Friday, October 30, 2009

Soul Cakes

The tradition of making "Soul Cakes" on All Saints Day or All Souls Day is one which my family has holeheartedly embraced, pun intended. Doughnuts, the modern day version of the old soul cake, are tasty treats on a cool November morning, but they are even tastier when we know the tradition behind the treat.

From the Catholic Education Resource Center:

Begging at the door grew from an ancient English custom of knocking at doors to beg for a "soul cake" in return for which the beggars promised to pray for the dead of the household. Soul cakes, a form of shortbread — and sometimes quite fancy, with currants for eyes — became more important for the beggars than prayers for the dead, it is said. Florence Berger tells in her Cooking for Christ a legend of a zealous cook who vowed she would invent soul cakes to remind them of eternity at every bite. So she cut a hole in the middle and dropped it in hot fat, and lo — a doughnut. Circle that it is, it suggests the never-ending of eternity. Truth or legend, it serves a good purpose at Halloween.
The refrains sung at the door varied from "a soul cake, a soul cake, have mercy on all Christian souls for a soul cake," to the later:
Soul, soul, an apple or two,
If you haven't an apple, a pear will do,
One for Peter, two for Paul,
Three for the Man Who made us all.

It's likely that the Soul Cake was the precursor to candy on Beggar's Night. Enjoyed with a cup of hot cider or hot coffee, they are a lovely way to wake up on All Saints Day morning.
The dough for this recipe must be made ahead of time, so plan accordingly. And the dough is a little sticky, but just flour your board and flour the top of the dough and you'll be fine. Don't be tempted to work more flour into the dough -- they'll be too dry. I used a doughnut cutter, but if you don't have one, use a biscuit cutter, or glass, and cut the hole with a plastic soda cap.

Cake Doughnuts
about 1 dozen

3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 T. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1 t. ground cinnamon
1/4 t. ground nutmeg
1 cup milk
1 egg
1/4 cup butter, melted and cooled
1 t. vanilla extract
oil for frying

1/2 t. ground cinnamon
1/2 cup sugar

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, first measure of sugar, baking powder,
salt, first measure of cinnamon and nutmeg.
Make a well in the center and pour in the milk, egg, butter, and vanilla.
Mix until blended.
Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour or more.

Pour oil into a two-quart pot until you have a depth of about 3 inches.
Heat the oil until about 375 degrees
(I don't use a thermometer; I just wait until it really bubbles up around a bit of dough).

On a floured board, roll dough out to 1/2 inch thickness.
Use a doughnut cutter to cut out doughnuts.

Fry doughnuts in hot oil until golden brown, turning once.
Remove from oil to drain on paper towels.
Combine the remaining 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and 1/2 cup sugar in a bowl.
Place warm doughnuts in sugar mixture and flip,
turning doughnut and shaking gently to coat.

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  1. Did anyone see Sting singing his new song called "Soul Cakes" yesterday on T.V.? I was impressed .... he told the history of it to Ms. O!....

  2. Oh, I am so craving doughnuts now!! Those look delicious Barbara!!

  3. WOW, doughnuts, sooo gooood!!!
    I read and write about your post Barbara, a week after you posted it and I'm so sorry I'm on a diet now!!!

    Liturgy of the Hours

  4. What a revelation! I was imaging that the hole cut out of the middle might be a warning that receiving the soul cake and not praying for the dead might involve losing one's soul... I shall look on doughnuts with a different eye now.