I mentioned in some of my earlier posts about how awesome the food was on my recent trip to Europe. Of course I was expecting the food to be great in France what with all the bread, the cheese, various alcoholic delights, and the ability to take ingredients that nobody on this earth would think would go together, and make them taste heavenly. For the record, it’s all true. The food that I experienced in France was exactly like that. (Shout out to Creperie La ville d’Ys and Le Pont Neuf in Huelgoat, Au fil des saisons in Méry Corbon, and Restaurant Un Air de Famille in Paris.)
The UK had it’s share of culinary delights too, with the highlight being the Hundred Monkeys Cafe in Glastonbury.
But I think the biggest culinary surprise on the entire trip occurred on a travel day between Cardiff and Chepstow. While at one of the train stations we wandered into the convenience store attached to the station to browse the snack shelves, and noticed a stack of (what looked like) packaged bread products. It looked like a collection of crumpets, english muffins, or scones, but they turned out to be a sweet buttery flat cake with currants and other raisins and dusted with sugar.
… and when a pat of butter was smeared on these Welsh Cakes, they were stellar.
I had never heard of these delightful confections before, but apparently they are a very popular treat to have with afternoon tea in the UK. They are also known as (or could be mistaken for) bakestones, drop cakes, heavy cakes, or YUM.
Later in the trip, when we were in Plymouth, we discovered them again at the Marks and Spencer (they even had a mini version), and this time the Welsh Cakes were consumed in France using the amazing butter of Brittany, and every time we were in train station, from that point on, we looked in the attached convenience stores, just in case we came across them again.
In the final days, while in London, we stocked up to bring some back to Canada. My two packages lasted for two days.
Back in Winnipeg, I started to scour the bakeries, the specialty shops, and even the convenience stores in search of them, but to no avail.
Now I consider myself a fairly good cook, but I’ve never been very good at baking for some reason, and I was a little gun-shy about the prospect of making them myself, but after a little research, it turns out that these little round beauties are heated on a bakestone or a cast iron griddle (which is why they are sometimes called bakestones), so it was more like frying than baking. So I decided to give them a try.
Welsh Cakes inspired by some train station’s convenience store in Wales.
In the UK there is a baking spice called mixed spice or pudding spice that is very similar to what North Americans would call pumpkin spice and it is used in a variety of their baked goods. It’s hard to find over here, but fortunately it’s very easy to make a batch.
UK Mixed Spice
1 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground ginger
Mix together and seal in an airtight jar. Alternatively, take equal part of the whole spices and grind them into a powder adding the dried ground ginger at the end.
Ingredients (Makes 12 cakes or 24 mini-cakes)
2 cup flour
1 1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup currants (raisins or other small dried fruit can be substituted)
3/4 cup caster or icing sugar
1 tsp baking Powder
1/2 tsp ground mixed spice from above.
1 dash salt
Sift the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, salt, and mixed spice) together into a mixing bowl. Cut up the butter into small chunks and stir into the flour.
Stir in the sugar and fruit, then pour in the egg. Mix to form a dough, similar to a cookie dough (use a little milk if the mixture is a little dry).
Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface to about the thickness of a pancake.
Use a pastry cutter or a small bowl to cut out rounds and cook the cakes at medium on a greased bake stone or griddle or thick frypan for about 5 minutes or until until golden. Flip and repeat. The heat should not be too high, as the cakes will cook on the outside too quickly, and not in the middle.
Once cooked sprinkle with caster sugar and serve with butter… preferably Breton butter with huge hunks of salt in it.
Eat them warm, or store them in the fridge for up to 5 days.
There are also many variations of these including the Jam Split which is basically a welsh cake jam sandwich, an Apple Dragon which has grated apple added, and a Mynydd Cymreig (Welsh Mountain) which has double the baking powder added to make it fluffier.
I think I’ll have one and dip it into a steaming cup of english tea and pretend I’m looking at the UK countryside.