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Welsh Cakes a la Grandma (aka Welsh cookies): a recipe: Updated with pics.

davidg618's picture
davidg618

Welsh Cakes a la Grandma (aka Welsh cookies): a recipe: Updated with pics.

(You can, if you wish, skip all my mutterings. The recipe is at the bottom.)


My little Welsh grandmother was a gentle soul with streaks of stubbornness, impishness, and independence just below the surface. Born in Wales in the 1883 she sailed to America, with her coalminer father and her mother in 1894. By the time I knew her only her baking, and a light lilt in her speech hinted her origins; she had become American, through and through.


My grandfather died the year I was born, leaving my grandmother a widow. She spent the rest of her life living with her oldest daughter, Alice, also a widow due a horse drawn milk wagon falling on her husband, who was the duo’s bread winner. She held a good paying job. They lived comfortably, and quietly—until the grandchildren started to arrive. I was the third grandchild born amid six—two each among her other three children—and the first boy, fathered by her oldest son: oldest son of the oldest son. I came to learn that gave me important status in the Welsh culture that shaped grandma. She spoiled me rotten. Childless, Alice spoiled all of us.


Grandma was grateful to Alice for providing hearth and home, but refused Alice’s money to pay for gifts for her grandchildren. To earn money—a necessary tool to spoil grandchildren—she marketed her crafts. She tatted doilies; crocheted doll clothes; made stuffed dolls from working men’s tall, white socks; and she baked. The Third Welsh Congregational Church's white elephant and bake sales were her initial outlet store. By the time I could drive, she had nearly twenty loyal customers throughout the city. I was her delivery boy.  Every Thursday, after school, I drove to Grandma’s house; loaded the family car with bagged, wax paper wrapped loaves—white and whole wheat—and drove her route. The smell leaking from the bags was my teen year’s drug of choice. I got high sniffing bread once a week.


Her prices, for the times, were expensive: fifty cents a loaf, but no customer complained. Wonder Bread’s predecessors sold for about eighteen cents a loaf in the stores. Despite the city’s highly immigrant population, European style breads were missing from the shelves of local bakeries. The phrase “artisan breads” wouldn’t be invented for fifty years.


In the month before Christmas, and only for “special” customers, she also made Welsh cookies—$1 dollar a dozen.


A brief tutorial: England and Wales had many mines: tin, lead, and coal, Miners worked hard, and needed energy to keep going. Mine owners were cruel despoilers. (Ref: watch How Green was my Valley 20th Century Fox, 1941—I find fictional references contain much more imaginative examples than those in nonfictional references.) Miners carried there lunch and snacks into the depths of the mines, and ate lunch on the job.


Tin mines are especially hazardous, tin ores contain arsenic compounds. Tin miners can’t risk touching their food with their dirty hands. To the rescue, the Cornish pastie: a pot roast en croute; eat the innards; throw away the crust. Live for another day of mining.


Coal is mostly carbon, just like we are. A little coal dust never hurt anyone (discounting Black Lung), right? Welsh coal miners carried Welsh cakes in their pockets; loaded with lard (more about lard, later), and butter, and sugar the cakes were packed with energy almost as dense as that in the dynamite used to harvest the coal: energy to mine more coal, or run like the devil when the roof starts falling (see above reference.).


I haven’t the slightest idea what lead miners ate in lead mines (can’t find a reference.).


Welsh Cakes: the recipe.

The original recipe, complements of Aunt Alice. Grandma’s eyesight had failed by the time I asked for the recipe. Alice only sent the ingredients. I was flattered she had assumed I knew how to assemble them. The inelegant, heavy-handed printing is my notations. Trivia question: What the hell is saleratus? (Answer below.)


Ingredients

12 cups    all-purpose flour (51 oz.) (More may be needed to achieve a stiff dough)
¼ tsp.         Salt (if you use unsalted butter increase to 1-¼ tsp.)
4 cups        sugar
1 lb.         Butter
1 lb.        Lard
6        eggs
½ tsp.    nutmeg (I like the flavor of nutmeg, reduce to a ¼ tsp. if you choose, but don’t leave it out entirely)
1 lemon    zest (Grandma always used lemon, orange doesn’t have it for me.)
2 tsp.    Vanilla
1-½ tsp.    baking soda (answer to Trivia question.)
2 tsp.    cream of tarter
4 tsp.    baking powder
1-½     cup currants (I substituted dried cranberries once, delicious but not tradition!)

