Monday, October 14, 2019

Soul Cake

I found a Soul Cake Bake project online and while the actual project had closed by the time I found it, I thought it would be fun to try to construct my own recipe using the same 17th Century Soul Cake recipe the project used as the jumping off point for their competition.

It took me four tries to come up with a recipe that was both edible and tasty. I tried to stay as close as possible to the original recipe but did decide to use modern yeast instead of trying to source Ale Barm. From what I read Ale Barm was used as yeast to make bread and other risen doughs.

For each of my test versions I made half a recipe, so as not to waste too much of my ingredients.

The first version I made, I did not knead or prove and I put the wine (sack) straight in-- thinking they might be more like cakes. However those turned out like golf balls, with a doughy middle and dried out, but not really cooked exterior. The flavor seemed promising but tasted very strongly of raw alcohol and since I don't drink, was not very nice.

The second version, I heated the wine to help cook off some of the alcohol taste and I kneaded the dough briefly before letting it prove for about an hour and a half. Then I formed it into balls, cutting a cross in the top of each one before baking. The flavor of these was much better but the texture was still to dense and doughy.

For the third version, I decided to add the spices to the wine while I was heating it, to give a bit more depth to the flavor. I also kneaded it for longer and let it prove for about an hour (it doesn't really grow the same way bread dough does but an hour seems to be about right for it). After the first prove,  I divided the dough in to 4 pieces and added a different dried fruit to each piece (dried apples, currants, blueberries, and cranberries). I then divided each piece into 3 smaller balls, put dried fruit in the shape of a cross on each bun (so I would know which ones had which fruits), let them prove for about 20 minutes and then baked them. This batch was quite yummy.

For the fourth try I doubled the recipe and used just the currants as my fruit as I found that the other fruits didn't taste as good or tended to overwhelm the bun. The dough turned out much more wet that test 3 and while the resulting buns were edible the weren't as good as round 3.

For the fifth and final round I took some of the water out and that fixed the problem.  I baked a batch for a party and folks really seemed to like them.

Here is the original 17th C recipe followed by my final recipe.

Original Recipe
Take flower & sugar & nutmeg, & cloves & mace & sweet butter & sack & a little ale barm, beat your spice & put in your butter & your sack, cold, then work it well all to gether & make it in little cakes & so bake them, if you will … you may put some saffron into them or fruit (Elinor Fettiplace’s Household Book, compiled around 1604)

My Final Recipe

90g brown sugar
40g unsalted butter

400g plain flour

10g fast-acting yeast
50ml warm water

150ml Maderia wine
½ tsp ground nutmeg
¼ tsp cloves
¼ tsp mace

80g currants or other dried fruit


Note; you want the wine mixture cooled and most of the dough ready before you mix the yeast mixture. If you start the yeast mixture too early it will use up some of its rising power before it gets into the dough an if you don't let the wine mixture cool it could kill the yeast. It's a bit of a balancing act with the timing.

Put the wine and spices in a saucepan and bring to a boil then set aside to cool. It should be below 90F before it is mixed into the dough. If needed, put it in the refrigerator to cool.

Cream the butter and 85g of the sugar together.

Mix 5g of the sugar in the warm water (between 80-90F) and add the yeast. Let the yeast solution sit until it starts to foam. Don't start the yeast solution early.

Mix the flour into the butter/sugar mixture.

Add the spiced wine to the flour/butter/sugar mixture and stir until just combined.

Add the yeast mixture in last, stir until well mixed, then knead until the dough starts to become elastic.

Prove the dough for about an hour. It won't rise a lot but it does need this resting time.

If you are using a dried fruit other than currants, make sure to cut them up into currant sized pieces.

Knead the currants into the dough and form into 16 balls. Put five currants on the top of each ball in the shape of a cross and flatten the balls into 2cm high discs. They will spring back a bit.

Preheat the oven to 350F

Leave the cakes to rest/prove for 20-30 minutes

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown and they sound hollow when their base is tapped.

Inspired by: Soul Cake Bake

Test 3 of my Soul Cake recipe with the four different fruits used.
(from R-L Cinnamon-Apple, blueberry, currant, cranberry)

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