Monday, 15 July 2013

Vanilla Sugar Welsh Cakes

I live in Wales. Wales is the small country on the left side of England but is definitely not a part of it. It's famous for its scenery, sheep, and for having rain about 300 days a year, meaning a lot of the time it looks like this:

But it can have its moments...

unfortunately, this isn't my house
In Wales, we have a thing called a 'welsh cake' (inventive, I know). If you're not from Wales you probably won't have heard of them. Welsh cakes are a popular treat that can be enjoyed at any time of the day. It would be wrong to think that welsh cakes are the only sweet snacks enjoyed by Welsh folk, like it would be wrong to think that the Scottish dine solely on Haggis, or the Irish on potatoes, but they are quite popular, and rightly so.

The name 'cake' is misleading, these beauties are somewhere between a cake, a biscuit, and a pastry. Soft in the middle, but denser than a cake, they are buttery and crammed with sultanas, but not overly sweet. They're delicious.

A friend of my brother (the engaged brother, mentioned in my previous post), from university is getting married next week. The (English) friend and his Fiance decided to serve welsh cakes as a sort of entree on arrival at the reception. Naturally, the job of making them was designated to Peter, my brother, being a Welshman, who was seen as the 'most qualified' after 'flipping a welsh cake at a food festival once'. Lucky for them both Peter has a sister who is half decent at baking, and who has actually made welsh cakes before. I should be clear, though, I've made standard sized batches of welsh cakes before, about 20 at a time, never have I made them in such huge quantities - 'about 300, or as many as you can make'. This required consultation with the experts. After several long conversations with some veteran welsh cake makers (my two Grandmas) and armed with two bake stones (traditionally used to cook the cakes) and a handed down recipe, I thought 'bring it on'.

The boys arrived two hours late on Saturday morning, bringing with them £15 worth of flour, butter, eggs, milk, sugar and sultanas. Three hours later they left with 400 welsh cakes and cries of 'DON'T OVERWORK THE DOUGH!!' and 'BE GENTLE!!' probably still ringing in their ears. But we got it done. Quite an achievement.

before cooking
We got an efficient little production line going, the boys were on mixing the dough, then rolling it out, and cutting out the cakes, and I was griddling them on the bake stones - like I would trust them with that!

sizzling on the bake stones
We dusted ours in German vanilla sugar while still hot, which added a lovely flavour, but welsh cakes are so versatile, you can add orange or lemon zest, cinnamon or nutmeg, choose to give them a sugar sprinkling or not. They can be eaten plain, or split and spread with jam or butter. They're incredibly delicious and surprisingly simple to make, not to mention really cheap - we made 400 for £15, only about 4p per cake! I'd recommend everyone gives them a go some time!

Welsh Cakes
Makes about 20

300g self raising flour
85g unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
85g caster sugar
60g sultanas
1 egg + a splash of milk to bind the dough
Vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon, citrus zest (optional)
Sugar for dusting (optional)

1. Preheat your bake stone if you have one (cast iron works best), if not you can use a non stick frying pan. Heat on medium, preheating a bake stone will take much longer than a frying pan, especially if it's a proper cast iron one, so be careful not to overheat your frying pan to the point of smoking if you're using one.
2. Run the flour and butter together in a bowl with your fingers - you're looking for fine breadcrumbs. To do this scoop up some of the mixture between your fingers and thumbs and rub them together to mix the two together thoroughly, letting them fall back into the bowl from a height. Incorporating all the butter will take a few minutes.
3. Stir in the sugar, your optionals if using, and sultanas with your hands (you're already messy at this point so why use a spoon?) and crack in your egg. Add milk while mixing gently, about a tablespoon at a time, until the dough starts to come together. You're looking for something that will hold together nicely, but that doesn't feel overly sticky or that clings to your fingers a lot.
4. Tip the dough out onto a floured surface and kneed very gently to bring all the dough together. As I had to tell my brother many times, 'be careful not to overwork the dough!' Handle it as little as possible. Roll it out to about half a centimeter (it will rise a little when cooking), and cut out with a round circle cutter, any size will do - we made small ones because we were making so many, but traditionally the cakes are about 6 or 7 cm in diameter. Obviously, the smaller your cutter, the more cakes you'll get from one batch.
5. Grease your now hot bake stone or frying pan generously with butter, it should sizzle and bubble. Place as many as you can fit onto the pan without them being too squashed together. Cook until brown on one side then flip with a spatula and gently press down. Cook until both sides are are a deep golden colour. The best welsh cakes have a strip of very lightly cooked dough going right across the middle -  this helps keep them wonderfully moist for days after they are made.
6. When both sides are done remove the welsh cakes and pat firmly in a dish of sugar, which can be flavoured or unflavoured. This is best done when they are piping hot as the sugar will stick better. Alternatively, if you want to keep the feeling in your fingers, leave plain, and simply leave to cool on a cooling rack.

These welsh cakes will keep well in an airtight container for 3-4 days.

mass production


  1. how is this even possible?!!!
    ok, clearly it's possible.
    how long did this take?

    1. First of all yay for my first comment! thank you!
      It was pretty crazy, I think we saved ourselves a LOT of time by only making them bite sized, about 4cm in diameter, but that's all they really wanted for the wedding. Plus, there were three of us, and two bake stones! It was hard and very hot work, but we managed just over 100 an hour, so in total I think we did them in about 3 and a half hours. That sounds impressive, but each bake stone could cook up to 20 a go!