Somerset Easter Cakes and Farming in the Quantocks
I don’t remember having these Easter Cakes when I was little…and my grandma was a great baker. But, I do remember her rock cakes being very like the end result… though I am sure she didn’t add brandy to those. And she baked rock cakes every week for my granddad to have with tea in the afternoon – not just at Easter. Perhaps it’s simply that Easter for me as a child was all about chocolate…and mere spicy buns were not going sit for long in my memory!
I found the recipe in a book called ‘Cattern Cakes and Lace’ by Julia Jones and Barbara Deer, now out of print, but one from my mum’s collection – then googled to see what else there was around. Most recipes for Somerset Easter Cakes or Sedgemoor Easter Cakes are made into biscuits and rolled out. Hugh Fernley Whittingstall’s version is the closest, but is still a rolled ‘biscuit’. This version has a looser dough and is cooked in bun tins (I used my mincepie pans). They are something of a cross between a spiced shortbread biscuit and a rock cake. They also were often made using cassia and there are various voices on Google claiming that an authentic Somerset Easter Cake would have to include cassia. But that was just a substitute for cinnamon, so I’ve used a teaspoon of cinnamon as suggested in Cattern Cakes and Lace and as already in my cupboard…!
A traditional British recipe from the West of England, sourced from Cattern Cakes and Lace
- 8 oz Plain Flour Sifted
- 4 oz Butter Sut into small pieces
- 4 oz Currants
- 4 oz Caster Sugar
- 1 teaspoon Cinnamon
- 1 Egg Beaten
- 2 tablespoons Brandy
- Milk as needed to make a soft dough
- Rub the butter into the flour till you have a 'fine breadcrumb' mix
Add the remaining dry ingredients and mix well
Beat the egg and brandy together
Make a well in the dry mix and add the egg mixture. Pull the dry ingredients in and mix thoroughly
Add enough milk to make a 'dropping' consistency - a bit wetter than pastry
Put dessertspoons of the batter into individual bun cases (I used mincepie pans). You can sprinkle the tops with a little sugar at this stage if you want a sweeter bun, or ice them with sugar glaze when cooled.
Bake in a pre-heated oven at 180c for about 20 minutes till the tops go golden brown. If necessary turn to ensure even cooking
Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a rack before storing in an airtight tin
According to the authors of Cattern Cakes and Lace, the story behind these cakes is that the Duke of Monmouth was fleeing from the battle of Sedgemoor (6th July 1685) and fell. A local woman found him and thinking he was a tramp, made him these cakes to help him recover. Now, he was still defeated in the battle and ultimately executed so hopefully, the cakes made him feel a bit better in the short term! Quite what the connection is then with Easter I don’t know…but they are known as Somerset Easter Cakes and apparently given as Easter Gifts so, having a Somerset heritage I thought it was an appropriate thing for me to bake. And, once my granddad became an electrician rather than following his father into the farm, they moved to the edge of Taunton and Bridgewater…pretty much on the site of where the battle of Sedgemoor would have taken place.
On that note, my Great Grandparents must have really despaired at the point he changed career. He was the youngest of thirteen children and the only boy. You can see him out with the plough horses above – he’s on the far right of the photo. But, when he married my grandma, he trained as an electrician which meant when my great-grandfather became too old to farm the farm at Cothelstone was lost (they were tenant farmers on the Cothelstone estate in the Quantocks).
Want to try these cakes yourself? why not pin this post for later