Happy Halloween! I know I’ve said it before, but I LOVE Halloween. Unfortunately, this year Jay and I did not have any fabulous Halloween parties to attend. We didn’t actually get to go to one last year either (note to self: start planning to throw Halloween party myself on 2012, thus ensuring we get to dress up!) Even without the party, I still love it and as you can see, if Jay and I can’t get gussied up for the occasion, I have no problem tormenting my pets with little costumes! (Yes, sadly I am one of those people…)
Here is a bit from a blog I wrote last year on the origins of our Halloween celebrations:
Our modern Halloween celebrations are derived from the Celtic holiday of Samhain. Samhain was Celtic New Year. It was a harvest festival which marked the dying of the sun-god and a turning to the colder, dormant half of the year. On this night, the Celts believed the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead was at its lowest point. The dead could more easily travel back over to our side, and if we weren’t careful, we could accidentally wander over in to their world and be trapped-a good reason to stay close to home and bonfires, no doubt! This belief likely gave rise to our Halloween legends of ghosts, ghouls and witches wandering about on this night in particular. As Christian beliefs took hold, Samhain celebrations became re-branded as All Soul’s Eve. By the eighth century beggars, rather than the spirits from the other world, would travel door to door on this night. In exchange for their prayers for the family’s departed, they were given a small cake, known as a Soul Cake.
I wasn’t going to bake any Soul Cakes this year, I thought I’d just publish a picture from last year, but this time include the recipe for folks. However, once I started reading over the recipe, the desire to keep up the holiday traditions, no matter how old they may be, took over and before I knew it, I had an impromptu batch of Soul Cakes. I’m glad that I baked them. These cakes are a mildly sweet and a bit spicy, a cross between a cookie and a cake that is topped with currants in the shape of a cross. Jay, who tends not to like super-sweet desserts (what?!!) really liked them. They are quite nice with a cup of tea. The recipe comes together very quickly, so it’s not too late! Make a batch for any wandering souls that you may come upon tonight!
recipe from NPR by T. Susan Chang
yield: 12-15 2″ Soul Cakes
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Generous pinch of saffron (I left this out of my cakes and thought they were fine if not a bit anemic looking :) )
- 1/2 cup milk
- 8 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 egg yolks
- 1/2 cup currants
For the glaze:
- 1 egg yolk, beaten or a bit of watered down heavy cream
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Combine the flour, the nutmeg, cinnamon and salt in a small bowl. Mix well with a fork.
Crumble the saffron threads into a small saucepan and heat over low heat just until they become aromatic, taking care not to burn them. Add the milk and heat just until hot to the touch. The milk will have turned a bright yellow. Remove from heat.
Cream the butter and sugar together in a medium bowl with a wooden spoon (or use an electric mixer with the paddle attachment). Add the egg yolks and blend in thoroughly with the back of the spoon. Add the spiced flour and combine as thoroughly as possible; the mixture will be dry and crumbly.
One tablespoon at a time, begin adding in the warm saffron milk, blending vigorously with the spoon. When you have a soft dough, stop adding milk; you probably won’t need the entire half-cup.
Turn the dough out onto a floured counter and knead gently, with floured hands, until the dough is uniform. Roll out gently to a thickness of 1/2 inch. Using a floured 2-inch round cookie or biscuit cutter, cut out as many rounds as you can and set on an ungreased baking sheet. You can gather and re-roll the scraps, gently.
Decorate the soul cakes with currants and then brush liberally with the beaten egg yolk or cream. Bake for 15 minutes, until just golden and shiny.