Welsh cakes, and why my name is not Myfanwy

picau ar y maen

My mother’s heritage was Welsh and she and my father were both talented amateur singers who were brought up in Ipswich, in Queensland, a town with a proud heritage of coal mining, Welsh immigration and  eisteddfodau. As a child she went to a Welsh speaking church and one of my favourite memories is attending the centenary celebrations of that little church as a teenager and having numerous white-haired elderly ladies calling her “little Greta Griffiths” in their sing-song accents. When I was born my parents considered naming me Mwfanwy, but chose the very English Margaret instead, citing spelling difficulties as the reason. All my adult life I have nursed a secret desire for a more interesting name and wished they had called me Mwfanwy instead, despite my sister Bronwyn’s assertion that no one can spell and many have difficulty pronouncing her very Welsh name. I comfort her by bringing up the Welsh names she could have been called – including one of my mother’s friends, who was named Blodwyn.

I love to hear Welsh spoken as it is ancient and beautiful and melodic and mysterious; and as Jan Morris states, in her book Wales: The First Place “The language itself, whether you speak it or not, whether you love it or hate it, is like some bewitchment or seduction from the past, drifting across the country down the centuries, subtly affecting the nations sensibilities even when its meaning is forgotten.”

We never ate Welsh cakes when I was growing up, but one of my closest friends from university is also Welsh, and Geraldine introduced me to this unique afternoon tea time treat, traditional, and for me, a wonderful link to my family heritage, along with competing in the Queensland eisteddfod and listening to Bryn Terfel with my father – even if my name is not Mwfanwy. Serve Welsh cakes dusted with caster sugar, or spread with a little butter. Hot, warm or cold they are very delicious, especially with a cup of tea.

Makes about 24

225 g plain flour
70 g caster sugar, with a little more for dusting (optional)
1/2 teaspoon mixed spice
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
100 g chilled butter, cut into cubes
50 g currants
1 egg
a little milk, if needed

In a food processor whiz together the flour, sugar, butter, spice and baking powder until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. You can also do this by hand, rubbing the butter into the dry ingredients as you would when making scones. Tip out into a medium sized bow and add the egg and currants. Knead lightly until the dough comes together and is similar in texture to a pastry dough. add a tiny splash of milk if it is too dry. Dust a work surface with a little flour and roll out the dough until it is about 15 mm thick. Use a round plain or fluted cutter to cut out the cakes. Cook on a griddle or thick based frying pan over medium heat, until golden brown, turning once. Don’t have the heat too high or else you will have gooey insides to your Welsh cakes. A bit like a scone, and a bit like a biscuit, Welsh cakes have a very distinctive, slightly crumbly and not very moist texture and they are best eaten within a couple of days.