The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

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

jemar's picture
jemar

Interesting to see your recipe, perhaps you would like to see mine, I am Welsh, I live in N.Wales near to 3 coal mines which are now closed. This recipe will be useful to anyone who wants to try it out to see if they like them, as it only makes a small amount.
8oz plain flour ( AP )
1/2 teasp.baking powder
2oz margarine or butter
2oz lard
3oz caster sugar
2oz currants
1/4 tsp mixed spice
pinch salt
1 egg and a little milk
Rub fat into flour. Add dry ingredients, then egg and milk. Mix into a stiff paste_ or stiff as for short pastry. Roll out to approx. 1/4 inch thick and cook on a hot greased bakestone until golden brown on each side. Sprinkle with sugar and serve hot or cold.

I use a cast iron frying pan instead of a griddle as I don't have a griddle! They are very nice. I don't think you can buy mixed spice in the US, so I'm afraid you'll have to make up your own mix! ENJOY!

davidg618's picture
davidg618

Thank you for sharing your recipe. Can you tell me what's in mixed spice? You're right, I've never seen it for sale here.


I visited N. Wales, Llangollen, this past summer after a weeklong canal boat trip out of Stoke-on-Trent. I'm glad I have roots in Wales, It's a beautiful country. I spent months in St. Davids twenty years ago when work took me to Brawdy.


Dave

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!

jemar's picture
jemar

is a combination ofcinnamon (40%), coriander seed, caraway, nutmeg, ginger, cloves. That's what it says on the side of the Schwrtz box i use. If I didn't have it i would just use a mixture of what I had in the spice cupboard, just a small pinch of each.
It is interesting you say you were in Llangollen as I live about 20 minutes drive away from there in a place called Wrexham, near the border with England. Llangollen, as you probably know, is the place where the International Eisteddfod is held every year since 1947, and people come there from all over the world. It is a lovely event ending with a concert on the last night with an international star,someone like Kirr te Kanawa or even the great Pavarotti when he was alive. In fact he sang here with his father's choir as a young man.
Do you know what part of Wales your grandmother came from? And did you manage to visit that place when you were here? It's a small world, isn't it!

davidg618's picture
davidg618

Thank you, I also realized I could find the recipe on the internet, and I did. However, my favorite online spice shop, SpiceWorld, doesn't carry it. Your quoting the label of authentic UK mixed spice confirms which recipe I want to use.


Yes, back in the 80's, when I was working in Wales, I visited Mountain Ash and Clydth Vale where Grandma was born and attended school, both in the southern coal mining regions, I found the chapel she attended when a child, but sadly it was abandoned, and falling into ruin. Nonetheless, I chatted with a few ladies standing in their doorways--they thought I, obviously a Yank, was there to buy the place and turn it into a factory.By the way, my last name is Griffiths, Welsh as it can be. I've been treated wonderfully in every place I've visited in Wales.


We took the bus from Stoke-on-Trent to Llangollen, and I think it passed through Wrexham.Yep, small world.


Thanks again,


David


 


 


 


 

rhomp2002's picture
rhomp2002

My last name is Scot but my ancestry is 3/4 Welsh with family names of Owens, Llewellyn, Morgan, Thomas in the mix.  My grandfather was born in 1838 in a mining area of Wales - the name of the town as my mother told me was Bally something but I never saw it written out - and the family came to the US in 1840.  His father was born in 1799 and my mother was born in 1902 so that makes 3 generations in 3 different centuries.  He was a silver miner in the muntains above Pueblo, Co when she was born in a spot on the map called Nepesta, Co.  He lived long enough to see her graduate from college and start her teaching career in 1924.  My mother used to have a lot of stuff from him and the family but I have a sister-in-law who hates clutter and one year when we  went on vacation she decided to clean up the house for us and threw all "that old junk" out.  She and I have not spoken since unless we had to. 


I am now retired and am investigating as much of the Welsh history as I can find.  Fascinating little country with a fantastic history.  I hope to take a trip there soon.  I found a publishing house that specializes in Welsh history including old recipes and I am going to do some looking there.  This makes a good start for me.


 

davidg618's picture
davidg618

It's a Welsh heritage society that's been in existence for a very long time. In my brief scan of the Google results I couldn't find a national chapter, but there are local chapters throughout the US; perhaps you'll find one close to your home. Especially, take a look at the Saint David's Society of Lackawanna, PA. This is a very active chapter, and, I'm proud to say my roots (born and raised in Scranton, Lackawanna County).


I was fortunate that my work took me to Wales in the 1980's, often for extended periods of time. Subsequently, Retired since 1995, I've returned as often as possible on vacations, most recently, in 2008. I highly recommend visiting, warm and interesting people, the Welsh.


If you're into genealogy, Ancestry.com now has much of the UK public records--including, of course, Wales--in its data base. Ancestry.com is a bit pricey, but we've found it worthwhile, and share the cost with two other family members. (Two members can be signed in at the same time on one account.)


I'm very proud of my 1/2 Welsh background, fostered, of course, by my little Welsh grandmother.


David G.


 

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

Liam's picture
Liam

Hello and thank you for a wonderful story.  Thanks to all who replied as well.  Isn't this just wonderful community?  Mmmmm I can already smell the little cakes.  Must run, I have to bake...............


Cheers


Liam


P.S.  does anyone have a good recipe for Potato Scones-  um very Irish Potato Scones?  My fella is Irish, his mom made Potato Scones regularly.  Apparently when she was making them, she didn't dare turn around and leave the pan untended.  With nine children waiting when she did turn back around again, the pan was empty and one of the children was smiling.


I have the idea of how to make them, I just don't have the timing right and I really am not sure what the correct texture is either or if there is an "ideal" size or shape?  The lad has the eating of them down pat!!


Thanks so much and can you guess why my "screen name"is what it is?  I really should find out what the feminine of Liam is!

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.

Dancing Bear's picture
Dancing Bear

My Great Grandfather was Llewellyn Lloyd Lloyd.  I don't think it gets much Welshier than that . . .


Can't wait to make these cakes.  Not tellin' my wife about the Llard . . .


Cheers -


Bill in SC

tangoempress's picture
tangoempress

Loved your recollections of your Welsh Granny David, and those of many others who have had the joy of visiting in Wales and sampling welshcakes first hand.  They are very practical little cakes as they hold up very well in travelling, great for picnics and road trips. Thanks again. Allison


 


 

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!