Helen Goh's soul cakes

The medieval English ritual of 'souling' involved children going door to door, offering a prayer for the departed in ...
The medieval English ritual of 'souling' involved children going door to door, offering a prayer for the departed in return for a sweet soul cake.  Photo: William Meppem

More biscuit than cake, these aromatic, delicately sweet crumbly baked treats, stemming from the medieval English ritual of ‘souling’, have a timeless appeal.

Ingredients

25g currants

25g sultanas

50ml rum or brandy

250g plain flour

1 tbsp mixed spice

¼ tsp salt

100g unsalted butter, at room temperature

100g caster sugar

finely grated zest of 1 large orange

2 egg yolks

30ml full-cream milk

For the glaze

80g icing sugar, sifted

1 tbsp (20g) softened butter

2 tsp rum

2 tsp water

Method

1. Combine the currants, sultanas and rum or brandy in a very small pan and place over low heat until the alcohol has nearly evaporated (6 to 8 minutes depending on pan size). Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

2. Sift flour, mixed spice and salt into a medium bowl and set aside.

3. Place the butter, sugar and orange zest in the bowl of a cake mixer and beat with the paddle attachment on medium-high speed for about 2 minutes until light and creamy. Add the yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition. On low speed, add the sifted dry ingredients in three batches, followed by the milk and the dried fruit. Beat until the dough just comes together, then turn out onto a clean bench – it will be quite soft – and knead lightly for a few seconds to form a ball.

4. Place the ball between two sheets of baking paper, press to flatten slightly, then roll evenly to a thickness of about 1cm. Keeping the dough between the baking paper, transfer to a baking tray and place in the fridge for 30 minutes (or up to 2 days).

5. When ready to cut out the biscuits, prepare a large baking tray by lining with baking paper. Remove the dough from the fridge and use a 7cm round biscuit cutter to stamp out circles. Place the biscuits on the lined baking tray, a few centimetres apart. Gather the offcuts of dough and press to form a ball, then roll out once more between the baking paper, to a thickness of 1cm. Stamp outmore biscuits, then repeat the process once more until you have 12 biscuits.

6. Using a small knife, score a cross on each biscuit (as though you are dividing the biscuits into quarters but don't cut all the way through). If the dough has become soft, place the tray in the fridge for the biscuits to chill for 30 minutes.

7. Meanwhile, prepare the glaze by combining all the ingredients in a small bowl. Beat with a spoon until smooth; you're aiming for a runny-honey consistency.

8. Preheat the oven to 170C (190C conventional). Place the tray in the preheated oven and bake the biscuits for 22-25 minutes until light golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow them to cool on the tray for 2 minutes, then use a small pastry brush to dab the glaze thickly on top of each biscuit. Allow the biscuits to cool and the glaze to set before serving.