Tuesday, October 30, 2012

How to Make a Soul Cake + Comment to Win on a Halloween Poll from Cleo Coyle

What is a Soul Cake?

Short answer: The soul cake is the culinary antecedent to the candy treats we give out on Halloween night. Of course, this holiday, which celebrates ghosts and goblins and other scary things, makes little logical sense. I mean, really—if some denizen of the underworld were to knock on your door on a dark October night, would you chase it away by throwing candy at it?

Well, it seems the time-honored tradition requires that we do just that. About fifteen hundred years ago, Druids celebrated the fall festival of Samhain (the dying sun god), by lighting bonfires. They believed the souls of the dead returned to the physical world on Samhain eve and the fires would help ward them off. 

As Christianity spread, Samhain was turned into All Souls' Eve (Halloween) and All Souls' Day (November 1), when the faithful said prayers to honor their dead ancestors. It was during this time that a new tradition was born. On All Souls' Eve, beggars and the children of the poor went from house to house, asking for food and promising to pray for the dead souls of your ancestors in return. As the custom evolved, these “soulers” were given “soul cakes” for their trouble. Each cake eaten would represent a soul being freed from Purgatory. This practice, of giving sweet treats to those who knocked on your door on All Souls’ Eve, is thought to be one of the origins of modern Halloween trick-or-treating.

In 1891, a minister in Cheshire, England, wrote down a traditional song sung by Medieval soulers, learned from a little girl at the local school.

A soul! a soul! a soul-cake!
Please good Missis, a soul-cake!
An apple, a pear, a plum, or a cherry,
Any good thing to make us all merry.
One for Peter, two for Paul
Three for Him who made us all.

In 1963, Peter, Paul and Mary recorded a version of this traditional song. Here’s Sting’s (very beautiful) rendition, which he blends with the wassail song:




Like many old recipes, soul cakes came in several variations, depending on the region and time period. Some were more like shortbread, biscuits, or scones, others more like yeasty buns. Most were packed with spices and dried fruits and topped with a cross.

Although my little soul cakes look somewhat like the historical versions, I made mine lighter, moister, and sweeter treats to eat. Instead of dry, rather mealy Medieval biscuits (or yeast buns that require rising time), my soul cakes are a cross between quick-and-easy pumpkin muffins and whoopie pies with brown sugar and plenty of fall spices for flavor. The pumpkin provides good moistness; and the combination of pumpkin and canola oil (instead of butter) creates soul cakes that are a tad healthier for you than traditional versions, while still being quite tasty for breakfast or coffee break snacks. 

May you eat them with joy...
and may God bless you! 

~ Cleo

To download this recipe in a PDF document that you can print, save, or share, CLICK HERE.

Servings: about 24 Little Cakes


2 large eggs

½ cup vegetable oil (I use canola) 

1 cup whole milk (use whole for added fat, better flavor and texture)

1 (15-ounce) can of pureed pumpkin (about 2 cups)

1 cup light brown sugar 

½ cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1-1/2 teaspoons cinnamon 

1 teaspoon ginger 

1 teaspoon nutmeg 

¼ teaspoon cloves 

½ teaspoon table salt (or 1 teaspoon coarse salt)

3 teaspoons baking powder

3 cups all-purpose flour 

1 cup raisins and/or craisins (sweetened dried cranberries).

If you're not a fan of raisins or craisins, try chocolate chips.

NOTE: I make these little cakes in a rustic way (via a simple "drop and swirl" method on a baking sheet, more on how to do this below). If you would like a more finished looking Soul Cake for company or a bake sale, simply use a whoopie pie pan like the one shown here. Mound the dough into the pan tins, and the little cakes will spread and rise more evenly for you.

(1) One bowl mixing method: First preheat oven to 400° Fahrenheit. Place eggs in bowl and whisk. Add oil, milk, canned pumpkin, sugar, vanilla, spices, and salt. Whisk until blended. Finally, add the flour and baking powder. Stir well to blend the flour into a smooth batter. (You can use an electric mixer, if you like, but do not over mix.) 

(2) Prep pan and drop: For best results, line baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly coat the paper with non-stick cooking spray. For each cake, fill the quarter cup (1/4) container of your measure cup set and mound it onto the prepared baking sheet. (Or use a ¼-cup size cookie scoop.) Leave room between for spreading. 

(3) Swirl and decorate: Use the back of a tablespoon to swirl the mound of batter into a relatively even circle that is a little bit flatter than the mound but not too flat. (See my photos as a guide.) Using raisins and craisins (or chocolate chips), create a cross on the cake to represent the prayers that beggars and the children of the poor once offered in exchange for the treat. 

(4) Bake: Oven should be well pre-heated to 400° F. Bake about 10 – 15 minutes (depending on oven and size of your cake). Serve warm with butter or allow to cool and dust with powdered sugar if you like. 

Storage notes: Once cool, store your Pumpkin Soul Cakes in the refrigerator after wrapping each separately in plastic or wax paper. They should keep several days that way and can be reheated in about 10 to 15 seconds in the microwave.

And now for those  
Halloween Trick or Treaters!
Here's a poll for you...


To learn about
this fun, fast-paced,
holiday-themed mystery,

 click here.

Holiday Buzz

Holiday Buzz is a culinary
mystery that includes
many delicious holiday
and cookie

For a free
Recipe Guide to Holiday Buzz
Click here.


Eat with 

*spirited* joy!

~ Cleo Coyle

New York Times bestselling author of
The Coffeehouse Mysteries

Yes, this is me, Cleo (aka Alice). 
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  1. I love celebrating some of the historical traditions of Halloween! I've never had much luck carving a turnip (the first jack o'lantern), but I was once a dab hand at palm reading (the Victorians spent Halloween exploring fortune telling). I can't wait to bake these cakes!

