Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Bakestones and Welsh Cakes.

The earliest piece of cooking equipment was most likely a hot hearth stone, and its most useful purpose was to bake flat cakes of bread or pancakes. We still use bakestones of course, although we may call them pizza stones and use them inside the oven. We also use the cast iron version and refer to it as a griddle – the principles are the same. 

There are few kitchen practices more satisfying than using an elderly, well-seasoned cooking surface, whether it be bake-stone, griddle, barbeque plate, frying pan, or wok. Today I want to encourage you to give some love to your own favourite well-tempered cooking surface, and to demonstrate that sometimes, the simplest methods are still the best and the most reliable.

In Britain, the tradition (or necessity, in the absence of an oven) of using a bake-stone for cooking bread, persisted longest in the North and in Wales – especially Wales. I have previously written about bakestones and ‘Welsh Cakes’, but the recipe I gave was a modern, sweet, fruity one from the 1960’s. I came across a recipe for several far more authentic (whatever that means), original, plain versions the other day, and wanted to share them with you.  They appear in Good cookery illustrated: And recipes communicated by the Welsh hermit of the
cell of St. Gover, with various remarks on many things past and present (1867),
by Lady Augusa Waddington Hall Llanover.

Oatmeal Cakes.
Make a stiff paste with oatmeal and water or skim milk; then form it into balls with the hand about the size of small eggs; then shape with the hand round and round to the size of a small cheese-plate or large saucer; when one oat-cake is formed the right shape and thickness, turn it and shake dry oatmeal all over it; then take another, put it in the middle of the oat-cake you have made and form that in the same manner upon the first made; when well-tempered, turn it, and shake dry oatmeal all over it, and proceed in the same way until you have got eighteen oat-cakes one on the other, remembering that each must be turned, and that dry oatmeal must be put between every one, and they must be turned and returned, and shaped with the hand,until they are all of the same texture, as thin as is possible without breaking. When dry enough to put on the bake-stone (heated to the required point which practice alone can teach), bake them one at a time; have a clean cloth folded to the proper shape, and press the cake down flat on the bake-stone, where it should remain until it is of a nice light brown colour. The upper side of the cake is to be glazed before it is taken off the bake-stone; the glaze is made with egg and milk, and a little sugar is generally added, but that is only a matter of taste; some persons like a little sugar mixed with the oatmeal of which the cakes are made. As each cake is taken off the bake-stone it is laid across the rolling-pin that it may dry in a hollow shape; and as each cake becomes hard and crisp they are again put one on the other and are always served and kept in a pile. The rolling-pin must not be used in making these cakes, all must be done with the hand and they must be flattened and worked round and round with the hand until they are almost as thin as a wafer. Great skill and dexterity as well as practice are necessary to make these cakes well, which when once attained, the process is very quickly executed. The thin Welsh-oat cake is particularly wholesome, and often agrees with invalids of weak digestion better than bread; they are sometimes eaten with cold butter or cheese, or eaten dry with milk or tea.

Thick Welsh Barley Cakes.
Take fine barley meal and make into a stiff dough with skim milk; roll out to the size of a small bake-stone, about three-quarters of an inch thick, and bake. It is eaten with cold butter.

Thin Welsh Barley Cake.
Mix fine barley meal and milk together to the consistency of batter, and pour slowly on the bake-stone out of a jug until it has formed a circle the size of a small plate,then let it bake slowly. It ought to be very thin but soft, like a pancake or a pikelate; it is likewise eaten with cold butter.


Anonymous said...

For Welsh purposes, is "oatmeal" rolled oats, steel cut oats, or "scottish" oatmeal?

The Old Foodie said...

I am pretty sure it would have been the fine 'scottish" oatmeal.