Catholic Culture Solidarity
Catholic Culture Solidarity

Catholic Recipe: Soul Cakes I


  • 1 cake yeast
  • 1/4 cup lukewarm water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2 cups scalded milk
  • 6 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 beaten egg


Prep Time: 2 hours

Difficulty:  ★★☆☆

Cost:  ★★☆☆

For Ages: 15+

Origin: England


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The second scene was laid somewhere along the border between England and Wales. The charnel house had now become a rich man's house. The rich man objected to having his rest broken by boys and girls who came "a-souling." They would chant at each door until it was opened:

A soul cake, a soul cake,
Have mercy on all Christian souls;
For a soul cake.

This practice, too, was originally a religious one, following along the same thought. If the dead were returning tonight, some of them would need prayers. A rich man doesn't have too much time to pray and, since we all belong to the great Communion of Saints, perhaps some other Christians who were less occupied would pray for the dead of his family for a small consideration. The consideration in this case was a Soul Cake. Perhaps, too, the cake may have been given in charity in the hope that it would cover a multitude of sins. At any rate, the custom which began in religion has been secularized until today our children no longer know why they beg on Halloween.

The Soul Cake was originally a small round bun. We made enough to pass around the audience between scenes. They are best served warm from the oven with plenty of berry preserve. In Scotland Soul Cakes were known as Dirge Loaves and were flat, round buns of oat flour.

It seems, however, that in one rich man's house there was a cook who had imagination. She had made Soul Cakes at Hallowmas for years. She noticed how the children were becoming secularized. Instead of singing plain chant, they were whining doggerel. Instead of thinking of the meaning of their acts, they were thinking only of their stomachs as they yelled in her window:

Soul! Soul! for a soul cake!
I pray good misses, a soul cake!
An apple or pear, a plum or a cherry
Any good thing to make us merry.
One for Peter, two for Paul,
Three for Him who made us all
Up with the kettle and down with the pan,
Give us good alms and we'll be gone.

She also had a grave suspicion that once those children left the door they thought no more of the poor souls for whom they were to pray. They stuffed her good sweet buns in their hungry mouths, and never so much as an "Ave" ascended to heaven for the dead.

One year she decided to fix them so that with every bite they would remember why they had been given the cake. Instead of making plain round buns, she made a circular bun with a hole in the middle. In those days the never ending circle was common parlance for everlasting life and our passage to it. The result of her cleverness was a doughnut, a reminder of prayer. Requiescat in pace.


Dissolve yeast in water with one tablespoon sugar. Cover and allow to rise until light. Cream butter and remaining sugar. Add scalded milk. When mixture is lukewarm, add yeast and sifted dry ingredients. Knead into a soft dough. Let rise until double in bulk. Shape into small round or oval buns. Brush tops with egg. Bake on greased cookie sheets in a hot oven (400°) for 15 minutes. Turn oven down to 350° and bake the cakes until golden brown.

Recipe Source: Cooking for Christ by Florence Berger, National Catholic Rural Life Conference, 4625 Beaver Avenue, Des Moines, IA 50310, 1949, 1999