The Soul Cake is part of traditional Samhain/All Hallows Eve festivities in the British Isles. The cakes are flat and round, scented with saffron, mixed spices and currants.During the 19th and early 20th centuries children would go ‘souling’ on Samhain (All Hallow’s Eve), All Saints’ Day (Nov 1) and All Souls’ Day (Nov 2) where they would request alms or soul cakes with the following song:
“A soul, a soul, a soul cake.
Please god missus a soul cake.
An apple, a pear, a plum or a cherry,
Any good thing to make us merry.
Up with your kettles and down with your pans
Give us an answer and we’ll be gone
Little Jack, Jack sat on his gate
Crying for butter to butter his cake
One for St Peter, two for St Paul,
Three for the man who made us all.”
In earlier times the poor would go to prosperous houses, offering to say prayers for departed loved ones. In return, they were given these round cakes and sometimes food and money as well. Soul Cakes are a wonderful example of a Pagan tradition that made it’s way into Christianity virtually unscathed. If you’ve never made them before, they are absolutely delicious. Here is my favorite recipe for Soul Cakes. They freeze well so you can make them ahead!
For the dough:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, ground fresh if possible
1 teaspoon cinnamon, ground fresh if possible
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
1/2 tsp of saffron (optional)
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup raisins (or currants if you are able to get them)
For the Glaze:
1 egg yolk, beaten
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Combine the flour, the nutmeg, cinnamon and salt in a small bowl. Mix well with a fork.
Crumble the saffron threads into a small saucepan and heat over low heat just until they become aromatic, taking care not to burn them. Add the milk and heat just until hot to the touch. The milk will have turned a bright yellow. Remove from heat.
Cream the butter and sugar together in a medium bowl with a wooden spoon (or use an electric mixer with the paddle attachment). Add the egg yolks and blend in thoroughly with the back of the spoon. Add the spiced flour and combine as thoroughly as possible; the mixture will be dry and crumbly.
One tablespoon at a time, begin adding in the warm saffron milk, blending vigorously with the spoon. When you have a soft dough, stop adding milk; you probably won’t need the entire half-cup.
Turn the dough out onto a floured counter and knead gently, with floured hands, until the dough is uniform. Roll out gently to a thickness of 1/2 inch. Using a floured 2-inch round cookie or biscuit cutter, cut out as many rounds as you can and set on an ungreased baking sheet. You can gather and re-roll the scraps, gently.
Brush the souls cakes liberally with the beaten egg yolk. Add currants in the shape of a cross and press them firmly into the dough. Bake for 15 minutes, until just golden and shiny.
Makes 12 to 15 cakes. Copyright ©2022 by David Taliesin, http://www.sabbatsandsabbaths.com