Cultural Cuisine: Soul Cakes for the Living and the Dead

Updated: May 6

A cross between a cookie and a scone, Soul Cakes are small round spice biscuits that date all the way back to pre-Christian times. Traditionally, they are made with spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice and marked with a cross of raisins or currants. The exact origin of these cakes is foggy, some say they may have been baked by Druids and used during rituals. Others suggest that Celts may have simply used them as a treat for roaming spirits during Samhain (sow-in). One thing is for sure, though, by the Middle-Ages, Christians were all about them. Eager to knock out lingering Pagan traditions, these cakes were adopted by the Church as a means to "pay" beggars and children in exchange for prayers for the dead. This was known as "souling" and very quickly became a Halloween tradition that lasted Allhallowtide. (Oct. 31-Nov. 2) The idea was that each soul cake given would free a lingering soul in purgatory.

With one soul saved per cake, children would go door to door dressed in full costume singing for soul cakes and treats in return for a prayer for a loved one:

Soul, Soul, a soul cake!

I pray thee, good missus, a soul cake!

One for Peter, two for Paul,

three for Him what made us all!

Soul Cake, soul cake, please good missus, 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.

Down into the cellar,

And see what you can find,

If your barrels are not empty,

We hope you will prove kind.

(We hope you will prove kind,

With your apples and strong beer,

And we'll come no more a-souling

Till this time next year.

A soul...

The first and second verse of the traditional Souling Song

This practice grew into today's trick-or-treating and slowly became a mashup of Pagan and Christian tradition combining the Celtic custom of "guising" for Samhain with the Christian prayers to accompany Allhallowtide. 

In medieval times, when soul-cakes weren't being given to trick-or-treaters, they were simply left out as an offering for the dead. Either for a loved one or roaming spirits, a plate of soul cakes and a glass of wine would do the trick. 

Whether you celebrate Samhain or Halloween, here is a Medieval treat to honor the dead, steeped in history that spans more than a thousand years!

So! Here's what you'll need

softened butter, two (free range) eggs, spices of your choice, flour, milk, sugar and your choice or raisins or currants

Be sure to let your butter soften at room temperature for around 30 minutes, you will need to cream it with the sugar later. To see how to know when it's perfectly soft, head here.

For spices, I used a homemade blend of cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and cardamom with a pinch of turmeric that I subbed for saffron.

For the eggs, you need only the yolks, so while the butter is softening go ahead and separate them and preheat your oven to 360F/180C.

If you have an electric mixer, use it to cream the butter and sugar together. I don't have one so I had to do it the old-fashioned way :) To see how to do cream them without a mixer, click here.

After the butter and sugar is creamed, add your yolks and mix.

Now add the spices and raisins along with flour and milk until you achieve a dough like texture that is workable. I used about 80% of the 1 3/4 cups flour I had set out and used the rest to roll the dough out later. ***You don't have to add the raisins in the dough. If you prefer a clean cookie with the raisins as a topping, that's fine, too! I made both batches :)

Once you get a cookie-dough like texture that you are able to work with your hands, it's time to get the roller!

Now you can take your knife to cut the crosses or decorate them how you like

Pop them in your cookie sheet in the oven for around 10 minutes until they are puffed

Now wait patiently :)

Let them cool and then they are ready to be enjoyed by everyone both living and dead all season long! :)



• 100 grams / 1/4 cup of butter (softened)

• 250 grams/1.7 cups flour

• 100 grams/ 1/2 cup sugar

• 2 egg yolks

• 2 tbsp milk

• 50 grams / 1/2 cup raisins or dried currants

• 1 tbsp mixed spice

**You can half cinnamon and nutmeg or just mix together cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom and allspice.

• pinch of saffron (I used turmeric since I'm out of saffron)


• Allow butter to soften and preheat oven to 180C/360F

• Cream butter and sugar, to get it just right, head here.

• Whisk in yolks

• Add spices + milk

• Gradually add flour until you have a cookie dough like texture

• You can stir your raisins into the dough or save them to top the cookie before you bake.

• Turn out the dough on a floured surface until it's around 1 cm thick, then cut into cookie shapes with a cutter or glass rim.

• Line your baking sheet with your cookies and mark them with crosses and decorate with raisins if you choose!

• Bake for 8-10 minutes until puffed and slightly golden.

• Cool and enjoy an age old tradition of souling!

I hope you enjoyed this recipe which I adapted from Fuss Free Flavors! I always enjoy the occasional folkloric recipe and when I came across this one that combined my love for the Middle Ages with a treat, I knew I had to share! Have a blessed Samhain and Halloween!