Louise Kirkpatrick grew up in South Wales. Welsh cakes are one of the most delicious memories of her childhood.
Welsh Cakes: Just Like Mam Used to Make!
Coming from a mining family who lived and worked in the Rhondda Valley in South Wales, Welsh cakes are one of the most delicious memories of my childhood.
How to describe Welsh cakes to someone who has never tasted one? Well, they're a bit like a cross between a fruit scone and a pancake . . . but flatter and moister than a scone and tastier than a pancake!
The smell of freshly baked Welsh cakes (or "bakestones" as they are often referred to in my family) is simply wonderful. If you've never tried one before, I suggest that you put eating one on your bucket list.
Welsh cakes can be served hot or cold. They can be eaten plain, dusted with sugar, drizzled with honey or split and covered with jam or butter (or both).
This treat is extremely easy to make, will keep fresh if stored in an airtight container for a week or so and are delicious!
Fun fact: Ann Romney, wife of Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee in the 2012 U.S. presidential election, is apparently a fan. Mrs Romney's father came from the Welsh valleys (they were a family of coal miners, just like mine), and she gave out home-cooked Welsh cakes on her husband's campaign bus!
Read on to find out everything you ever wanted to know about Welsh cakes.
A Cake of Many Names
In Wales, Welsh cakes are known by different names depending on the area, including: picau ar y maen (bakestone cakes), pice bach (little cakes), teisen radell (griddle cakes) and cacen gri (currant rounds). "Ar y maen" means "on the stone" and refers to the method of cooking which was traditionally an iron griddle (bakestone) suspended over an open fire on which the cakes were placed to cook.
Welsh Cakes and Me
To explain my life-long love affair with Welsh cakes, I'll start with a bit of family history to set the scene.
My mother's family come from Pontypridd, a town in the Rhondda Valley in South Wales (affectionately referred to by the shortened form "Ponty").
My family were coal miners and my mother's father and older brothers all worked in the Albion Colliery in Cilfynydd, a village near Pontypridd. My grandfather was seriously injured in a coal mining accident and eventually died as a result.
When another mining accident injured one of my uncles, my grandmother vowed that the mines would not claim any more victims from amongst her family and almost overnight she moved her family lock, stock and barrel virtually as far away as she could travel.
The only means of travel available to her was the railway and she got as far away as she could. Not feeling she could cope with a big city after life in the Welsh Valleys, she got off the train at the furthest point away from Wales before the railway entered London—the town of Slough in Berkshire, about 20 miles west of London.
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Slough is an industrial town and there were plenty of (safer) jobs there for her older children and best of all, many other Welsh people who had moved for economic reasons.
So it was that I was brought up many years later amongst a community of "Welsh ex-patriots" who kept their roots and traditions very much alive—which included the cooking, of which Welsh cakes was a regular part.
My mother's electric cooker was specifically chosen because instead of the usual four rings on the hob, it had a rectangular griddle, perfect for Welsh cakes (or "bakestones" as they were known in my family). My aunts all had cast-iron bakestones, either inherited, sent or brought back from Wales on visits "home". Wales was still their home . . . in their hearts, if not physically.
Just seeing a Welsh cake now brings back so many memories of people and times long since gone.
I eventually married a Welsh man (we've since got divorced but are still great friends) who is as much of a Welsh cake fan as I am.
I think also that for anyone with Welsh origins, Welsh cakes are a symbol of Wales, every bit as much as the Welsh flag, Y Ddraig Goch (the Red Dragon), daffodils or leeks.
Go on, try some! I have included full instructions and video tutorials below.
Welsh Cakes are often called "bakestones", especially in South Wales. They're also known (especially by ex-pat Welsh people) as "miner's cakes",
What Type of Pan Is Best?
In Wales, Welsh cakes are tradionally cooked on bakestones, also known as "plancs" (sometimes spelled in the English way as "plank") or "gradells". The cast-iron baking stone is perfect for cooking Welsh cakes in the traditional fashion.
The cast-iron surface ensures your cakes will cook to a beautiful golden brown finish quickly and evenly.
Bakestones were originally designed to be suspended over an open fire, but this modern version of a traditional bakestone can be used flat on electric or gas hobs and range cookers.
As well as Welsh cakes you can bake many other kinds of food on a bakestone including bread, scones, pizza, pancakes and biscuits as well as flatbreads, naan bread, chapatis etc.
If you don't have a proper bakestone, you can still make Welsh cakes. Just use a heavy-bottomed griddle, skillet or frying pan instead.
My Mam's Welsh Cakes Recipe
- 8 ounces / 225 grams self-raising flour
- 1 teaspoon salt (optional)
- 1/2 teaspoon mixed spice (optional)
- 4 ounces / 110 grams butter or margarine
- 3 ounces / 75grams caster sugar
- 3 ounces / 75 grams currants
- raisins or sultanas (or a mixture)
- 1 medium egg
- A little milk
- Oil or fat to grease the bakestone (griddle) or pan
- Caster sugar for garnish
- Sieve flour into a large mixing bowl.
- Rub in butter/margarine until the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs.
- Stir in the caster sugar, dried fruit, mixed spice and salt (if used).
- In a separate bowl or jug, beat the egg lightly.
- Stir the beaten egg into the flour mixture to form a soft dough. Gradually add milk a little at a time if the mixture is too dry.
- Using a rolling pin, roll the mixture out onto a floured board to a thickness of about 1/4 inch (5mm).
- Cut into rounds about 2.5 to 3 inches (6 to 7cm) diameter using a fluted pastry/biscuit cutter
- Lightly grease the bakestone (or you can use a flat griddle, pan or skillet with a heavy base if you don't have a bakestone) and allow to heat up gently for a few minutes.
- Using a fish slice or pallet knife, carefully place the Welsh Cakes one at a time onto the hot cooking surface.
- Cook for about 3 minutes each side, or until they are golden brown.
- Remove from the pan or griddle using a pallet knife or fish slice, place on a cooling rack and sprinkle with sugar while the cakes are still hot.
- Serve hot or cold. Welsh cakes can be eaten plain or split and spread with jam/butter/honey etc.
Conversion Tool: British Weights and Measures
If you're not familiar with British weights and measures, here's how to convert them:
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Video: Margaret John Makes Welsh Cakes
The late actress Margaret John (who played Doris on the TV comedy series Gavin & Stacey) talks about her childhood and demonstrates how to make Welsh cakes!
Video: Grandma Betty's Recipe for Welsh Cakes
Watch 90-year-old Betty demonstrate how to make Welsh cakes. She's an expert, having made over 200,000 of them over her lifetime!
Fancy trying some more traditional Welsh recipes?
Welsh Heritage Food and Cooking contains more than 75 recipes for traditional Welsh dishes in an easy-to-follow format. It is beautifully illustrated with full-colour photographs.
© 2009 LouiseKirkpatrick