Ask a Welshman what food he remembers from his childhood and chances are he’ll mention one of these: bara brith, teisen lap, or ‘picen ar y maen’. Rich with fruit and spice, these cakes evoke images of mam cooking, in her warm sweetly-scented kitchen. Try one of our recipes and see for yourself how good they are.
Literally translated, bara brith means speckled Bread. Tradition was that the stove would be lit once a week for baking day. When the bulk of the bread had been cooked, some dried fruit would be added to a piece of dough and bara brith was the result. The recipe has been added to since then, but the name is still used, even by non-Welsh-speakers.
- 225ml (8fl oz) milk
- 1 teaspoon brown sugar
- 4 level teaspoons dried yeast (not easy blend yeast)
- 450g (1lb) strong white flour
- 1 level teaspoon salt
- 1 level teaspoon mixed spice
- 50g (2oz) brown sugar
- 75g (3oz) margarine
- 1 egg
- 350g (12oz) mixed fruit
- Clear honey for glazing
- Warmth – one of the most necessary ingredients
- Grease a 2 lb loaf tin.
- Warm the milk to hand-heat. While that’s warming, put the yeast and sugar in a bowl and mix together. Whisk the warmed milk onto the yeast and leave in a warm place for about 15 minutes until frothy.
- Sieve together the flour, spice and salt. Add the sugar. Rub in the margarine until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the beaten egg and the frothy yeast mixture. Mix to make a dough.
- Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead it for about 10 minutes until it is smooth. Place it back in its bowl and cover with greased clingfilm. Leave in a warm place for about 1½ hours until doubled in size.
- Put the dough on a floured surface and knead in the dried fruit. Shape it to fit in the tin then cover with a tea-towel or an oiled plastic bag, and leave in a warm place to rise again. This will take about 40 minutes. When you’ve put the dough to rise, pre-heat the oven to 190°C , gas mark 5.
- When the dough is nicely risen, cook for 30 minutes then cover with foil to prevent over-browning. After another 30 minutes check to see if the loaf is cooked. Remove it from the tin, turn it upside down and tap its bottom: it should sound hollow.
- When cooked, remove from the tin to cool. While it is still warm, brush the top with honey for a nice sticky glaze.
- When cool, serve sliced and spread with thick Welsh butter. (Welsh butter is usually saltier than other sorts.)
Teisen Lap (cake on a plate) is a shallow moist cake – cooked on a plate!
- 225g (8oz) plain flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- Pinch of nutmeg
- 110g (4oz) margarine (a mixture of lard and butter was traditionally used)
- 200g (7oz) sugar
- 225g (8oz) currants
- 3 eggs
- Pre-heat the oven 180°C , gas mark 4. Grease and flour a shallow 9” tin.
- Sieve together the flour, baking powder and nutmeg.
- Rub the fat into the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs.
- Add the sugar and fruit. Add the beaten eggs and mix well. You want a soft, dropping consistency so add as much milk as is needed.
- Put the mixture in the tin and cook for 20 minutes before lowering the temperature to 170ºC, gas mark 3, for another 40 minutes or until firm.
- Cool, remove from tin and sprinkle with sugar. Store in an airtight container.
You’ll also find picen ar y maen in most bakeries in Wales but they’ll be sold under the English name of … Welshcakes. Cooked on a griddle (maen), these flat Fruity Cakes will require your attention, but they more than repay the time you give them. A fresh warm welshcake has been described as being ‘the closest thing to heaven’.
- 450g (1lb) flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- Pinch of salt
- 275g (10oz) margarine
- 175g (6oz) sugar
- 175g (6oz) sultanas
- 1 egg, beaten
- 30ml (2 tablespoons) milk
- Sieve together the flour, baking powder and salt. Rub in the margarine and then add the sugar and sultanas. Make a well in the middle and add the beaten egg and some milk. Mix to make a stiff dough. Add as much milk as you need.
- Grease a griddle and put it on the stove to heat up. You could use a very thick-based frying pan if you don’t have a griddle.
- Roll out the dough on a floured surface to ½” thickness and cut into rounds. Combine the leftover bits and roll out and cut again until every last remnant of dough is used up!
- Cook on the griddle, on a steady heat, turning once, until slightly risen and cooked through. You’ll need to cook them in batches, keeping an eye on them.
- Cool for at least a minute before eating one!
These three are the core of traditional Welsh baking and are likely to be the most dreamt about by exiles in far-distant lands!