What are Soul Cakes?
Soul, Soul, a soul cake!
I pray thee, good missus, a soul cake!
One for Peter, two for Paul,
three for Him what made us all!
Soul Cake, soul cake, please good missus, a soul cake.
An apple, a pear, a plum, or a cherry, any good thing to make us all merry.
One for Peter, two for Paul, & three for Him who made us all.
Traditional British song
Soul Cakes are small round spiced cakes, made for All Soul’s Day to celebrate and commemorate the dead. Traditionally, soul cakes would be given out to children and the poor who would go from door to door, begging for alms or “Souling”, on All Soul’s Day. Every cake eaten would represent a soul freed from Purgatory. The giving and receiving of soul cakes started in the Middle Ages and is widely seen as the origin of trick or treating.
You can also bake these biscuits to mark Samhain, the pagan festival to mark the end of the harvest and the start of the winter, at the point midway between the solstice and the equinox. Or just bake them to enjoy as the tasty biscuits that they are.
Biscuit or Cookie? Scone or Biscuit?
This is an especially confusing British English vs American one. What I call a biscuit is an American cookie, BUT here in the UK we also call some, but not all, biscuits cookies – plain biscuits are called biscuits, but a soft chocolate chip biscuit would be called a cookie.
A British scone (pronounced to rhyme either with GONE or BONE – I say the first but both sides will argue they are right) is similar to an American biscuit.
Soul Cakes Ingredients
Here is what you need to make soul cakes
- Caster Sugar – I nearly always use golden caster sugar when baking. You can also use soft light brown ow white caster sugar. If you don’t have caster sugar pop granulated into a spice grinder and whizz it for a second or two to break it down a little.
- Flour – Everyday white plain flour without raising agents. And not bread flour.
- Egg Yolks – I try and buy free rage organic eggs. Egg whites can be frozen and used in meringues and macarons.
- Butter – At room temperature and softened.
- Dried fruit – I’ve used raisins, but any vine fruit would work well. You could even cut up larger dried fruit like apricots, or use a mix.
- Spices – I use a mix of mixed spice and all spice for the flavour, then a pinch of turmeric or saffron for a touch of colour.
- Milk – Any will do. Whole, skimmed, or non dairy milk. At a pinch you could add some water.
How to Make Soul Cakes – Step by Step
Step one – Gather your ingredients so you are ready to bake your soul cakes. If needed cut the butter into cubes to allow it to soften.
Step two – Use an electric mixer and cream the butter and sugar together until smooth, pale and fluffy. The softer your butter is the quicker this will be. Don’t be prepared to skimp on this stage. You will know when you are there as the texture and colour of the mixture will suddenly change from thick and yellow to pale and fluffy.
I find that a hand mixer is far more effective than a stand mixer, unless you are making a double or triple batch.
Step three – Whisk in the egg yolks.
Step four – Mix in the flour and spices. Then add some milk to bring it all together into a dough.
Step five – Stir in the raisins or currants. I find this is easier to do with a wooden spoon. Better still, get your hands in and squidge it all together.
Step six – Dust your worktop and rolling pin with some flour and cut out the cakes with a 5 cm / 2″ cookie cutter. The edges will look a little rustic if you cut through a raisin – don’t worry about it!
Fluted or Straight Sided Cutter?
I’ve always been told that you should use a straight sided cutter for savoury food and dishes, and a fluted one for sweet, hence using a fluted one for these soul cakes. But use whatever you have!
Step seven – Using a pallet knife or dough scraper, transfer the soul cakes to a baking tray covered with a sheet of baking parchment or silicon. Use a sharp knife and cut a cross into the top of each cake and bake for about 15 minutes until puffed and golden.
Soul Cake Recipe Notes
- These soul cakes are 5 Weight Watchers Smart Points each.
- The biscuits keep for 3 days in an airtight tin.
- You can freeze the dough, wrapped well in plastic wrap and a bag, then defrost, roll and bake as per the recipe.
What is in Mixed Spice?
Firstly mixed spice and allspice are NOT the same thing. Allspice is a pepper from the Jamaican bayberry tree. The flavour is similar to a mix of cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg, with a bit of heat, hence the name.
