Chapatti Pan and Spice – St. David’s Day Welsh Cakes.

Today is the Feast of St. David, the patron saint of Wales, which means I have reached for the chapatti pan again.  Like many Welsh children I tried to eat Welsh cakes as soon as I could after they had come off the griddle; soft and melting, one was left with a burned mouth for one’s sins.  I don’t recall Welsh cakes as a particularly St. David’s Day tradition, but I do remember the infernal stench of the fresh leeks that were pinned to the boys’ pullovers, only to be shredded into ribbons by the end of the day; a tradition that thankful seems to have died out.  While Welsh cakes were then a fairly frequent treat, in our modern generally cake-less regime we need an excuse to make them – so bring out the griddle and the spices.

Llangynwyd is a historic village on the mountain top above the Llynfi Valley.  The

Y Bwlwarcau Hillfort, Llangynwyd. RCAHMW.

Y Bwlwarcau Hillfort in the snow, Llangynwyd. RCAHMW.

Glamorgan Uplands look like a barren landscape but under the mouths of the feeding sheep the land has been tattooed with curves and lines of at least four thousand millennia of change – Bronze Age cairns, Iron Age forts, Roman camps, mediaeval forts and industrial tracks.  The village is expanded version of the ancient church and pub combination and has been associated with several folk traditions, including the origins of the beautiful song Watching the White Wheat (Bugeilo’r Gwenith Gwyn).   It is claimed the

Collecting calennig in Llangynwyd. National Museum Wales.

‘Lift them higher boys!’. Collecting calennig in Llangynwyd. National Museum Wales.

wassailing custom, Mari Lwyd, has had its most unbroken tradition here. Interestingly, the performance didn’t remain fossilised but evolved and its content updated, as it probably always had been done.

So perhaps we should not be too hard on Ann Romney’s Welsh cakes, as a totally rigid tradition is eventually a dead one.  When during the 2012 US Presidential Election campaign the Republican candidate Mitt Romney made a trip to London, his wife Ann researched her Welsh roots in South Wales.   She spent a day at Llangynwyd looking at her relatives’ graves in the churchyard.  Her entourage took over the thatched pub opposite (The Old House), one of several establishments that claim to be the oldest in Wales.

Back on the US election trail Ann Romney adopted Welsh cakes, a recipe she adapted from her paternal grandmother, as a symbol of her family’s humble origins, and of her as a homemaking, cake-baking ‘mom’; dishing them out on the campaign trail and cooking them live on Good Morning America.  Their authenticity was challenged by some but everybody has their own recipe for Welsh cakes (although the two tablespoons of nutmeg does seem a bit eye-watering).

So how authentic are my Welsh cakes?   For many years I have settled for a recipe from Jane Grigson’s English Food (1974) – actually a good source of many good Welsh griddle recipes.   And my griddle?  My non-stick chapatti pan is the best griddle I found so far.  Not something my grandmother would have used even if she’d been able, however perhaps there is a heart warming link here as she was in the habit of adding a pinch of what we then knew as curry powder to her cawl!.

Spices such as cinnamon, allspice or a moderate amount of nutmeg are all used, but this recipe introduced me to the distinctive and delicate flavour of mace that as JG says, with the rich dough, makes this ‘most delicious of griddle cakes’.

500g flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

Generous pinch of salt

1 teaspoon mace

150g fat (JG asks for half butter/half lard to make a short dough)

125g currants

175 sugar (or to taste)

2 large eggs

Milk to bind

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together; then rub in the fat.  Add the fruit and mix to a dough with the egg, and some milk if really necessary.  Roll out thinly (the thickness of Ann Romney’s Welsh cakes were a cause for alarm, I’d say a depth of an average little finger) and cut into rounds.

Photo: Mr Edible.

As Ann Romney discovered on her dramatic televised appearance, you have to get the temperature of the griddle just right – too hot and they’ll burn on the outside and be soggy on the inside (there are people who seem like them like that), too cool and they will be dry from over cooking (no one likes like that).  As when cooking pancakes, try a couple first and give them as an offering to the gods, or, if at all edible, the cook.  Two or three minutes a side is what you aiming at.

I really must get some gram flour and learn to cook chapattis in my pan – next St. David’s Day maybe.

Photo: Mr Edible.

Photo: Mr Edible.

Photo: Mr Edible.

