The cooler autumn days have inspired me to bake. There is danger in this because if I bake, I invariably give in to the temptation to eat what I bake and I am still trying to undo the effects of too much early lockdown baking and eating in April and May. You know what they say: a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips and, believe me, as Shakira sang, but meant in quite a different way, “you know my hips don’t lie”.
A couple of fleeting moments over the past few weeks resulted in my baking taking a turn towards traditional, homely fare and two recipes with Celtic heritage. Both the bakes are variations on the customary recipes to enable me to exclude dairy, eggs and lard and to take advantage of a large quantity of dried fruit I acquired in July but about which I cannot speak publicly (enigmatic, I know, but sometimes silence is the deal we have to strike in return for receiving copious amounts of Italian peel, glacé cherries, stem ginger in syrup and many kilos of currants).
Inspiration for the first recipe came from rearranging the cupboard under the oven and happening upon my Nana Mary’s bakestone. In a rather lovely display of cross-family/in-law affection, this cast iron griddle was made for Nana Mary, my paternal grandmother, by my maternal grandfather, the chap of Mr and Mrs fame. I can’t really remember how or when, but it’s another treasure I inherited from my Nan. For the uninitiated, bakestones are, perhaps more accurately were, used for cooking Welsh cakes on the fire or cooker, indeed the Welsh cakes themselves, a type of fruited griddle scone, are often call bakestones because of the way they are traditionally cooked. They are certainly called bakestones in my family. They are also a treat I haven’t eaten for more than half a decade as, despite loving them, Welsh cake recipes contain butter, lard, milk and eggs. Sight of the blackened griddle in the bottom of the cupboard gave me a shot of pure hiraeth for Sunday afternoon’s munching warm bakestones at Nana Mary’s so I hefted out of the cupboard (it weights a (metaphorical) ton), washed and oiled it and set about researching vegan Welsh cake recipes.
Turns out there are reams of said recipes online and I needn’t have been depriving myself all these years. I followed a recipe by the fabulous Gaz Oakley – plain flour, currants, baking powder, mixed spice, salt, caster sugar, vegan marg and almond milk (though I used oat milk as that’s what was in the fridge) – doubling all the quantities to make twice as many because, you know, twice as many and all that. I then had a great half an hour griddling like a demon. I needed to have prep’d the bakestone with an oil with a far higher smoking point than the olive oil I used, so things got a bit fuggy in the kitchen. I singed my finger twice in my eagerness to flip my cakes and a few times I took too long on sugar-sprinkling duty and the griddleful of cakes next in the production line caught a bit too much colour on one side but I didn’t care. My bakestones tasted almost as good as Nan’s and I had the best time making, and eating, them.
A day or so later, scrolling through my Insta feed I spotted a gorgeous looking bake my very lovely Dublin friend, Collette, had made. A couple of messages later and I had in my possession not only her beloved Mum’s recipe for Irish Tea Brack, but a copy of the recipe written in her Mum’s fair hand on paper now much-handled and stained by the teas of years of brack preparation by Collette while living in London, Sydney and Dublin. I felt very privileged to have this favourite family recipe shared with me.
Mrs McDonald’s recipe required the pound of dried fruit to be soaked for a day in tea and sugar before flour, mixed spice and an egg are added the following day, everything given a good stir and baked for an hour. I used an egg replacement mix to bind all the ingredients and though I was a little worried that the batter seemed very wet, it baked beautifully, held its shape in slicing and tastes delicious. It is delightfully “substantial” and perfect with a cuppa.
Two traditional and homely bakes, with Celtic origins, successfully veganised over the course of a few days. And, mindful of the Shakira on my shoulder, whom I now paraphrase badly, I was wise, read the signs of my (wobbly) body, and stuck half of the bakestone and half of the brack in the freezer for another day. ~ E