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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

Cakes, Scones, and Biscuits

Originally published on Photoblog by Gethin Thomas APRIL. 03, 2021

For the uninitiated, these may look at first glance like Scones if you are English or Biscuits if you are American but if you are Welsh they are quite obviously Cakes.

Traditionally all over Europe most homes did not have ovens, hence the use of community ovens in some countries or the use of professional bakers ovens after bread making had finished for the day.

In the village where I live now the shore of the creek has Lime Kilns, which were large early industrial scale buildings to produce lime for fertiliser, one set has been restored and features a community oven between both kilns where villagers would have brought their items to make use of the residual heat to cook one pot meals or bread.

In the home, baking usually consisted of cooking on hot stones over fire which evolved into griddles or as here cast iron "hot stones". This is how we end up with a "hot stone" that is not stone at all. Eventually open fires got more and more elaborate until they featured ovens, double ovens or even incorporated mechanical spits. A pub in Lacock still has the original dog powered spit intact. A large cooking range with in built spit is linked by chains to a nearby wheel inset into the wall into which was placed (hamster like) a small dog, which hopefully happily exercised away for hours turning the wheel and therefore the joint of meat. No doubt the smell of the meat cooking was a big motivator. Another pub I went to in the Cotswolds still has a wind up spit on which they turn the joints of meat for Sunday lunch.

All of this is by way of an explanation into why some traditional items are still cooked above heat in this way. Welsh cakes have to be cooked on a griddle or hot stone to be authentic.

Having said all of that, I am a bit out of practice and I was not happy with these. Two mistakes (sort of). I haven't used my medieval hot stone on a halogen stove before and was not even sure it would work at all, so I got it too hot at the start, making them a tad too dark.

There is something I quite like about the idea of using medieval technology in conjunction with contemporary technology. What would a cook of five hundred years ago when a cast iron pan was the latest convenience have made of a halogen hob, not even having experienced electricity?

I also rolled them too thick, and used too small a cutter. So that's actually three mistakes. The beauty of mistakes like that though is that they may not look perfect but they still taste good.

Most of the Welsh Cakes I have ever eaten were made by my mother who seemed to be able to walk out of the room and come back ten minutes later with newly made Welsh Cakes. A couple of years ago she stopped making them out of the blue and presented me with this baking stone. I never realised it at the time but it ended up being more significant a gift than I thought, because she is now gone. Her giving me this baking stone makes it quite a precious thing and symbolically it seems now like she was handing me the baton in the relay race of life. "Go forth son and make ye your own Welsh Cakes". She didn't actually speak like that, she was 87 not 187.

With all the upheaval of the last eighteen months I hadn't used it until today so although I wasn't 100% happy with the results I will be making them more often until I automate the skill. One day I may be able to leave the room and seem to reappear ten minutes later with warm Welsh Cakes.

The recipe is fairly simple.

225g self-raising flour

pinch of salt

100g unsalted butter

Sift the flour and salt and rub in the butter to breadcrumb stage.

75g caster sugar

25g currants

1 medium egg beaten with 3tbs milk

Add these to the flour mix and bring together into a sticky dough. Roll out the dough adding flour if too wet or milk if too dry. It says a 1cm but I reckon slightly thinner because they do rise. Cut into rounds 6-7 cm wide.

Heat your griddle, stone or heavy frying pan and try for a consistent medium to high heat. They shouldn't brown too quickly or they will not cook in the middle. Flip and cook the other side. Cool and apply a coating of your best butter to eat with tea.

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