By Kevin Williams
While the Amish are the subculture in the USA that I've explored the most, I also enjoy seeing what else is out there from enclaves of Italians, Cajuns, French, and Scots. America is a vast cultural quilt and you can find a little bit of everything out there. As always, I find that food reflects traditions and culture color more than almost anything. Every November the tiny village of Shandon, Ohio celebrates its Welsh roots along the banks of Paddy's Run creek. This year's celebration just concluded.
The annual Christmas celebration is a chance to sample Welsh culture in this quiet corner of Ohio and one of the most popular ways to do it is enjoying some of the thousands of homemade "Welsh Cakes" that are made and sold during the festival.
Today, Shandon’s history comes alive through the hands and griddle of Sian Stowe who could probably make Welsh Cakes in her sleep. Stowe effortlessly combines the flour, butter, and allspice (see recipe in sidebar) that makes up this simple confection and then her hands seemingly seamlessly transform the mixture into a doughy ball, which she shapes and kneads. Then the dough is cut, flattened and fried and the smell of these age-old overseas favorites sizzles into the air. Welcome to Plas Cadnant, a bed and breakfast in Shandon named after an historic country estate in Wales. Shandon’s Plas Cadnant is tucked away in a stately old general store built in 1832. A residence was added in 1848 and the building has been used as everything from a home to a post office to a school over the years, so Plas Cadnant is honeycombed with hallways, stairways and history. The captivating smell of the cakes permeates every nook and cranny. In Wales, the cakes are known as Pice ar y maen (phonetically it sounds like it looks but without the spaces, it just rolls off the tongue as one), but in Shandon they are simply called Welsh Cakes. And they are popular. Stow has taught others in Shandon how to make them and during the village’s annual Christmas in the Country these simple cakes are churned out by the local churches to the delight of everyone.
I had a chance to visit with one of the town's Welsh-descendant residents and she shared her Welsh cake recipe. And now I'll share it with you, it's really a wonderful Christmas creation, festive and tasty, but not overwhelmingly sweet, which, frankly, is a nice change from all the heavily frosted Christmas cookies and cakes this time of year.
Christmas Treat: Welsh Cakes
- 1 3 /4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 stick butter
- 1 /4 cup sugar
- 1 /4 cup currants
- 1 /2 teaspoon allspice
- 1 egg plus 1 – 2 tablespoons milk
- Sift flour and baking powder in mixer. Add one stick butter cut up and blend until the mixture resembles bread crumbs.
- Add sugar and currants. Slowly add the beaten egg and enough milk for the mixture to form a ball in the mixing bowl. Gently knead the mixture on a floured board and roll into 1 /4 inch thickness. Cut into 2 inch rounds with fluted cookie or biscuit cutters. Heat griddle (electric to 375 degrees) or large frying pan over medium heat. Rub griddle with butter or cooking spray. Cook Welsh cakes on griddle for 3 or 4 minutes each side until a golden brown in color. Serve warm or with butter.