For Welsh people up and down the country, St. David’s Day invokes two feelings: pride and fear.
Pride that you belong to a country that is rich in heritage, stunning in landscape and enchanting in culture.
And fear that one day you may be called upon to wear the traditional St. David’s Day costume again.
St. David’s Day for the mature generation is a day where you are almost summoned to wrap yourself in the flag and remind yourself that this truly is the best country in the world. But to the younger generation, it’s a day where you must don that damn outfit and dance.
In Welsh it’s called ‘Dawnsio Gwerin’ and anybody that grew up in Wales in my generation is familiar. Boys with a leek and Dai cap on their heads and girls wearing a bonnet and the daffodil pinned to their chest.
We would dance clapping our hands together holding on to our hats while we grimaced through armies of parents taking our pictures. Think of it as a Welsh May Pole dance.
There was also ‘Llefaru’ which would mean reading Welsh poetry out loud in a VERY enthusiastic tone and of course, there is singing.
St. David’s Day just wouldn’t be complete without the singing. Who, raised in Wales, hasn’t put their hand on their heart and screamed ‘Gwlad, gwlad, pleidiol wyf i’m gwlad?’ like it was the last words they would ever say out loud.
And I just want to reiterate that I went to an all-Welsh speaking school so we got it twice as hard. We even got into trouble for not speaking Welsh, and while it absolutely infuriated us as teenagers, if I could go back and whack my younger self for not speaking it more socially, I would.
And yes, before you ask, we were taught French through the Welsh language – it CAN be done!
But St. David’s Day should transcend schools. We shouldn’t need an assigned day to really appreciate everything that the Land of Song offers us.
I am proud to be a Welshman every single day, and I kick myself that I do not use my privilege as a Welsh speaker more – I’m working on it I promise.
But through Dawnsio Gwerin, the llefaru, the daff, the leek and the cor (choir) there is one token of Welsh culture that will stay with me literally until the day I die, regardless of what day it is.
That’s the Welsh Cake.
Eating them is both an act of devotion to my mother just as much, if not more so, than to Welsh culture.
I have had Welsh Cakes woven into the tapestry of my life for as long as I can remember and my mother has been baking them on a griddle for as long as I could see. I am part of the army that believes that nobody cooks a better Welsh Cake than their mothers.
But I believe mine genuinely does.
You haven’t tasted a real Welsh Cake unless it’s been baked by a Welsh parent. Hand on hip at the stove, screaming at you to be back before nightfall or to stay where they could see you, Welsh Cakes are just NOT the same unless they are done by a parent. It’s a magic in the method.
I have always danced around with the argument of authenticity. I believe a meal cannot authentically be a dish of culture unless cooked by somebody OF the culture.
For instance I believe you cannot make authentic risotto unless you are Italian or you cannot make authentic sushi unless you are Japanese. So on and so forth.
I’ve seen Welsh Cake recipes that have cherries in them, jam in them, apricots… I’ve even seen recipes that feature rosemary and fennel.
NO. IT DOESN’T NEED THE NONSENSE.
However, this does not mean that not being a part of the culture means you should be deprived, just don’t mess with it.
When my mother made these, it would be like a small bakery and she has never gone off-piste with the recipe. She’d get the griddle pan out from under the cupboard (it was seldom washed – just oiled) – it was warmed up to the point of piping hot and she would get cracking on her dough.
I’m one for meddling with a recipe (hence why I never state anything as an authentic recipe). I’ll add different herbs, switch up the spices, swap around the method, but in all of her years of cooking these, the ones I taste today feel like the ones I tasted as a 4 year old.
She would make hundreds of them. Piled up in ziplock bags for family members, Tupperware boxes for my sister to take to University and lunchboxes for me to take to school. It wasn’t like a cake that was made as a party piece or for an occasion.
Welsh Cakes were just made. They just happened. They were a part of life.
For anybody that has grown up in Wales, I don’t need to describe them to you. But for those not lucky enough to have tried, they are part cake, part biscuit, part scone and they are ‘baked’ but on a griddle stone, not an oven. They are laced with sultanas and then scattered with sugar while they are still warm from the stone.
I promise you, they are everything.
And what I’m sharing with you today is my mother’s actual recipe. I went to her house the other day and took pictures of the handwritten recipe that she has had in her notebook since I was a child.
The page is faded from age and splattered with food, but just looking at the recipe can transport me to my childhood. So if looking at the recipe does that, just imagine what the taste can do.
I know St. David’s Day is probably only important to Welsh people (hell, some Welsh people don’t even care!) but I promise you these Welsh Cakes transcend any celebratory day and are a genuine part of my upbringing, and if I can bake them half as good for my children some day I’ll be a happy man.
Dydd Gwyl Dewi hapus pawb.
(DISCLAIMER – the Welsh Cakes in this image are ACTUALLY my mams and not mine. While I am very confident in the Kitchen, there are some things I just leave for my mother to do)
Empty 450g of self raising flour into a big bowl. Drop 225g of unsalted butter into the bowl and using the pads of your thumb and fingertips, rub this combination into a scruffy breadcrumb like ball.
Empty in 170g of sugar, 170g of sultanas, 2 tsp of baking powder and a small grating of fresh nutmeg. Mix this into the breadcrumb ball using a wooden spoon.
Crack two eggs in a mug and gradually mix this into the dough, keeping it as light as possible.
If the mix at this point feels too wet, add a little more flour but if you feel it gets dry, add a tiny splash of milk.
Once everything combines into a ball, take it out of the bowl onto a lightly floured surface.
Roll this out with a pin until about 1/2 inch thick and using a serrated cutter (like in the picture) cut out some cake shapes.
Once you’ve cut out cakes from the sheet of dough and put to one side, ball up the remaining scraps of dough, roll out to 1/2 inch thick again and cut out more shapes.
Keep going until you have no dough left. This mixture should give you 35 – 40 little cakes.
Heat a griddle pan on the hob for 5 minutes until piping hot. If you don’t have a griddle pan (WHAT KIND OF WELSHMAN ARE YOU?!) then a frying pan that can take a high heat would be fine.
Place the little cakes into the pan. It’s easier to place them on the pan clockwise, that way you know which one you started with. Keep them on the one side for about 3 minutes before flipping them and baking the other side for 2 minutes.
Take them out of the pan, place them on a cooling rack and continue baking the rest of them.
While they’re still warm on the rack, coat them in some sugar (both sides – yesssss) and allow to cool before eating.
But many times while my mum would be baking these, I’d be snatching them from the countertop while they’re still warm.
My only other recommendation for these is to enjoy them with a proper tea of Welsh Brew.
It just doesn’t get better than that.