Photo: Mr Edible.

Photo: Mr Edible.

Photo: Mr Edible.

Update with pic!

I ♥ Welsh Cakes

Thanks to Julie for her pic of beautiful, and beautifully cooked, Vancouver Island Welsh Cakes.

Julie's Welsh Cakes


78 thoughts on “Chapatti Pan and Spice – St. David’s Day Welsh Cakes.

    • This are truly ‘slow food’ so choose a time when there’s something good on the radio. Your patience will be reward by a kitchen filled with a delicious aroma. Say if you like them!

  1. My father recently passed away, and our neighbors brought these in when they visited; hot, fresh, delicious with a big mug of tea. Now that I have the recipe I’ll try making my own, but I think they’ll always remind me of that sadness. Thanks for a great post.

  2. I am a welsh exile living in england and often make Welsh Cakes (or Bakestones as they are known at home!).
    Too many people eat them hot (or with butter and jam or cream) but they are best put away to dry out for about three days and then are eaten as they are…no adornments, making the perfect accompaniment for a warming cup of tea. I use my nans recipe and have to say that my english family and friends would fight over the last one as I can never make enough!

    • Yes Welsh cakes and tea are a great tradition. Everybody has their own way with them, but they are always irresistible! They were always popular when I made in when in England. Thank you.

    • Some people do have a special touch with them. They seem simple but I wish I knew some peoples’ secrets! There is the phenomenon that childhood flavours can sometimes never be recreated. Thanks for you lovely comment.

  3. I’ve never tried these before, but they look delicious. I may make them in honour of my Welsh grandmother, whose family hailed from Pontypridd.

  4. This looks amazing, we make something similar with fresh oregano in the middle east but it’s more savory than sweet 🙂 check my for new flavors!

  5. My Welsh grandmother used to make Welsh cakes for my grandfather, who had come over from Eastern Europe at the start of the war. Her recipe and cast-iron griddle have come down to me – it’s been a while since I’ve used them, but I’m going home for Easter so I’ll have to get them out and make some for my dad!

  6. I am moved to make these for my husband, not so saintly, David. I will be substituting a chapati pan for a heavy duty crepe one however. Wish my god speed! 🙂

  7. Pingback: St David’s Day Welsh Cakes, from Edible Swansea. And chicken in caper sauce. Just do it, people. | Well, This Is What I Think

    • Thanks for the nice comments. I glad to say that Welsh cakes are a living tradition. A friend of mine’s student grandson wants a bakestone for his birthday to make his own at university.

  8. In our family we use raisins and call them “Welsh Cookies”. Oh, and no mace. I have no idea what that is. Also, my great grandmother always refrigerated the dough overnight before cooking them on the griddle. So happy to see these somewhere!

    • I often cooked them with no fruit at all, I think that’s my chapel upbringing, but I’ve mellowed and now feel adding fruit has the best result. Mace, of course, can mean lots of things, but here it is the delicate spice made from the orangey/brown outer casing of the nutmeg – and not the personal protection product! The Indian mace is a little courser and used in stews and curries, baking mace is finer and I’ve not met anyone so far that not been won over by it in this recipe.

  9. I am not even one little bit Welsh, but I plan on trying these! Be Welsh for the day! Although, since I am a Western European mongrel, who knows…I just might have some Welsh in me yet!

  10. This is pretty neat. I am going to add this to my collection of recipes I’ve been taking off of WordPress. I don’t think I have any Welsh recipes yet.

    • It depends on the fat you use. This recipe is good for texture and keeping (half butter, half lard) 4-5 days in an air-tight box. Left-over Welsh cakes are usually not a common phenomen though!

  11. They look amazing, and turned out much better than mine on St Davids Day. I did try to buy them in, but unfortunately I couldn’t find anywhere in London that stocked them 😦

    • Some cover them with sugar, some with butter (but that’s seems a remedy for over-cooking). I prefer them as they as they come, with the comforting griddle aromas.

    • Lol. But sometimes we don’t know it. Listen to the link in the post (YouTube) to the Welsh song an absolutely beautiful tune, and I’m trying not to be biased. 🙂

  12. At the risk of sounding like an idiot American — ers mae gen i’r iaith 🙂 — what does it mean to “rub in” the fat? I’m afraid that’s a word usage that I’ve never encountered in a recipe before.

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