When I was an undergraduate, I spent three years living in a College that did not like its students to cook and as a result provided rudimentary kitchen facilities, which generally consisted of a plug-in electric hob and a microwave. This set-up not being conducive to baking in the strict sense of the term, Welshcakes (which can be griddled or shallow-fried) became my signature offering for puddings, tea parties, bicycle rides and any occasion (or none) when cake was required.
Welshcakes, then, are for me one of those foods that unlock many fond memories. They’re also a bit of a family tradition – the recipe I use came to me from my Grandmama, who is half Welsh (as was my Grandfather, which I only found out this week, thus making me two eighths Welsh).
These are simple cakes, but deliciously moreish. I also enjoy the process of making them – rubbing the fat into the flour, patting out the dough, cutting the circles, frying, flipping and letting them cool at least long enough not to burn any tongues! It forces me to slow down and simply immerse myself in the ritual of it all.
An annual excuse to make Welshcakes is St. David’s Day (1st March) – the feast day of the patron saint of Wales. This year, it is providing me with an excuse to make Welshcakes to take on a walk in the hills to escape the city and to fuel a planning meeting for a conference I’m organising in April.
A quick note on ingredients: traditionally, Welshcakes are cooked in lard, which gives a distinctive flavour and texture, but in order to be able to feed vegetarians (as St. David himself was), I usually end up cooking them in butter, which is delicious in a different way. A variation which works well is ‘Christmas Welshcakes’ with dried cranberries and perhaps some finely grated orange zest.
8oz / 100g self raising flour
tsp ground mixed spice (you can buy a jar of mixed of sweet spices or use any combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger, according to your taste)
3oz / 75g demerara sugar
4oz / 100g cold butter, cut into 1cm cubes
3oz / 75g sultanas or currants
1 large egg, beaten
a little milk if needed
Lard or butter for cooking
Sift flour, spice and salt into a bowl, stir in sugar, then rub in the butter until crumbly.
Add the fruit, and then the egg to form a firm dough (adding milk if needed).
Roll or press out on a floured surface to 5mm / 1/4″ thick. Cut into rounds.
Heat a heavy frying or griddle pan and rub with lard or butter. Cook the cakes over a low heat for about a minute on each side – until lightly brown.
Leave to cool.
NOTE: the pan should be heated first, then the heat reduced to cook the cakes.