Resourceful Welsh housewives of earlier centuries created a wealth of wonderful recipes for breads and cakes.
Few homes possessed an oven (it wasn’t until the twentieth century that these became common in all homes) but everyone owned a slate or iron slab set over a brick hearth next to the fireplace. The bakestone or planc was further developed into a thick flat iron plate on a loop or very long handle that could be suspended over the fire. Some homes also owned a Dutch oven, a three sided tin oven placed directly in front of the fire.
In spite of limited resources, Welsh women with great skill and ingenuity, produced a multitude of tempting treats for Sunday tea and special occasions. Visitors were welcomed with the rich warm fragrance of baking as it sizzled on the planc. Varying amounts of simple ingredients were used to produce quite different types of cakes or breads.
In these days of supermarkets and convenience foods, we tend to forget that baking in the past was time consuming, arduous and a true labour of love. Flour, which was likely to be damp from storage needed to be dried before use; it was necessary to stone, wash and sort dried fruits and sugar had to be chipped off a hard block and sieved. Those unable to afford expensive dried fruits substituted seasonal wild berries and treacle or honey (which tended to be heavy and coarse) replaced sugar. Potato cakes, oatcakes and barley cakes were made regularly for hungry families and also made a sustaining and nutritious â€˜snapâ€™ for hard working coalminers in the gloomy darkness of the coal mines.
Other Welsh specialties include:
Crempog -Pancakes, traditionally made with buttermilk, are thicker and smaller than English pancakes, and were served hot with plenty of butter. Each region has their own recipe and name; poncagen, in Pembrokeshire; ffroesen in Glamorgan.
Teisen Lap– A sweet moist cake studded with dried fruits, it was cooked slowly on a plate in a Dutch Oven, which resulted in a deliciously crunchy surface – nowadays obtained by sprinkling the top with sugar before baking in a conventional oven.
Bara Pyglyd – ‘Pitchy Bread’ made from batter is round and flat and pitted with holes on the surface. The name was later corrupted to ‘pikelets’
Teisen Berffro -Aberffraw Cakes named after a village in Anglesey were rich cakes baked in scallop shells.
Pice ar y maen – ‘cakes on the stone’ or Welsh Cakes as they have become known, have a close texture and rich flavour and may have fruit and spices added.
Pot Bread was cooked in a three legged cauldron and was reputed to be especially delicious with a unique flavour. Some of these iron pots still survive today in Wales.
All these types of cakes were served fresh and hot from the bakestone or griddle, which is still the best way to enjoy them at their best.
WELSH FLOWERPOT LOAVES
Grease new clay flowerpots well with lard or oil and bake empty in a hot oven Gas 6/200C/400F for 30 minutes before use, to avoid cracking later.
8 ounces wholemeal (wholewheat) bread flour
6 ounces strong white plain bread flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 ounce lard
1 1/2 ounces fresh yeast
1 teaspoon Golden Caster sugar (in the US, substitute Sugar-in-the-Raw)
10 fluid ounces warm water
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh herbs (optional)
beaten egg to glaze
fennel seeds (optional)
Put the flours and salt into a large mixing bowl and rub in the lard. Cream the yeast with the sugar and add the water, mixing well. Pour into the flour mixture and mix to a soft dough. Add the fresh herbs at this stage, if using. Knead until smooth, shape into a ball and place in a bowl. Cover with oiled cling film and leave to rise for about 1 hour until doubled in size. Knead the dough again and divide into 2. Place each piece into a well-greased flowerpot. Cover and leave to prove for 30-40 minutes until risen. Brush the tops with beaten egg and sprinkle with fennel seeds if using. Stand the pots on a baking sheet and bake for about 35 minutes Gas 6/200C/400F. Turn out carefully onto a wire rack to cool.
PEMBROKE HARVEST CAKES
Simple snacks such as these fruited cakes from Wales were taken to the workers in the fields at harvest time.
1 1/2 pounds strong plain bread flour
pinch of salt
1 ounce fresh yeast
15 fluid ounces warm milk
3 ounces Light Muscovado sugar (in the US, substitute light brown sugar)
4 ounces butter, melted
6 ounces raisins
Sift the flour and salt into a mixing bowl. Crumble the yeast into a little of the milk and stir into the remaining milk. When it is frothy add to the flour and stir in the sugar. Beat well and add the melted butter and raisins. Knead lightly, cover and leave in a warm place for about 45 minutes until risen. Turn out on to a floured surface and knead until smooth. Divide into 4 pieces and shape into flat cakes. Place the cakes on greased baking sheets, cover and leave in a warm place for 15 minutes. Mark each round into 4 with a sharp knife, separating the quarters slightly. Bake 10 minutes Gas 7/220C/425F then reduce the temperature to Gas 4/180°C/350°F and cook for another 25 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.
Publisher’s Note: Epicurus.com has decent collections of authentic Welsh recipes. Please visit for more than 100 Welsh Recipes.