Directions

Let’s first get the lard issue out of the way. I had coronary artery bypass surgery twenty years ago. Subsequently, I tried, over and over again, to reduce the fat in this recipe. I failed. Every attempt was a disaster. Then I tried substituting butter for the lard; better, but the texture was heavy. Like good pie dough's flakiness, this recipe benefits from the lard. Trust me; don’t waste your time experimenting. Besides, I think you should really challenge your Lipitor once in a while to keep it at peak performance. Incidentally, most supermarkets carry lard; you will find it where Crisco is displayed, not in the refrigerator section.


Cream the butter, lard and sugar until light and fluffy, add the eggs one at a time, nutmeg, lemon zest, and vanilla and combine thoroughly.


Mix the flour, salt and other dry ingredients; whisk to distribute evenly.


Combine the wet and dry ingredients. Add the currants. Work gently, only until a homogenous, stiff dough is formed; don’t overwork it.


Note: the original recipe calls for milk if the dough feels too stiff. That’s never happened for me. I always need to add a bit more flour to achieve the desired stiffness.


If you are making the whole recipe—I never make less than a half recipe—divide the dough into four equal pieces, roll into balls, and flatten into 1 inch thick discs (just like pie dough). Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least three hours. (I sometimes leave it overnight.)


Work with one disc of dough at a time, leaving the others in the refrigerator. Roll out evenly to ¼ inch thickness on a lightly floured board. Cut out cookie size circles. (I use a 2-3/8 inch diameter biscuit cutter; Grandma used a Welch’s grape jelly glass)


Preheat your griddle. I use an electric, non-stick griddle, with the temperature control set to 350°F. For a stove top griddle, or a nonspecific heat knob equipped electric grill, you’ll just have to experiment. Start with medium. On a non-stick surface no oil is needed, and I highly recommend you use a very light coating (an oiled, paper towel wipe) on other surfaces only if needed. (I make pancakes on a seasoned cast iron griddle with no oil, and no sticking. I think I did the same with Welsh cakes in long past years.)


Fry until deep golden brown on both sides, turning once. Cool thoroughly. Expect a light, almost flaky texture, and a clean taste with hints of lemon and nutmeg.
This recipe makes about 10 dozen. The cakes freeze very well.


One final experiment NOT to try: Do not try baking Welsh cakes; even my dogs wouldn’t eat them!

Sorry, I don't have a picture of the final product. I'll post one in December.

Update:

Here is the promised pictures. We started our annual Christmas cookie bake today.

Rolled out, and cut.

Six or seven minutes on a side at 350°F.  An electric grill sure beats the top of a wood-fired stove Grandma learned on.

Ready for Christmas.

David G.

Comments

swtgran's picture
swtgran

Thank you for sharing and interesting and heartwarming memory as well as the recipe.  Terry

hullaf's picture
hullaf

Delightful story and family history! I love these old passed down baking recipes.  I recognize the implications of your "challenge the Lipitor"  -- can't know the middle unless you try the highs and the lows! Thanks.   Anet

hsmum's picture
hsmum

Thank you, David!  I will try this recipe sometime this week and report back!  The disaster recipe that I tried previously did not include lard, so I'm interested to compare it to yours.  I always use lard in my pie crusts, with excellent results.  Likewise, when I bake chocolate chip cookies, I use lard instead of shortening and I can't count how many people have told me I make the best chocolate chip cookies they've ever eaten!  But people are always shocked at my politically incorrect "secret ingredient", so I don't reveal it unless directly asked. 

Thanks for including the family history too.  I always love reading old recipe books with that kind of detail...

Karen

 

NetherReine's picture
NetherReine

Your story was fascinating - I enjoyed reading it so much!  Thanks so much for sharing!

sharonk's picture
sharonk

David, thank you for this lovely story. The handwritten recipe on the blue edged paper is a beautiful piece of history.

FYI: for some unexpected support around using lard, check out www.westonaprice.org  This group suggests that full fat milk and animal products are the healthiest foods for humans and that low fat, no fat and vegetable fat are the root of many diseases. Worth reading to hear the other side of the story whether you subscribe or not.  I use beef lard and I will hide it because my parents are coming for the weekend and I don't want to be chastised by the cholesterol police. :-)

sharonk

www.food-medicine.com

deblacksmith's picture
deblacksmith

When we lived in Swansea, in 1980 and 1981 we could buy fresh Welsh Cakes in the Market.  (A large indoor market in downtown Swansea -- kind of like some farmer markets it the USA.)  Great story and great information.