Mixed spice is a warming mix of ground spices. The one I buy in the UK contains cinnamon, caraway, ginger, cloves, nutmeg and coriander seed. If you don’t have mixed spice, then add half a teaspoon in total of any of these. If you don’t have any allspice, then use extra mixed spice.
For another traditional British bake, try my Dorset Apple cake.
I first heard of Soul Cakes when I listened to Sting’s concert of his If On a Winter’s Night album from Durham Cathedral. I went to Durham University and quite literally lived in the the shadow of the Cathedral for 3 years. The album consists of traditional English folk songs, carols and poems set to music. He is accompanied by talented musicians, playing traditional British instruments, including the Northumbrian pipes, melodion and metal strung Scottish harp.
Easy Soul Cakes Recipe
- 100 g butter
- 100 g golden caster sugar
- 2 egg yolks (free range)
- 250 g plain flour
- 1 pinch saffron (or turmeric for the colour)
- 1 tsp allspice
- ½ tsp mixed spice
- 2 tbs milk
- 50 g raisins
- Cut up the butter into small chunks to allow it to soften. Turn the oven on at 180°C / 360°F / GM 4.
- Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar together in a medium-sized mixing bowl until light and fluffy.
- Whisk in the egg yolks.
- Add the flour and spices, adding enough milk to form a dough that holds together.
- Stir in the raisins.
- Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and roll out to about 1cm thick .
- Bake at 180°C / 360°F / GM 4 for about 25 mins until golden and firm.
- These soul cakes are 5 Weight Watchers Smart Points each.
- Soul cakes keep for 3 days in an airtight tin.
- You can freeze the dough, wrapped well in plastic wrap and a bag. Then defrost, roll and bake as per the recipe.
- Mixed spice is a warming mix of ground spices. The one I buy in the UK contains cinnamon, caraway, ginger, cloves, nutmeg and coriander seed. If you don't have mixed spice add half a teaspoon in total of any of these. If you don't have any allspice, then use extra mixed spice.
Soul Cake recipe originally published November 2009, updated September 2018.
I was at the concert. It was quite brilliant.
Sarah, Maison Cupcake
I’ve never heard of these… what a perfect recipe for the day! I always like to hear about traditional baked things.
I’ve made these before, and they are delicious. I generally make them on Halloween for rituals, since I’m a Wiccan, but it’s a good idea using them for All Souls’ Day
These sound excellent! I’ve never heard of them before either. Great blog post! :)
What good ditty. I can’t see any raisins though, were they camera shy?
I’d never heard of these, great traditional recipe and a history lesson all in one. I’m sure my girls would enjoy making these, much better than Halloween shenanigans! ;)
Thanks Michelle, Sting’s song is well worth a listen too.
Jeanne @ Cooksister
I’d heard of these but had no idea what they actually were… Have always loved Sting though – he just seems to get better with age. I saw him in S Africa in the late 1990s and still get goosebumps when I think of the acoustic bits of the show.
Love String. And those Soul Cakes wonderful. A real traditional British bake.
What a charming tale of these delightful little biscuits. I had never heard of them until now.
I’m sure my Mother makes something like this, but I wouldn’t have known the reason behind them. Really interesting.
I love Durham Cathedral, such a splendid sight.
I also love the idea of Soul cakes, what a simple and lovely idea.
I love food that has tradition. These are such a great idea and so easy to make.
I cannot admit to being a Sting fan, but I am a biscuit fan. And I have also been to Durham and enjoyed it very much. Nice recipe for a traditional British bake.
My Mum loves Sting, I think it is because he is a Northerner. And she loves Durham. She was showing me an etching she has of the cathedral only last week.
The Soul cakes are something I’d never heard of.
I’m really intrigued by this album by Sting, the instruments used sound amazing. I imagine it was quite moving to hear in the cathedral.
The Soul Cakes sound great too. Yum yum.
Nice idea to make these for an occasion, traditional food is always a winner.
I remember when this album came out, it is beautiful.
I didn’t know about the soul cakes though, that’s really interesting. A nice simple recipe.
