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.