Post by: Alison Hein.
It is my joy to create an annual Halloween recipe. In 2011 (when I began writing for Charles P. Rogers) it was the fun and popular Crêpe Dracula – a little chocolate crêpe dressed up like the count himself. Following that, I shared my secrets for baking individual Smoky Pumpkin, Egg and Bacon Cauldrons, and last year, we enjoyed rich and colorful Pumpkin Cream Crêpes.
This time, I chose to explore an ancient and somewhat confusing tradition of Soul Cakes, which are linked to the Gaelic harvest festival of Samhain, the forbear of Halloween. It was a time of year when spirits and fairies could enter more easily into our world, and celebratory, seasonal foods were served. Soul Cakes were baked with exotic saffron, perhaps to represent the great harvest sun. Much later, Samhain evolved into a Christian holiday, and Soul Cakes were made to honor the dead. Many bakers pressed currants in the tops of their cakes in the shape of a cross.
Soul Cake recipes abound, ranging from quick breads to yeast breads, tiny muffins to giant cakes. They are sweetened and spiced, glazed and decorated. I decided to make sweet, individual golden orbs, swapping out currants for plump golden raisins – tiny little suns within the great harvest sun. Fall spices add a pie-like feel, and become mysterious and aromatic when warmed. Wrap one in a colorful napkin and give it as a gift, or hoard them and share with a special someone for a soulful breakfast in bed.
10 – 12 threads of saffron
1 tablespoon hot water
¼ pound (1 stick) butter, softened, plus an additional teaspoon for greasing pans
1 cup sugar
½ cup milk
1½ cups flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon cloves
¼ teaspoon allspice
½ cup golden raisins
Preheat oven to 325°. Generously grease two 4×2-inch round cake pans and set aside.
Place the saffron threads in a mortar and crush with the pestle until powdery. Cover with 1 tablespoon hot water and let sit for at least 20 minutes.
Add butter and sugar to a large bowl, and cream together until fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition, until batter is light and smooth. Pour milk into a measuring cup and stir in saffron “tea”. In a separate small bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and allspice. Alternately add milk mixture and flour mixture into batter, stirring thoroughly after each addition. Gently stir in golden raisins.
Spoon batter equally into the prepared pans, smoothing the surface with a spatula. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until cake is golden and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Let cool on rack for 30 minutes. Remove cakes from pans and serve warm, if you like.
Makes 2 4×2-inch cakes.
NOTE: If you are as fascinated as I am by convoluted food history, I recommend reading this engaging article and recipe from T. Susan Chang.