So I probably should have saved this post for the 1st March which is St David’s Day (he’s the patron saint of Wales) but I was making some welsh cakes to send to friends as part of a Christmas parcel and I thought that after talking so much about the food and wine of where I currently reside it would be nice to share something of my real home – Wales.
While they are very popular and well known within Wales, it seems that all knowledge of welsh cakes stops at the border. As a result unless you’re from Wales or have a connection to the country somehow you’re very unlikely to have ever heard of them let alone encountered one.
When asked to explain what they are I always go for “a cross between a biscuit and a cake” but this doesn’t really do them justice. In true they’re very hard to define. They have quite a close texture but they’re a lot softer than a biscuit (unless they’re several days old – not that many last that long when I make them!) and they’re also nothing like a cake! Let’s just say they are unique! That being said, I’ve yet to meet anyone who doesn’t like them once they’re had a try.
The hardest thing about making welsh cakes, as you can probably tell from my recipe, is actually cooking them! Traditionally you should use a bakestone. This is a large round piece of cast iron which is usually 1cm – 1.5cm thick (and which by consequence weighs rather a lot!) and so provides a nice steady constant low heat. To my shame, I don’t own a bakestone (although I’m considering trying to get one across into France in my hand luggage – I think it would take up half my baggage weight allowance if I put one in the hold!). Instead I use a cast iron skillet.
This has nowhere near the thickness of a proper bakestone and so I’m forever having to adjust the heat to stop the cakes burning or drying out (since it usually takes me a while to find the right balance not all the welsh cakes I make are fit for human consumption, although with extra sugar the “slightly” burnt ones usually taste fine!). That said it’s still easier than trying to use a frying pan which, while possible, requires that you watch your cakes like a hawk!
While there no “one true recipe”, most traditional welsh cakes contain mixed spices (I use ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon) and raisins or sultanas (I prefer the softer raisins). However these days you’ll also find plenty more exotic varieties.
When I lived in Cardiff there was a lovely shop down the Bay which made all sorts of flavours and inspired me to try some different options myself. A favourite variation of mine was lemon, vanilla and white chocolate (although the white chocolate has a tendency to burn making the cooking even trickier again).
For my Christmas box I wanted to make two different varieties. After whipping up my normal welsh cakes I had a go at a new Christmas themed orange and cranberry batch. For these I didn’t add any spices (but kept the salt) but instead added the zest of a (nice large) orange along with the sugar and replaced the raisins with dried cranberries (craisins as the packet horrifically referred to them).
I also forgot that I was using plain flour and so needed to add baking powder (I do that a lot since I’ve moved to France – I really do miss self-raising flour!) and had great fun trying to incorporate it into the dough, but the less said about that the better.
All in all I thought these worked pretty well. There was a real freshness and zing from the orange and while not as soft as raisins the dried cranberries were not too dry. I think the only thing I would change when I make them next would be to add a little bit of cinnamon (probably about half a teaspoon) to bring that extra hint of Christmas flavour.
So there you go; a little piece of my beloved Welsh culture. Despite my moaning about bakestone and skillet temperatures these are actually really easy to make and absolutely moreish!