With Bake Off beginning again next week, the Write Minds pair look at food, starting this week with Francesca’s memories of Wales and Welsh cakes.
With The Great British Bake Off starting again this week (hooray!), Elaine and I have been talking about food. It’s certainly a good way to evoke a period of time in a novel or short story. When I wrote my (yet unpublished) historical novel, Heartbreak in the Valley, set in the Wales in 1915/16, I took some time to research the food eaten and its availability in those years.
One of the popular foods in Wales then, as now, was of course Welsh cakes, also known as bakestones or griddle cakes. My main character, Anwen, makes them during the course of the novel. She tells her mamgu (grandmother), “I’m just preparing some bakestones. I managed to find some flour at the back of the larder not used since Mam’s been ill. Think it’s still alright. I saved some margarine and currants and an egg, and there’s a bit of milk left.” Food was getting scarcer by the end of 1915, so the bakestones would have been quite a treat.
The insertion of this small domestic detail was prompted by my own childhood, as my mum, herself Welsh, often made them when I was a child. Would it be biased to say that they still rate as the best I’ve ever tasted?
Though only five at the time, I recall when she bought the griddle in Cardiff market. We were staying in Merthyr Tydfil with our cousins, Doris and Gwilym, and were visiting Cardiff, where Mum was brought up, for the day. Another memory I have of that holiday is visiting Merthyr market on several occasions. They made and sold Welsh cakes there and the delicious aroma of them used to fill the market. They also sell them in Cardiff market these days and they smell divine, though I don’t recall if they sold them back then.
When Mum died, thirty-five years ago, I kept that old cast-iron griddle. It had got rusty over the years and eventually I had to buy a new one. It’s not quite the same, with its non-stick surface, but it does the job. I’m now the Welsh cake baker in the family. Making them always takes me back in turn to our 1950s galley kitchen and the markets of Cardiff and Merthyr.
The recipe for Welsh cakes I use
8oz (225g) self-raising flour
4oz (110g) butter
A little milk
Griddle (or a heavy
frying pan if you don’t have one)
Rub butter and flour together to make breadcrumbs. Add sugar and sultanas. Add the egg and mix until it forms a ball of dough. A little milk may be needed if it’s too dry.
Roll out dough to around ¼ inch / 5mm and cut with a round fluted cutter.
On the griddle rub butter and get rid of excess. Heat up griddle and place the Welsh cakes on it. Give them a couple of minutes a side, until they’re nicely browned.
Remove from the griddle and dust with caster sugar while warm.
I often add a little mixed spice or cinnamon. These days there are a lot of variations. When I visited Cardiff market with my daughter and grandson a few years back we bought quite a selection including chocolate and lemon!
There are lots of tasty variations of Welsh cakes here
If you’re visiting Cardiff, the market is well worth a visit: Cardiff Market
Heartbreak in the Valleys, will be published June 10th 2020 and is available for pre-order.