We’ve visited Durham a few times, it is an amazing historic city.
Your soul cakes are a lovely classic recipe, would be great to make with the children. I’m sure we used to make something similar when I was younger.
These remind me of my Grandmother’s Easter biscuits! Very similar and so easy to make. I love the meaning behind them.
I love home baking and simple things like this are perfect. Lovely little story behind the idea.
A proper fuss free easy to make recipe. Lovely idea to make these for All souls day.
Not heard of these, but they look very tasty. Lovely with a hot cup of tea.
I’m a big Sting fan. I’ve heard the Durham concert, it was fab. So I’m loving the connection with your Soul Cakes.
A very nice traditional home bake, something that we can enjoy any time of the day. So easy to make.
These are new to me, and they look delicious. I like the idea of celebrating the end of the harvest.
I really fancy these. Great recording too, thank you.
Does the saffron need to be in the milk before you make the dough or will it disperse anyway?
Hi Lynn, I’ve updated the recipe – saffron goes in with the spices.
I didn’t bake them yet.. But love your presentation. I first heard of them from Sting too :)
Thank you – I love that track from Sting!
Just made these cookies for my grandmother here in Canada! they were absolutely delicious!!
Hi Lilly, thanks for letting my know and I am so glad she enjoyed them!
Would it be very wrong to use mincemeat on these cookies?
I am sure you could – not too much as it will change the texture and moisture of the dough.
I do love traditional bakes like this. They are something my Grandmother used to make and they are delicious.
We always make these so it is lovely to see someone else sharing the recipe. So easy to make and a delicious little treat to share.
Thank you very much for the recipe! I was a little skeptical about the bake time, but it turns out they really do need that long to brown up. These would be absolutely LOVELY with a cuppa. Just the right level of spice, and the raisins add a nice nugget of sweetness. I also had some candied orange peels that I tossed in as well. Great recipe!
thank you Margaret – I don’t like too much spice in things, and of course the brand (and freshness) you use also makes a massive difference. So glad you enjoyed them.
I want to try your Soul Cake recipe. One of the ingredients is mixed spice. I am in the USA. Could you please tell me what mixed spice is?
Mine is a mix of ground cinnamon, caraway, coriander, clove, nutmeg and ginger. But use your own blend
Have you done a gluten free version of this? Please, let me know.
I’m not an expert in gluten free baking, but I’d think that you could use your regular GF flour for this.
It was a song also who made me search for the soul cakes:
“A soalin” by Peter Paul and Mary (Sting’s is a cover of this song).
If you could find the “live at Paris” version, there they improvise and through the verses they point out the differences between the material and the spiritual world, between “to have more” and “to have what i really need”!
Thanks for the recipe, although I folllow all Sabats, it’s the first time I’ll bake soul cakes.
Thanks for the recipe and the info. My 9yo son made them (with some help) for a project on Autumn festivals. We really enjoyed the video of Sting’s performance too.
that is fantastic! thanks for letting me know Amanda!
Made for first time today, turned out crunchy, is that the texture or did I do something wrong?
sounds like you might have slightly overcooked them. I recommend a heavy oven tray to bake on
This was my first time making these. I wanted to make them in preparation of a small Halloween gathering I’m having tonight. I’m sure I’m the only one in Hawaii making them today. They turned out very nice. They kind of just remind me of shortbread.
Dear Brian, that is amazing! I hope you enjoyed them.
Wow, with this recipe you get amazing biscuits and an intro to an amazing playlist. The Soul Cakes turned out amazing; I put a bit more spice in them (cinnimon, ginger and tumeric) than your recipe. Listened to ‘If on a Winter’s Night’ as I made and baked them. Thanks for the extra in this recipe.
thanks Victoria, I LOVE that album. Perfect for the first nights after the clocks change.
I make barm Brack every year instead of a Christmas cake. I use dark, treakle-y sugar to make it, soaking the fruit in tea, with a good glug of Triana sherry, overnight. My grandmother used to use whatever alcohol she had at hand. I always make several; I have Irish friends who love it. Now I will batch bake these for all souls night too.