Friday, October 28, 2011

"A Soul, A Soul, A Soul Cake"

I stumbled across an old English custom of "Souling", in which the poor would go around begging for money and food, specifically, "soul cakes". In return, the poor would sing souling songs and offer to pray for the family's dead on All Saints Day or All Hallows Day (November 1). This custom, apparently, has is roots in the Druid celebration of Samhain, or Summer's End, to honor the dying sun on the last night of October (October 31). Combine these two, and you get All Hallows Evening, Hallowe'en, and now, Halloween! No doubt, souling has adapted into modern trick-or-treating, but I like the idea of helping the departed. They believed that for each soul cake eaten, one soul would be released from purgatory!

Traditionally, soul cakes contained saffron to make them yellow, like the dying sun, and topped with currants, in the shape of a cross. They evolved into more of a tea-time treat, omitting the saffron, adding yeast, and served with butter and jam. I chose the traditional route. I doubted, that in a land of candy bars, my kids would find these to be a "treat"; however, to my surprise, they liked them! Try it, and maybe you and your family can help a poor soul!


Soul Cakes

Makes about 17-20, 2-inch cakes, palm-sized cuteness!

Ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
8 tablespoons butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup currants (optional)
A pinch of saffron, or a few drops of yellow food coloring (optional)
1 beaten egg yolk, for the glaze

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Combine the flour, nutmeg, cinnamon, and salt in a small bowl. Set aside. Warm the milk over low heat, until just hot to the touch. Add the saffron or food coloring. Remove from the heat.

Using a stand mixer with paddle attachment, or a hand mixer, cream the butter and sugar together. Add the 2 egg yolks and blend thoroughly. Add the dry ingredients and continue to mix. (The mixture will be dry and crumbly.) One tablespoon at a time, begin adding the warm milk, until blended, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally. When you have a soft dough, stop adding the milk. You probably won't need the entire 1/2 cup. I only needed 4 tablespoons.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Knead gently, until the dough is uniform. Roll out to a thickness of 1/2-inch. Using a floured, 2-inch round cookie or biscuit cutter, cut out as many rounds as you can and set on an ungreased baking sheet. You can space them closely, they do not spread.

Brush liberally with the beaten egg yolk, and decorate with currants. If you don't want to use the currants, use the back (widest part) of a table knife, and place an "X" across the top. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until just golden and shiny. Cool on a wire rack.

Recipe adapted from T. Susan Chang.

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