It was great living there and there are many things we miss.  I miss the beer more than anything.  Nothing like a pint (20 oz.) of Best Bitter.

Dave

(As we have talked about on here before there are more Davids I think than any other male name in Wales.)

davidg618's picture
davidg618

My working in the UK, including Wales (St. David's), in the 1980's created my taste for good ale, so much so I started brewing my own in 1992. At that time craftbrewing was still prepubescent.

David G.

EvaB's picture
EvaB

story and recipes, and can't wait to try out a new recipe of them, I thought they needed lemon myself and will certainly try the mixed spice, as well, printer has been busy tonight so will try a new variation, I thought pecans (chopped) and vanilla or butter pecan flavouring would be a nice variation. Not traditional but nice. I can see that I had the heat a bit too high, but the cakes disappeared and no one complained about the bits of veryd ark brown, they just grabbed more!

 

jgb's picture
jgb

Remember these growing up in Scranton!!  Just love them!!

davidg618's picture
davidg618

My hometown too. Left to join the Navy in 1954 a couple of weeks after graduating from West Scranton HS. Never went back except to visit parents, old friends and high school reunions. I don't miss it, but it was a good place to grow-up.

David G

davidg618's picture
davidg618

My hometown too. Left to join the Navy in 1954 a couple of weeks after graduating from West Scranton HS. Never went back except to visit parents, old friends and high school reunions. I don't miss it, but it was a good place to grow-up.

David G

carol smith hegarty's picture
carol smith hegarty

So, I was searching for variations of my grandmother's recipe for Welsh cookies and especially lard content, when I came across your very interesting blog/recipe. I, too, was born in West Scranton and then graduated in 1954 from Wilkes-Barre where we later moved. However, cousins graduated from W. Scranton High and my uncle Henry Geiss was probably principal when you were there.  spent summers with my welsh grandma and cousins & remember having a crush on a boy named Gwillym.  My one cousin (on her mother's side) has a great grandfather born in Wales named Christmas Griffiths, which I always found intriguing. But I digress - I'm ready to try your cookies  (except not sure about the lemon rind; no one in our family ever used) & first need to get a pound of lard. My mother used Crisco and butter equal parts and softened the currants in warm water before introducing them to the other ingredients. I might do half one way and the other half your way incl. lemon rind.  BTW my great grandparents (coal miners of course) came from Merthyr Tydfil, Glamorgan County.  I know I'm answering an old thread, but feel confident you're still on the site.

davidg618's picture
davidg618

Hi Carol,

I'm David Griffiths, and the 618 in my user name is my birthday; the missing year is 1936, and I graduated from high school (West Scranton HS) in 1954. I think this makes us contemporaries.

I haven't blogged on TFL for a few years, and only visit the site infrequently. Nonetheless, I still consider the site the best food site I've found--and, a Foodie, I visit many others too.. I improved my already decent baking skills 200% during the six or seven years I visited the site daily. My only reason for abandoning TFL was because I'd reached my goals of improving my skills, and being reasonably successful managing sourdoughs.

I occasionally receive queries about things I blogged herein. Notably. many of them are related to this post--Grandma's Welsh cookies--your's is the latest, I expect there will be others in the coming years.

As to the recipe: I've made two minor adjustments to grandma's original recipe--not changes, just nuances.

1. "Lemon rind" should more correctly read "Lemon zest" the more up-to-date terminology. I use a fine micro-plane to collect only the zest. I generally make a one-half recipe, and collect approximately 1 Tbls. from 1 lemon. so, a full recipe rates two lemon's zest.

2. Among the many ingredients I first learned about via TFL was leaf-lard. Leaf Lard comes from the hog fat that surrounds the kidneys, and renders into a delicate lard that produces crispness and flakeiness in pie dough, biscuits, and short doughs (like Welsh cookies). Since discovering it I use it consistently in all three. The bad news is it's hard to find and a bit pricey. I buy it online through Etsy.com. I buy four pounds at a time which serves my needs almost one year--my wife loves biscuits for breakfast. I keep it in the freezer until use, and most of my recipes are 50/50 butter and lard.

Incidentally, last week I baked 12 dozen of Grandma's Welsh cookies; they've been a Christmas regular for decades.

Merry Christmas,

David G