Soul cakes are part of the traditional English Samhain / Halloween festivities. Traditionally soul cakes were flat round cakes flavoured with saffron, mixed spices and currants and would be considered the equivalent of modern day Halloween treat collected by children going door-to-door.
During the 19th and early 20th centuries children would go ‘souling’ on All Souls’ Day (November 2nd) where they would request alms or soul cakes with the following song:
“A soul, a soul, a soul cake.
Please good missus a soul cake.
An apple, a pear, a plum or a cherry,
Any good thing to make us merry.
Up with your kettles and down with your pans
Give us an answer and we’ll be gone
Little Jack, Jack sat on his gate
Crying for butter to butter his cake
One for St Peter, two for St Paul,
Three for the man who made us all.”
Soul cakes were also part of All Saints’ Eve superstitions. It was believed that the spirits of the departed would return to their homes on this night. As a result candles were lit to guide their way and food and drink (including soul cakes) were put out for them.
You can make your own traditional treats
Bring some tradition to your Halloween and spice up your festivities with this recipe for soul cakes.
150g caster sugar
560g plain flour, sifted
3 egg yolks
generous pinch of saffron
1 tbsp mixed spice
1 tsp allspice
3 tbsp currants
2 tsp milk
Crush the saffron in a pestle and mortar, add the milk and grind to combine. Sift together the flour and remaining spices into a bowl.
In the meantime, cream together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Beat the egg yolks and add to the creamed mixture a little at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the sifted flour and spice mix and stir in the currants. Add the milk and saffron mixture and enough additional milk to form a soft dough.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly-floured surface and shape into flat cakes about 5 or 6cm in diameter. Transfer to a well-buttered baking tray and place in an oven pre-heated to 180°C and bake for about 20 to 25 minutes, or until lightly golden. Allow to cool on the tray for 10 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.