Sweet spirit buns

I’ve been baking!

Yes it’s true. Pies aside, it’s been a while. This morning, I made some ‘soul cakes’ for the Halloween/Samhain feast I’m going to tomorrow.

Briefly, on All Soul’s Day, poor children would go house to house in wealthier areas, offering prayers for the families’ dead in return for spiced fruit buns called soul cakes. The kids’ prayers could release souls held in purgatory, so they might be able to enter heaven and have a peaceful afterlife.

I’m not a Christian. I don’t believe in purgatory, or heaven, or hell. And I really don’t like this idea that you need to give a kid a cake in order to remember your dead – pray for them yourself!

So why am I making these cakes?

I wanted something to contribute to the feast tomorrow. And I wanted it to tick a few different boxes. a) be related to my family (soul cakes are a Shropshire tradition and my entire family come from Shropshire), b) be something with which I can honour the dead (see above) and c) be delicious.

Kath shares a traditional recipe for Shropshire soul cakes on her blog, The Ordinary Cook. If you’re looking for the real deal, you’re better off reading her post because mine is off the rails from here on in.

So yeah. I read Kath’s recipe and I agreed with the comment she made at the bottom – they sound kinda dull. If I’m going to commune with my ancestors and especially if I’m inviting them over for tea, I’d like to have something tasty to give them.

Plus I forgot to get yeast. Ack.

So – what the heck, this isn’t going very well. I don’t believe in purgatory, I’m not giving them to poor kids, and I don’t have all the ingredients. I’m clearly not making soul cakes. Time to invent a new recipe for our ancestral ritual. And a new recipe calls for a new name.

I call them…spirit buns!

They turned out half way between a scone and a biscuit and intended to welcome ancestors to our home (nothing like a hot, buttered scone to say ‘welcome’, right?) I like the tie to practices of remembering the dead at this time of year, and the simplicity of an old-fashioned scone-type recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 500g self raising flour
  • 200g sugar (any kind – caster will make them lighter, brown will make them richer)
  • 150g sultanas, cherries, raisins, whatever dried fruit you like.
  • Salt
  • Milk (or water or soya milk)
  • Almond essence (if you have it)
  • Allspice and cinnamon

Oven at 180C

1. In a mixing bowl, sieve the flour and sugar together with a teaspoon of salt, a teaspoon of allspice and a teaspoon of cinnamon, then ‘rub in’ the butter. This means getting your hands right in there and rubbing handfulls of the mixture together, over and over, til you end up with something a bit like breadcrumbs.

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2. Stir the dried fruit through, then add a small splash of milk and a teaspoon of almond essence and mix everything in with your hands. Hopefully as you squidge it all together you’ll end up with a nice firm dough which you can roll out. If it’s too wet, add more flour, if it’s too dry, add more milk.

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3. Flour your work surface and roll out the dough about 2cm thick. Cut out your little buns and place them on a floured baking sheet.

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I went a little more off-track at this stage and made a glaze of egg, brown sugar and more almond essence (before finding out there isn’t a pastry brush in the house and getting in a right sticky mess).

4. Bake for about 20-30 mins (keep an eye on them!)

Ta-da! Sweet, sweet little spirit buns. Perfect with butter and jam, and don’t burn your mouth on them hot raisins.

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I hope Granny Price likes them.

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