You know how sometimes the internet knows what you want before you do? This is precisely how I was gifted spooky soul cakes — not the actual treats, unfortunately, but the knowledge that they exist. With a name like “spooky soul cakes,” how could I not fall down that internet rabbit hole?

It’s the season for all things spooky, and because there was also cake involved, I gladly took the bait. The giving and receiving of soul cakes dates back to medieval England and Ireland and is thought to be the origin of trick-or-treating as we know it. The small, round spiced cakes were traditionally made for All Soul’s Day to celebrate and commemorate the dead. When poor children went door to door begging for alms, or “souling,” they were given soul cakes. Each cake represented a soul freed from purgatory.

Seems like a stretch, but at least those poor children were given cake. Another version of the origin story involves giving soul cakes to the door-to-door beggars on All Hallows’ Eve in order to ensure a night without curses or pranks — the “tricks” in today’s trick or treating.

In exchange for a soul cake, the recipient would offer prayers for a smooth transition to heaven when the time came. A cake for a saved soul: What a deal.

Barmbrack is another Halloween-y treat with a great back story. The Irish quick bread is made with raisins and bits of dried fruit, as well as various objects baked in for a fortune-telling game of sorts. Each item carried meaning for the person who received it in their slice, a pea meant no marriage that year, a stick meant an unhappy marriage, a piece of cloth meant bad luck or loss of fortune, a coin meant wealth, and a ring signified marriage on the horizon.

Barmbrack sounds like a great time, but please do be careful with all of the choking hazards. Bring these recipes to Halloween gatherings and know you’ll have plenty to talk about.


Irish Barmbrack tea cake

1 1/3 cup raisins

1 1/4 cup black tea, cold and strong

2 cups flour, heaped

3/4 cup brown sugar

4 teaspoons baking powder

1 egg

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Place raisins in a bowl and pour the tea over. Place the bowl in the fridge and let the raisins soak overnight. The next day, preheat oven to 355 degrees. Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl, including raisins and tea. Line a loaf pan with parchment paper and pour the mixture over. Bake for 1 hour or until baked throughout. Enjoy with butter and jam.

Recipe adapted from


Brittle bone candy

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup corn syrup

Pinch cream of tartar

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

Line a baking sheet with foil coated in vegetable oil. Put the sugar, syrup and cream of tartar into a medium pot and turn the stove on high heat. Don’t stir the mixture, but swirl every so often. Heat on high heat until the mixture begins to bubble and reaches 300 degrees. Remove pot from the stove. Quickly whisk in baking soda but only whisk 3 to 5 times; the mixture will immediately foam up. Immediately pour the mixture onto the pan. Allow to harden at room temperature. Break off into chunks and seal in air tight containers.

Recipe adapted from


Soul cakes

2 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

Generous pinch of saffron

1/2 cup milk

1 stick unsalted butter, softened

1/2 cup sugar

2 egg yolks

1/2 cup currants or raisins

For the glaze:

1 egg yolk, beaten

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine flour, nutmeg, cinnamon and salt in a small bowl. Mix well with a fork. Crumble the saffron threads into a small saucepan and heat over low heat just until they become aromatic, taking care not to burn them. Add the milk and heat just until hot to the touch. The milk will have turned a bright yellow. Remove from heat.

Cream the butter and sugar together in a medium bowl with a wooden spoon (or use an electric mixer with the paddle attachment). Add the egg yolks and blend in thoroughly with the back of the spoon. Add the spiced flour and combine as thoroughly as possible; the mixture will be dry and crumbly. One tablespoon at a time, begin adding in the warm saffron milk, blending vigorously with the spoon. When you have a soft dough, stop adding milk; you probably won’t need the entire half-cup.

Turn the dough out onto a floured counter and knead gently, with floured hands, until the dough is uniform. Roll out gently to a thickness of 1/2 inch. Using a floured 2-inch round cookie or biscuit cutter, cut out as many rounds as you can and set on an ungreased baking sheet.

Decorate the soul cakes with currants and then brush liberally with the beaten egg yolk. Bake for 15 minutes, until just golden and shiny. Serve warm.

Recipe adapted from

Amanda Stone works in educational services, marketing and special features at the Globe. Contact her at 417-627-7288 or email her at

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