s thought that English monks and crusaders,
travelling through the Middle East in the 11th century, heard about its healing powers and
brought liquorice roots home with them. Perhaps surprisingly, Pontefract proved an ideal
growing environment.

So it was that families across the village established their liquorice plots, but it was the
Dunhills who leased land around Pontefract Castle, who used the ruins to store their harvest,
and who went on to build Pontefract Cakes into a sweet industry (hence the castle stamp to
signify provenance).

The popularity of Pontefract Cakes grew through the 19th century so that at one time there
were 13 factories in town. Nowadays, production is limited to a handful of manufacturers,
including the giant Haribo, which has an outlet in Pontefract.

● For a modern twist to traditional flavours, try a Pontefract Cake with a fine espresso
coffee at Wentbridge House, just 10 minutes out of Pontefract village.

● To immerse yourself in all things liquorice, make plans to visit for the annual
Pontefract Liquorice Festival
, typically held in July.

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