Kensington Palace Recipes 2 – Jo’s Welsh cakes

19 Jan

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After a little bit of investigation and improvisation I had all the ingredients I needed to make Jo’s Welsh cakes, as the next of the recipes from my Kensington Palace custom cook book.  After asking Elizabeth at Fort York it turns out that lard in Canadian supermarkets is found in the baking section, ie. it isn’t refrigerated.  The other ingredient which wasn’t easy to come by was mixed spice, not being a regular baking addition in Canada.  In the end I bought spices and made my own mixed spice; two parts ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon to one part cloves.  I’ve never mixed up my own mixed spice before so if anyone has comments on the spices and proportions I used I’m open to improvements.

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mixed spice mixed by Mrs Kim

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Canadian lard; I needed a little help to find in the supermarket, nestled as it was alongside flour and yeast, rather than chilled with the butter and margarine

Jo is the assistant curator for Historic Royal Palaces and is one of the most organised and super efficient people I know.  Throughout the preparation for our exhibition Jubilee – A View from the Crowd last year, which had a vast range of loan objects from museums and private lenders, Jo kept them and all their accompanying information in meticulous order, as well as charming our lenders, overseeing installation and generally being an indispensible part of the team.  She also discovered a hidden talent as a hand model; during the photography of the exhibition objects Jo’s hands were extensively used to hold and frame the objects and all the white glove shots you see have Jo’s talented hands beneath them.

 hand and cupA Victorian Diamond Jubilee mug, beautifully framed by Jo’s hands

Jo hails from Wales so it’s perhaps not surprising that the recipe she contributed was Welsh cakes.  These sweet cakes, usually containing currants and spices, are actually more like a thin scone and would have been baked on a griddle or bakestone over the hearth.  As I’ve never had Welsh cakes before I went online to find out what type of texture they should have and a little more about their history.  Something I was keen to try and find out was how old Welsh cakes were.  One on-line writer suggests that as they contain an added raising agent they probably are little older than mid-19th century.  However, cooking on the hearth is such a long tradition that I’m sure that Welsh cakes existed in some form before this, whatever the raising agent.  The Laura Secord Canadian cookbook which I was given for Christmas has a Welsh cake recipe which it introduces by commenting that these were the cakes which King Alfred traditionally burnt.  The name might be wrong but the technology of using a bakestone, a thin stone or slate, to cook cakes near a fire, seems a little more plausible for any cakes King Alfred might have had a hand in burning.

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St Fagans, the National Museum of Wales, rightly point out that there’s no definitive recipe for Welsh cakes; each family would have had their own particular traditions and touches. One of the earliest published recipes for Welsh cakes however seems to appear in the cookbook written by Lady Llanover, a staunch supporter of Welsh customs and traditions who championed the Welsh language and music and is credited with ‘designing’ the Welsh national costume.  Her book Good cookery illustrated: And recipes communicated by the Welsh hermit of the cell of St. Gover, with various remarks on many things past and present  was published in 1867.  However, according to the OED’s quotations for Welsh cake a recipe also appeared in a January 1867 edition of the periodical Young Englishwoman ‘Welsh Cakes.—One pound of butter beaten to a cream, add by degrees an equal quantity of flour, a tablespoonful of yeast, and three eggs.’  If anyone can find an earlier recipe do let me know.

The size and texture of a Welsh cake is key – they should be fairly thin, or as Jo helpfully describes, rolled out to the width of your little finger – as they need to cook quickly over the heat of the fire or hob.  Ann Romney (her grandfather was a Welsh miner), wife of the Republican contender for the American presidency, seems to have raised some sceptical Welsh eyebrows with her much thicker Welsh cakes which she baked last year on Good Morning America, a recent article pointed out.

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flour, salt, mixed spice, sugar, lard and butter, all ready to mix by hand

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after rolling out the dough to the width of my little finger I cut it into rounds

With these tips and warnings to guide me I took the plunge with Jo’s Welsh cake recipe, in a sense literally, since I mixed the ingredients by hand.  Volunteering in the Fort York kitchen has reminded me of the enjoyment of mixing ingredients by hand and the benefits of being able to judge each stage in the process of combining much more directly than using an electric mixer.  Since our hyper-modern apartment is without both bakestone and hearth these were cooked on a hob in a frying pan.  After burning the first batch I allowed the heat to cool and had much more successful results for the remaining cakes.  And as all the recipes suggest they were delicious sprinkled with sugar and eaten warm.  Thanks very much for the recipe Jo!

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Following in the footsteps of King Alfred; burning my Welsh cakes…..

       IMG_3936 …but they weren’t all bad; some more palatable Welsh cakes, sprinkled with sugar

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