Yeast Soul Cakes, by Gillian Banks

I have spent a happy day in my kitchen experimenting with 2 recipes for Soul Cakes.  I found a recipe in English Bread and Yeast cookery by Elizabeth David, ‘Yeast Soule Cakes.’ (page 493) It is said to be from Mrs Mary Ward of Pulverbatch, Shropshire, who was the last person to keep the custom of giving ‘Soul Cakes.’ She lived to be 101 and died in 1853.

The recipe given by E.D.is: “3 pounds flour, quarter pound butter (or half a pound if the cakes are to be extra rich, half a pound of sugar, 2 spoonsful of yeast 2 eggs, and sufficient new milk to make into a light paste.

Put the mixture(without the sugar and spice) to rise before the fire for half an hour, then add the sugar, allspice enough to flavour it well; make into rather flat buns and bake.” She gives the source as, ‘Shropshire Cookery Book, compiled by the Shropshire Federation of Women’s Institutes, c1955.

This is my first experiment based on E.D’s recipe:

Ingredients

  • 750g plain flour
  • 100g salted butter
  • 115g sugar
  • 2x 7g sachets dried yeast
  • 1egg
  • 2 teaspoons mixed spice (I didn’t have allspice) half a pint, plus a bit more, of milk a handful of raisins I used a similar method to E.D.’s recipe, rising it for 1 hour, shaping it into 18 cakes, rising it 20 mins. and then baked it @ 180 degrees C for 30 mins.

The result has a nice texture, mildly spiced.  the addition of raisins makes it more interesting.

My second experiment,based on your newspaper article, using similar proportions to Elizabeth David’s recipe:

  • 500g plain flour +250g wholemeal flour (I thought that this would be more like Medieval flour
  • 100g salted butter
  • 115g sugar
  • 2x7g sachets dried yeast(I didn’t have ale barm!)
  • 1egg quarter pint dry sherry,(instead of sack)
  • Quarter pint milk + a little extra half a teaspoon each of: nutmeg, ground cloves and ground mace
  • A handful of raisins.

I made it and baked it as experiment 1.

This recipe was more closely textured, but better flavoured The Soul Cake results are a cross between a bread and a modern cake recipe, which bears strong similarities to an  American ‘Election Cake.’ (Old Time New England Cookbook p. Dover 1993) The recipe could take more sugar, for a sweet tooth and, as suggested in E.D’s recipe, more butter.

I was brought up in industrial South Yorkshire and do not have a family tradition of any All Soul’s Day customs, your newspaper article was the first time I had heard of the old tradition.

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