Christmas Soul Cakes, by Amy Howlett

I believe the texture is supposed to be half way between a biscuit and a scone, and apparently they are supposed to have a traditional ‘cross’ shape on the top, much like hot cross buns. For my version, I have crammed the soul cakes full or Christmas spices, orange zest, nuts, golden raisins and cranberries, because soul cakes are supposed to represent the warm, charitable spirit of Christmas, no matter who they are or where they’re from, and what warms the heart more than the smell of Christmas baking?! You can have these either as straight biscuits, or poke holes in the top of them and hang them on your Christmas tree! The bakers’ creations are supposed to reflect County Durham in particular. I can’t claim to hail from County Durham, but for me Durham comes to life when you see all the trees and Christmas lights go up around, the smells of Christmas food and drink in all the cafés, and possibly even some snow. This is my homage to the magic of Durham at Christmas time. Enjoy, and MERRY CHRISTMAS! XXX

Ingredients (makes about 20 soul cakes)

For the soul cakes

  • 175g butter, slightly softened
  • 175g dark brown sugar
  • 3 medium egg yolks
  • 2 tsp orange extract
  • 450g plain flour
  • 5 tsp mixed spice
  • 1 tsp salt
  • finely grated zest of 2 oranges
  • 140g mixed dried fruit (use whatever your favourite Christmas dried fruits may be; I used 70g each of golden raisins and dried cranberries)
  • 70g mixed nuts (I used walnuts and toasted flaked almonds), roughly chopped

For the topping

  • 400g white chocolate, chopped
  • 2 tsp mixed spice
  • 1 ½ tsp almond extract

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C/375F. Grease two large baking trays then line with greaseproof/baking paper.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar together in a large mixing bowl (or standing mixer), then beat in the egg yolks one at a time, followed by the orange extract.
  3. In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, mixed spice and salt, then add to the butter mixture and mix until thoroughly combined (NB take care not to overwork the mixture, which will risk making the soul cakes tough; work the dough until it has just come together but no more).
  4. Stir in the dried fruit, nuts and orange zest until thoroughly incorporated into the dough (again, taking care not to overwork). The finish dough should be fairly soft and similar to scones, so not too stiff but not runny like cake batter.
  5. On a lightly-floured surface, roll out the dough with a rolling pin to a thickness of 1-2cm, then stamp out circles using a 6cm cutter. Repeat rolling and stamping until you have used up all the dough (you will end up with roughly 20 soul cakes). Using a sharp knife, mark each soul cake with a cross then place on the prepared baking trays, leaving a little space between each one.
  6. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 10-15 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and from the tray, then leave on a wire rack to cool completely.
  7. For the topping, in a small saucepan bring a little water to a gentle boil, then place a large heat-proof bowl on the top (the bowl should sit snugly on top of the pan without actually touching the water; this is known as a ‘bain marie’). Place the chopped white chocolate into the bowl of the bain marie, then stir over the heat until the chocolate is thoroughly melted. Remove from the heat and stir in the mixed spice and almond extract. Leave until slightly cooled but not set.
  8. Using the cross on the soul cakes as a guide, use the topping to create a thicker cross on the top of each soul cake, then leave until the chocolate is completely firm (feel free to decorate the crosses as you like!).
  9. ENJOY! The soul cakes will keep in an airtight container for up to 5 days. (*Sorry I forgot the ale froth and wine!!!)

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