I have a secret librarian who has been sending me all sorts of books that I might not know to pick up on my own. They range from rather saucy YA novels to some really interesting pseudo-historical series, and I’ve had a blast working my way through them. One of the most recent was the All Souls Trilogy, written by Deborah Harkness. There’s time travel, vampire, witches, and daemons, and some really excellent food descriptions.
Our first recipe from that series actually comes as the result of a mis-remembering. I was positive that cakes were mentioned right around the time of All Hallows Eve (it turns out they’re for Christmas carolers), but once I had it in my mind, I couldn’t shake it. So, onward we plunge!
Although these soul cakes are not canon to the All Souls trilogy, they would certainly fit in well, as they are dated back to at least the mid 1600s, and quite possibly much, much earlier than that. Traditionally, they were made to give out on All Souls Day, November 2nd. The poor would go door to door, offering to pray for the dead in exchange for alms in the form of these little cakes.
I had some trouble finding an old recipe for soul cakes, but found several references to them being oaten, or containing spices or currants. So, in for a penny, in for a pound, I included everything. What a delight these would have been to the poorer classes, who probably never encountered such rich flavors except on such special occasions such as this.
As for the little lanterns, jack-o-lanterns were originally made from turnips! I’ve always wanted to try it, and this recipe shoot was the perfect excuse. The only hiccup is that these awesome little turnip lanterns started turning up in the 1800s. So while the cakes precede the lanterns by several hundred years, the tradition of handing them out likely continued into the 19th. century. And hey, I told you there was time travel involved!
And I promise I’ll go canon for the next All Souls recipe. You know I can’t resist making a caudle… ;)
Recipe for Soul Cakes
makes: 2-3 dozen, depending on size Baking: ~15 minutes
- 2 cups flour
- 1/2 rolled oats (a little more is fine)
- 1/2 tsp. each ground cinnamon, ginger, and mace
- 1/2 cup raw sugar
- 1 stick butter
- 1/2 cup dried currants
- 2 heaping Tbs. candied peel
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cup ale or semi-sweet white wine (sherry is also delicious)
Preheat the oven to 375F, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Combine the flour, oats, spices, and sugar in a medium mixing bowl. Rub in the butter until you have a nice even crumbly consistency. Stir in the currants and candied peel, followed by the egg. Begin gradually adding in your beer or wine until the dough comes together into a workable consistency.
Lightly flour your counter or work surface and roll out the dough to about 1/4″ thick. Cut into rounds and place them on the prepared baking sheet.
Bake for about 15 minutes, then remove to a cooling rack.
If you’d like to ice the cakes, wait until they are completely cooled, then mix powdered sugar and a pinch of nutmeg with a little milk until it’s nice and thick, but can still be drizzled. A cross shape is traditional, but use any design you like!
Tips for carving turnips:
I found two tools invaluable: a melon baller to hollow out the turnips, and those little ribbon cutters used for carving clay. If you’ve got some schmancy pumpkin carving tools, I’m guessing those will work great, too. Because the carved turnips are so much smaller than pumpkins, battery powered votive candles work really well for illuminating them, but small stubs of candles can also work. You may need to cut a vent hole in the back to keep the candle burning.