The Number Varies Depending on Size of Cakes
Soul Cakes are a holdover from the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in). These little cakes, usually like shortbread, were originally set out with a glass of wine or ale to nourish the soles of departed family members on All Hallows Eve, October 31. With the advance of Christianity, the tradition gradually shifted to All Saints Day, November 1, when children and sometime beggars would go “a-souling.” They would go from door to door singing one of several “souling jingles;”
“Soul Cake, Soul Cake, I pray, good misses a soul-cake;
An apple or pear, a plum or a cherry,
Any good thing to make us merry,
One for Peter, two for Paul, Three for Him who made us all...”
“Soul! Soul! for an apple or two! If you have no apples, pears will do.
If you have no pears, money will do. If you have no money, God bless you!”
It was believed that for every cake given away and eaten, a soul would be released from purgatory. It is easy to see how going from door to door, “a-souling,” gradually became the Halloween tradition of “Trick-or-Treating.”
However, you don’t need to go “a-souling,” to enjoy these delicious little shortbread cakes.
1/2 cup of butter
1/2 cup of sugar
2 cups of all-purpose flour
1/2 cup of finely ground almonds or walnuts
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon powdered ginger
1/4 ground nutmeg
A few drops of milk
Cream the butter and sugar together until very well blended and the sugar is melted. Beat in the egg. Sift all the dry ingredients together and gradually add to the butter and sugar mixture. If the dough is too dry to work, add a few drops of milk. This will not be like a cake batter or even a biscuit dough.
This will be quite crumbly and look like it isn’t going to work. You may make one large cake and cut it into serving pieces or you may press the dough into individual molds. There are shortbread molds, usually made of wood. You don’t bake in them, you press the dough into them and then turn them out onto a baking sheet lined with Baker’s parchment. If you are making one large piece, put the dough into a pie pan, pizza pan or other baking pan and press it down. You want the dough to be no more than one half inch thick. Press it down so that all the crumbly bits press together. Mark the top with a knife into the size serving pieces you want. Sprinkle the top lightly with raw, Turbinado or Drmerrara sugar and press it into the dough. Bake in the center of the pre heated oven until a pale buff color. It should not really brown.
If baking one large cake, when it comes out of the oven it may be cracked. Don’t despair. Use a rolling pin, the back of a wooden spoon or the palm of your hand and while it is still warm, press it back together.
You can find shortbread molds for making individual cakes in specialty shops. These shortbread like cakes will keep for weeks in an air tight container, in fact they are better after they have aged for a week or two.