I’ve spoken lovingly many times of St David’s Day and how it’s rituals are embedded into my culture.
However, through Dawnsio Gwerin, the llefaru, the daff, the leek and the ) there is one token of Welsh culture that will stay with me literally until the day I die, regardless of what day it is.
That is the Welsh Cake.
Eating them is both an act of devotion to my childhood just as much, if not more so, than to Welsh culture.
I have had Welsh Cakes woven into the tapestry of my life for as long as I can remember and my Mam has been baking them on a griddle for as long as I could see. I am part of the army that believes that nobody cooks a better Welsh Cake than their mothers.
But I believe mine genuinely does.
You haven’t tasted a real Welsh Cake unless it’s been cooked by a Welsh parent. Hand on hip at the stove, screaming at you to be back in the house before the street lamps come on, or to stay where they could see you, Welsh Cakes are just not the same unless they are done by a parent. There’s magic in the method.
For those not familiar with the Welsh Cake, allow me to fumble through a description of them. They are texturally kind-of but not really like a scone, while being fried (but called baked) like a pancake but then presented and eaten like a biscuit… but called a cake. And at the very same time, being absolutely nothing like a scone, pancake, biscuit or a cake for that matter.
They are just their own thing.
They are always, also, made in industrial quantities. I mean… Wales couldn’t possibly ever go hungry if Welsh parents decided to make Welsh Cakes. When my Mam made these, it would be like a small bakery. Tubs for the house, tubs for me to take to University, tubs for friends, tubs to take to work, tubs for my friends.
And for as long as I’ve had air in my lungs, she has never gone off-piste with the recipe. She’d get the griddle pan out from under the cupboard (it was seldom washed – just oiled) and it was warmed up and she would get cracking on her dough. I’m one for meddling with a recipe (hence why I never state anything outside of my own culture as an authentic recipe). I’ll add different herbs, switch up the spices, swap around the method, but in all of her years of cooking these, the Welsh Cakes my Mam bakes today still feel and taste like the ones I had growing up.
So to honour that, what I’m sharing with you today is my Mam’s actual recipe. I went to her house the not so long back, and took pictures of the handwritten recipe that she has had in her notebook since I was a child. The page is faded from age and splattered with food, but just looking at the recipe can transport me to my childhood.
So if looking at the recipe does that, just imagine what the taste can do.
I know St. David’s Day is probably only important to Welsh people, but I promise you these Welsh Cakes transcend any celebratory day and are a genuine part of my upbringing, and if someday I can bake them half as good for my children (if that ever happens) I’ll be a happy little Welshman.
Makes 35 – 40 Welsh Cakes
450g self-raising flour (plus extra for dusting a countertop)
225 unsalted butter
170g caster sugar (plus extra for sprinkling)
2 teaspoons baking powder
A grating of fresh nutmeg
- Empty the flour into a big bowl and drop in the butter. Using the pads of your thumb and fingertips, rub this combination into a scruffy breadcrumb like ball.
- Empty in the sugar, sultanas, baking powder and the nutmeg and mix all into the breadcrumb ball using a wooden spoon.
- Crack the eggs into a mug and gradually mix this into the dough, keeping it as light as possible as you don’t want to overmix and toughen the dough.
- Once everything combines into a ball, take it out of the bowl onto a clean and lightly floured surface.
- Roll the dough out with a rolling pin until the dough is about 1/2 inch thick and using a round cutter, cut out little circular shapes.
- Once you’ve cut the shapes from the sheet of dough, ball up the remaining scraps of dough, roll out to 1/2 inch thick again and cut out more shapes and keep doing this until you have no dough left.
- Heat a griddle pan (that’s to say a thick, flat pan but in the absence of one, a heavy bottom frying pan or skillet will be fine) on the hob for 5 minutes until piping hot. If you don’t have a griddle pan (WHAT KIND OF WELSH PERSON ARE YOU?!) then a frying pan that can take a high heat would be fine.
- Place the little cakes into the pan. It’s easier to place them on the pan clockwise, that way you know which one you started with. Keep them on the one side for about 3 minutes before flipping them and baking the other side for 2 minutes. This is a prescriptive way to write the timings but I will often just keep flipping them over until I can see they are evenly browned on both sides, even charred in some spots is perfect.
- Take them out of the pan, place them on a cooling rack and continue baking the rest of them.
- While they’re still warm on the rack, coat them in some sugar (both sides) and allow to cool before eating, but many times while my mum would be baking these, I’d be snatching them from the countertop while they’re still warm.
- My only other recommendation for these is to enjoy them with a proper tea of Welsh Brew. It just doesn’t get better than that.