Gurr Cake

Irish schoolboy, illustration

A clever and economical innovation of Dublin bakers during the nineteenth century, gurr cake was a favorite after-school treat for many a young pupil “on the gurr,” or playing hooky. This illicit sweet was comprised of stale bread (on luckier days, day-old cake replaced the bread) which was mixed with sugar and dried fruit. The mixture of bread and fruit was then stacked between layers of dough and the entire concoction sprinkled with powdered sugar.

Because of its cheapness, gurr cake became synonymous with street urchins and was used to describe the hardened runaways who subsisted on it. But you need not be dodging school in order to enjoy a piece of this delightfully frugal cake. Below is a recipe from Culinaria: European Specialties for a slightly richer version of gurr cake. Enjoy it with tea, coffee or a glass of warm, rum-infused milk.

Gurr Cake

8 slices of stale bread without crusts
3 Tbs flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp bread seasoning
1/2 cup (100 g) brown sugar
2 Tbs butter
6 oz (175 g) currants or dried mixed fruit
1 beaten egg
4 Tbs milk
8 oz (250 g) short pastry
Caster sugar

Soak the bread for 60 minutes in water, then squeeze dry. Mix with the flour, baking powder, seasoning, sugar, butter, currants, egg and milk. Stir the ingredients thoroughly.
Line a baking pan approximately 8 inches (22 cm) square with half the pastry, place the bread mixture in the pan, distribute evenly and cover with the remaining pastry. Score through several times.
Bake for about 60 minutes at 375 degrees F. (190 degrees C.) in the oven. Sprinkle with sugar and leave to cool in the baking pan. Then cut the cake into 24 small square pieces (such a piece in the last century cost a half penny).


Baumgarthuber, Christine. Fermented Foods: The History and Science of a Microbiological Wonder. Reaktion Books, 2021.

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