  2. Although I might be spooked by a ghost...I have gone ghost hunting, today's vampires tend to be hotties, the IRS agent might make me nervous,but no one would scare me as much as a politician!

  3. These sound really good and have never heard of them before. You always have the best recipes. Will definately give these a try. Thanks. Best of luck with the new book. I know it will be a rollicking success. Cheers!

    Sue P.

  4. What a great way to use pumpkin! And while I voted for Hannibal Lector, the idea of a politician showing up on my doorstep is just about as scary - I've been erasing their messages on my machine for what seems like months!

  5. Toni Raimondi NymanOctober 30, 2012 at 1:19 AM

    I have never heard of this tradition which is surpsing considering how much I LOVE halloween. I'll have to run out tomorrow and get some whole milk. Your holiday book would be a great treat also.

  6. Can't wait for your Holiday Buzz! The Soul Cakes look interesting—they look a bit like muffin tops, too! Hope you are safe and dry and out of harms way from the hurricane! Have a Happy Halloween!!

  7. All my life I have loved Halloween. However I had never heard about soul bread, I'm so glad you shared the story! When I was in my 20's & 30's I loved all the scary movies but now, at 50, my speed is more Hocus Pocus and Nightmare Before Christmas! But regardles of any of the mad creatures said to roam the earth seeing the Devil at my door step would give me cause to shake and screem and I'm sure my old heart would stop its beating; but my story would still end well, for on the last beat of my heart I would be filled with joy as I assended to HEAVEN.. I love when a story ends well, don't you?

  8. Thanks for the history, recipe & the song. I really feel in the holiday mood now!
    Be safe & God bless,
    Helena Georgette

  9. I have never been a big fan of rasins/crasins, but I might just have to try out this recipe. Thanks for posting it!

  10. Oh yum, I'll definitely will make these -veganized! ;)
    Thank you for sharing all your great recipes, Cleo! Stay safe and out of harm's (Sandy) way!!!

  11. I knew about the tradition of the soul cakes, but never saw a recipe before. Very cool. Thanks!!!

  12. Great history lesson and wonderful cookie recipe. I think they would be great plain or with cinnamon chips....Dee
    grammyd01 (at) comcast (dot) net

  13. Decided today was the perfect day to try your recipe for soul cakes. They are in the oven now! I hope your row house survived Sandy last night!

  14. I don't like raisins baked in things for some reason, but I do like craisins, so I will be trying that version - maybe with chocolate chips as well, because anything is better with chocolate!

  15. I love almost anything with pumpkin. Maybe I'll have time to make these while I'm waiting for trick or treaters. They get the candy, I get the cake!

  16. Nice Blog! you really make it easy for a new beginner also to cook it. But we can also enjoy it better with infrared ovens as due to its heating properties we not only save our electricity but also can get more healthy cakes. :)

  17. Thanks for the recipe & little bit of history. Can't wait for your new book to come out!

  18. I will be trying this recipe. It sounds like another winner to add to the files. Thank you!

  19. Sounds great! Thank you so much!

  20. Your recipes are always great; I'll have to try this one. Stay safe in the storm, and I'd really enjoy that ARC :) :) :)

  21. Halloween is my favorite holiday. I grew up in Western Pennsylvania and can still remember sharply going trick-or-treating with my cousins in the dark, shuffling through fallen leaves. It was the best!

  22. Almost ate the computer screen when I saw those soul cakes. Going to veganize them and wipe the drool off my monitor.

    Can't wait for the new release! Setting the timer on my coffee pot...

    Betsy Bean

  23. Those look so great! I love anything with pumpkin.

  24. A great idea to get away from candy but something that will still draw their interest. Sounds good and fairly easy and pumpkin is supposed to be healthy and good for your complexion, can always appreciate that!

  25. Day off due to the storm. I have all the ingredients and Soul Cakes will be my project for the day.


  26. I will definitely try this recipe. A little different from the soul cakes I've had and it sounds like I'd like them much better.

    I love Sting!

  27. First, love that song so much, and I'd never heard the Sting rendition. Lovely.

    Second, these look YUM! They remind me of an autumnal version of hot cross buns, which have always been an Easter tradition in our house. What a clever idea!

  28. Love the recipe and all the photos, Cleo. What a fun post!

    Daryl aka Avery

  29. I put Hannibal in the Poll, because I couldn't be nearly as scared of a vampire as I would of that person! :/ Secondly, I didn't realise that my all-time favourite non-traditional Christmas song "Soul Cake" by Peter, Paul, and Mary has a delish recipe to bring the song to life!! Oh my goodness!! How wonderful to find this out!! :) Thank you once more for offering such beautiful gifts and surprises to your readers! - Jorie

  30. Yum, these soul cakes sound delicious! I love anything pumpkin, and throw some cranberries in the mix and it's a perfect autumn treat. Can't wait til Holiday Buzz comes out!

  31. Anna Louise Downing (adowning@loyola.edu)October 30, 2012 at 12:06 PM

    I can't wait to try to the recipes! Love your books and anxiously awaiting Holiday Buzz!

  32. The Soul Cakes look delicious. I have dried cherries to add and what a great healthy treat. Would love to read your new book.

  33. I live in Germany and we don't celebrate Halloween like you do in the USA. It gets more and more every year, but it's still far far away from your standard. And it's hard to find any pumpkin flavored food or even the spice to do it myself. My boyfriend brought Pumpkin Spice Latte from Starbucks home when he went to the USA for work and I want more of it ;-)

  34. I have never made anything pumpkin related but my daughter went to South Africa and came back loving all things pumpkin. Apparently pumpkin is very big there. So I've been searching for pumpkin recipes. This recipe will be a big hit with her.