Scone of the Month: ‘Souling’ a simple cake

Somewhere between light and dark, summer and autumn, the living and the dead, lies a season long honored and celebrated. As the veil between this world and the next thins, the days shorten into a period of long hours of darkness. 

Somewhere between a cookie and scone, lies something called a “soul cake,” that dates back to the Medieval ages and may have been one of the first “treats” handed out during the season that would become our modern-day Halloween.

In the British Islaes, small, spicy, fruit-laced cakes were handed out during the Halloween Season  in such tradition that the practice, which continued through the the early twentieth century, was called “soul-caking” or “souling,” according to the book “Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween” by Lisa Morton (Reaktion Books Ltd.; 2012). The seeded or fruited cakes, handed out to children and adults, were often not eaten, but kept as a good-luck token. 

Curious about his Old-World custom and my own interest in making breads and other goodies from the past, I sought out a recipe for soul cakes last year. I made the little biscuit-y cakes and found them so tasty, I decided to make a batch again this year.

My recipe comes from “Samhain: Rituals, Recipes & Lore for Halloween” by Diana Rajchel (Llewellyn Publications; 2015). Rajchel’s book includes a delightful section all about the foods of Halloween, and includes everything from kale chips and baked apples to pumpkin bisque and pan de muerto (Day of the Dead bread).

The Soul Cakes recipe comes together quite easily, with simple  ingredients and mixing methods that remind me of both cookies and scones. While it called for flour, it recommends using oat or almond flour. I’ve found oat flour to be so flavorful for these, it’s what I chose again. The flour is mixed with cinnamon and nutmeg, and I added a dash of salt as well.

While the recipe calls for an electric mixer to cream one stick of butter and sugar (or maple syrup), I decided to fully embrace old-school here and cream them by hand. Easier than you would expect (use it or lose it, my mom would say).

Two egg yolks are added to the creamed butter and sugar and incorporated until well-mixed.

The oat flour and spices are then blended into the butter and sugar (again, I did this by hand) to make a somewhat crumbly dough.

The next step for this recipe is a little unusual and, for me, needed to be modified. I found the first time I made this the 1/2 cup of milk that is heated until hot to the touch was a bit too much, so I reduced the amount this time and ended up adding just about 1/4 cup to make a moist dough. I would recommended warming 1/2 cup just in case, but adding only enough to moisten the dough, but keeping it still stiff enough so that it can be rolled into a log. 

It is recommended to add raisins to the dough, but I had some black currants that I thought would work well.

Much like a slice-and-bake cookie, the dough is turned out onto lightly floured parchment and rolled into a long roll.

I sliced the roll into 1/2-inch pieces with a sharp knife.

I shaped the slices into rounds (the dough is still soft) and placed them on a parchment-lined baking sheet. I ended up with about 14 cakes.

A beaten egg is used to brush a glaze over each cake to provide a sheen.

I read that often these cakes’ tops are often marked with a cross. I decided to use more currants to decorate the tops this way.

With no leavening, the cakes retain their compact sze, but come out earthy and golden and leaving the house smelling spicy and warm, like an oatmeal cookie.

Dense, crumbly, buttery and tender, these little cakes have great flavor from the rich oat flour and spices and little bits of tart currant. Great with a warm beverage on a cold morning or evening, I imagine them as the grateful reward for wandering souls from days of yore.

Soul Cakes

Adapted from “Samhain: Rituals, Recipes & Lore for Halloween”

by Diana Rajchel (Llewellyn Publications; 2015)

Makes about 12 to 14

  • 1 egg
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 cups oat or almond flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cugar or maple syrup
  •  1 stick butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1/2 cup raisins or currants

Preheat oven to 400°F. Beat one egg and set aside. In a small bowl, combine the flour, spices and salt. In a saucepan, heat milk until hot to the touch. In a medium mixing bowl, cream together the butter and the sugar. 

Add the egg yolks and blend thoroughly. Add in the flour and mix until the dough is crumbly. Gradually add just enough of the milk to form a soft dough. Add currants or raisins.

Turn the dough out onto parchment paper (using additional flour, if needed) and knead the dough until it is uniform. Roll into a cylinder, then cut into roughly half-inch slices.

Lay out on a parchment-lined baking sheet and brush with the beaten egg. Decorate with additional raisins or currants, if desired.

Bake for about 15 minutes, until golden brown.

Comments are closed.