In medieval England, on All Souls’ Day (that is, today) people would give food and special cakes (read: cookies) to the poor. In exchange for the food, you would ask the poor person to whom you were giving alms to pray for your deceased loved ones. This is actually the origin of trick-or-treat customs in places like the US of A! Hence, these cookies became known as “souling cakes.” If you think I’m pulling your leg, read more about them here, including getting a recipe from that same site.
Well, I just made a plate of souling cakes for my religious brethren:
The recipe I used was this one, from Fr. Z (I have translated the measurements to typical American baking usage, thanks to Google):
340g plain flour (sifted) (1 1/2 cups)
170g sugar (3/4 cup)
170g butter (softened & diced) (3/4 cup)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground mixed spice
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 egg (beaten)
2 tsp of white wine vinegar (substituted for balsamic)
Preheat the oven to 200C (350F in my trial) and grease 2 flat baking trays
Thoroughly mix all the dry ingredients into a mixing bowl – sifted flour, spices, and sugar. Rub in the diced butter until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add in the beaten egg and white wine vinegar and mix with a wooden spoon until a firm dough is made. Then cover it and put it in the fridge for 20 minutes.
Flour a working surface and roll out the dough to 7mm thick and using a large round pastry cutter cut into rounds, (optional: use a straight edge to press into, and then draw a cross shape, in the top of the dough). Place these rounds on the greased baking tray and bake in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes at 200C until slightly coloured. Serve warm or cold.
I also added a bit of vanilla extract and a couple more spices; I used allspice, ginger, cinnamon, and ground cloves, rather than just cinnamon and mixed spice. I also made them using balsamic vinegar, rather than the called-for white wine vinegar to get a more intense flavor effect. They turned out quite all-right, according to the delighted faces of my religious brethren.
Many souls were undoubtedly saved in the process.
In the end, souling cakes are just a little less cool than either the custom of building a catafalque or the use of black vestments at Requiem Masses, but are nevertheless a nice addition to All Souls’ celebrations.
Happy All Souls’ Day! Pray for the poor souls in purgatory!
Yours in Christ,
Br. James Dominic, OP