Soul Cakes

It’s a new year.  Allow me to briefly explain.  In some Pagan traditions, on Samhain (Halloween), the veil between the living and the dead is at its thinnest, and it is used as a time to pay respect to those that have passed.  Samhain also marks the end of the harvest and the end of the light half of the year.  The Wheel of the Year has come full turn, and it’s time to reflect on the end of the old year and celebrate the beginning of the new.

Trick-or-Treating, which has only been a custom in North America since around the 1950’s, has its roots in a custom called souling.  During the middle ages, British and Irish children would go door to door on November 1st and 2nd (All Saints and All Souls days), singing songs and saying prayers for the dead.  As a reward for their “tricks,” the homeowner would give them a soul cake as a treat.  Each soul cake eaten was said to represent a soul being freed from Purgatory.  The tradition of wearing costumes hails from superstitious people who feared that if their dead loved ones could return, so could any other soul, nice or not.  In order to fool these not so nice ghouls, they wore costumes in order to masquerade, or hide, among them.

I made soul cakes to celebrate this year.  There are so many variations in recipes, including one I found from a cookbook dated 1604, that there’s really no wrong way to go about making soul cakes.  I’ve been using one for years though that calls for pretty simple ingredients and always produces a great treat.  You can mix up the fruit, most recipes call for dried currants, I used dried cranberries.  I have also used dried apricots, and raisins with good success.

Soul Cakes

Ingredients:

  • 2 C. all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 C. milk
  • 1 stick (8 Tbs.) butter, softened
  • 1/2 C. sugar
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1/2 C. dried cranberries (or cherries, or raisins, or currants)
  • 1 egg yolk, beaten, for glaze

Directions:

Heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Combine the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in a bowl, stir to combine.

Cream the butter and sugar together in a medium bowl (or use a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment).  Add in the yolks and blend thoroughly.

Add the spiced flour and combine thoroughly.  The mixture will resemble sand.

Add the milk 1 Tbs. at a time, blending.  Stop when you have a soft dough.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead gently until the dough is uniform.

Roll the dough out to 1/2 inch thickness.  Using a 2 inch round cookie cutter, cut out as many rounds as you can from the dough.  Collect and re-roll the scraps and repeat until all of the dough is used.

Put the rounds on an ungreased baking sheet, decorate with the dried fruit, and brush liberally with the beaten egg yolk.

Bake for 15 minutes, until golden and shiny.  Serve warm.

Source: adapted from NPR

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