Soul Cakes Illustration

A soul! a soul! a soul-cake!
Please good Missis, a soul-cake!
An apple, a pear, a plum, or a cherry,
Any good thing to make us all merry.
One for Peter, two for Paul
Three for Him who made us all.

God bless the master of this house,
The misteress also,
And all the little children
That round your table grow.
Likewise young men and maidens,
Your cattle and your store ;
And all that dwells within your gates,
We wish you ten times more.

Long before there was such thing as Trick-or-Treating, there were Soul Cakes. As this traditional song suggests, a Soul Cake would could be made from a number of things, depending on what was available. From looking at different recipes, it seems that this could be a variety of different grains – from flour to ground rice – and decorated with fruits. I hadn’t ever heard of them until I stumbled across an article and recipe in my favourite magazine, The Simple Things. I made them with a friend at the weekend, and since we were making a gluten-free version we used M&S gluten free flour – which seems to be mostly made from such things as ground rice & cornflour. They came out much more like shortbread – very delicious!

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As with many traditional festivals, it appears that Soul Cakes were part of a pagan festival which greeted the darker months ahead, part of Samhain – meaning “Summer’s End” – a celebraiton of the end of the harvest and the start of the coldest half of the year. For some it marks the start of a spiritual new year. This resonates with me – after years of school and university, I’ve never shaken off the feeling that after the intoxication of summer holidays and time outdoors, this season more than any marks a focus on the future and new projects.

The tradition was adopted by Christianity, and in medieval times the custom was to go from house to house, asking for a Soul Cake in exchange for saying a prayer for the inhabitants. At this time of the year, the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead was felt to be at its thinnest, and so Christians offered prayers for the souls of those trapped in Purgatory – each Soul Cake representing a prayer.

These little biscuits would be great fun to make with children as they’re ever so simple. They also don’t necessarily require much baking equipment. I made these at the weekend at a friend’s house without a rolling pin or cutter – just by pressing the little dough balls into flat circles.

The recipe below comes from here, and makes for very tasty biscuits with a pint of ale and a warm fire to accompany them!

Soul cakes

Makes 12–15 cakes

175g butter
175g caster sugar
3 egg yolks
450g plain flour
2 teaspoons mixed spice
100g currants
a little milk to mix

1 Pre-heat the oven to 190C/Fan 170/375F. Cream the butter with the sugar until it’s light and fluffy and then beat in the egg yolks one at a time.

2 In a separate bowl, sieve the flour and the spices together and add to the wet mixture along with the currants (reserving a small handful to decorate the tops later).

3 Mix with a wooden spoon and then add some milk to pull everything together into a dough.

4 Roll out to a thickness of around 1cm and cut out rounds with a biscuit cutter. Use a straight-sided knife to make a slight cross indent in the top of each cake and then push in raisins along it.

5 Place on a piece of baking parchment on a baking tray and bake for 10 to 15 mins on the fire or in the oven until golden. Allow to cool before eating.

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