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Chef Richard Hughes' traditional Halloween Soul Cake recipe

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10:00 AM October 30, 2022

You can find yourself lost in a mass of sugar skulls and jelly snakes at Halloween, but here is a traditional recipe for the cakes that may well have been the inspiration for trick or treating.

My wife Stacia is one half of the Eastern Daily Press’ Weird Norfolk team so I regularly find myself coaxed out on a mission to find a mysterious standing stone or a particular grave or a tree said to have grown from a buried witch’s finger.

I am now trained to spot the strange, indeed I find myself looking for it – and regularly finding it, much to the delight of my (officially) Weird wife.

Food and Halloween are bound together by the threads that link us to our ancestors: the Halloween Afternoon Tea we serve at The Assembly House is just a modern-day incarnation of ancient lore which harks back to the feasts of Hallowtide.

The dark tea cake rich with spices, berries, dried fruits and nuts – Barmbrack – used to be like a charm-filled Christmas cake for telling fortunes, and eating hazelnut and nutmeg cakes on Halloween used to mean you’d dream of your future spouse .

Other traditional food for All Hallows would have been even less welcomed by today’s Trick or Treaters: Boxty potato pancakes, colcannon and Lamb’s Wool, a drink made from roasted apples, milk and spices. Try fitting that lot in a plastic cauldron thrust at you from your doorstep!

Richard Hughes recipe Soul Cakes for Samhain.  Photo: Steve Adams

Richard Hughes’ recipe for Soul Cakes for Halloween
– Credit: Steve Adams

These lovely little cakes used to be given out on All Hallow’s Eve (in some parts of the country on All Soul’s Day on November 2) in the Middle Ages when children went door-to-door saying prayers for the dead and asking to be rewarded for their troubles.

Many of those asking for cakes would wear masks to protect themselves from evil spirits, the theory being the spirits wouldn’t recognize them if they dressed up: you can see where the modern-day trick or treating tradition began.

Each cake eaten would represent a soul being freed from purgatory, so to refuse one of these soul cakes is literally an act of damnation, quite the best excuse to eat cake I think I’ve ever heard.

Soul cakes traditionally have a cross shape cut into the dough before baking to signify their purpose as Alms for the dead and were studded with dried fruit.

Rich with milk, egg and sugar, these cakes are actually more like biscuits, the kind that if taken alongside a mug of tea or coffee really are good for the soul.

After all, traditions – whether their roots are pagan or not – at their heart, are just people trying to find ways to be happy and feel safe together.

PS A word of warning: this is one time when you don’t want to be the hero and take the burnt biscuit from the plate. Traditionally this would mean you or your livestock is first in line for the harvest sacrifice: you have been warned!

Soul Cakes

(Makes 12)


240g plain flour

Half a teaspoon of each: nutmeg, cinnamon, salt

A pinch of saffron

125ml milk

110g soft, unsalted butter

100g caster sugar

Two egg yolks plus another egg yolk for the glaze

75g currants


1) Preheat the oven to 200C/Gas Mark 6.

2) Sift the flour into a bowl and add the nutmeg, cinnamon and salt, gently mix.

3) Take a pinch of saffron and crumble into a small saucepan before heating on the lowest heat for a short time until the scent the air.

4) Add the milk and heat until hot to the touch. The milk will turn bright yellow.

5) Cream the butter and sugar together in a medium bowl using a wooden spoon.

6) Add the two egg yolks and blend. Add the spiced flour and combine until you have a crumbly mass.

7) Introduce the warm milk to the flour mix a tablespoon at a time, blending as you go until you have made a soft dough. You may not need all the milk so take care.

Richard Hughes' recipe for Soul Cakes for Halloween

Richard Hughes’ recipe for Soul Cakes for Halloween
– Credit: Steve Adams

8) Turn out the dough on to a counter which you’ve dusted with flour and knead gently before rolling out to a uniform thickness of half an inch.

9) Take a floured two-inch cutter and stamp out as many rounds as you can before placing the soul cakes on an ungreased baking sheet.

10) Decorate with currant designs. Traditionally it would be a cross.

11) Beat the remaining egg yolk and brush it all over the cakes.

12) Bake until golden and shiny. Serve warm. Make a wish as you bite into the cake…

Richard Hughes is chef director at The Assembly House and The Richard Hughes Cookery School in Norwich,