The Origin of Soul Cakes
In order to supplant the Celtic traditions of Europe in the mid-eighth century Pope Gregory III named November 1st, the day after the Celtic festival of Samhain, as All Saints Day. Around 1000 AD the celebration of All Souls Day was added on November 2nd. All Saints Day also became known as All Hallows or All Hallowsmas, derived from the old English Alholowmesse. All Saints Day commemorated the lives and deaths of the saints and All Souls Day was dedicated to the souls of all those who had died. In Catholic belief souls that are not perfect for heaven are trapped in an in-between world known as Purgatory, but they can be released from Purgatory through the power of prayer. On All Souls Day the custom in England was for the poor to go from house to house asking for a soul cake, a small piece of bread or biscuit. In exchange the poor person would pray for the soul of a deceased relative that would hopefully release them from Purgatory. The more soul cakes they received the more prayers would be said. The custom became known as "going a-souling" and became popular with children as well, quite possibly a precursor to Trick or Treating. In many ways "going a-souling" was a continuation of the earlier Celtic practice of leaving out food and drink to appease the spirits on Samhain (Halloween) night.
Traditional Soul Cake Rhyme
"A soule-cake, a soule cake,
Have mercy on all Christian soules for a soule-cake."
Soul Cake Recipe
Soul cakes were originally made from simple ingredients, flour, water and egg. Over time spices, sweeteners and dried fruit were also added.
Makes approximately 16 small cakes
- 170g plain flour
- 85g sugar
- 85g softened butter
- 1/2 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tablespoon ground nutmeg
- 1/2 tablespoon mixed spiced
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1 tablespoon milk
- Preheat oven to 200C and grease two baking trays
- In a large bowl mix together the dry ingredients, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, mixed spice and sugar.
- Rub the butter into the mixture until it resembles bread crumbs.
- Add the egg and the milk and mix with a wooden spoon until it forms a dough.
- Roll out the dough onto a floured surface and use a pastry cutter or a small glass to cut out small discs.
- You can add designs onto the cakes using the smooth edge of a knife, traditionally it would have been a cross.
- Place cakes onto the greased baking trays and bake for 15-20 minutes, until slightly golden.
- Leave to cool and harden for 5 minutes before serving.
I'm told these cakes also go very well with Chai tea.