Celebrate Wool Month with a Taste of Tradition: Welsh Sheep Shearing Cake Recipe
Did you know that October is Wool Month? A whole month dedicated to our very favorite fiber and material! And who do we have to thank for this?
As it turns out, His Royal Highness King Charles III. In 2010, his patronage endeavor, The Campaign for Wool, began raising awareness of the unique and beneficial attributes of wool, both for consumers and for the environment. The campaign then launched Wool Week in October, but after years of successful events, it was expanded to the entire month. Today, it’s celebrated in major wool-producing countries like Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and it’s made its way here to our shores in the US.
They released a film earlier this year about their awareness campaign for Wool. Check it out:
And for more Wool Month celebrations, be sure to follow their Instagram account @campaignforwool.
Then, right on cue, a recipe for a (we can’t make this up…) Welsh Sheep Shearing Cake popped up in our Instagram feed, courtesy of Atlas Obscura’s food section, Gastro Obscura. So that got us thinking…
What could be better than making this traditional recipe to celebrate Wool Month? Read on.
The Sheep Shearing Tradition
One thing continues today from the olden times—sheep shearing is a communal, collaborative event that brings people together. And where people gather, there’s often food.
During shearing season in early summer (and sometimes again in fall), the farm becomes the site of a lot of activity—all hands on deck! And someone had to make sure all those hard workers were fed during their workdays. In the article, Susan Davies, of the Welsh food blog Daffodil Kitchen, says, “Shearing Day was known for the season when farmers and their hands came together and helped each other. You’re giving them a treat to say thank you.”
Hence, cacen gneifo (pronounced “c-ack-en guh-nigh-fo” in Welsh) came to grace the field picnics in Wales.
The Cake Making Tradition
According to the article, the cake’s origin is difficult to trace, owing to the tradition of orally passing down recipes and the decline in usage of the Welsh language. Sometime in the 1850s and 60s, one of the first printed recipes for cacen gneifo appeared in The Best of Mrs. Beeton’s Cakes and Baking.
Given the presence of caraway seeds and buttermilk, it’s likely that the cake evolved from common caraway bread. The use of historically expensive ingredients like sugar, butter, and candied lemon rind suggest that the recipe was reserved for special occasions, or that the host farm may have been doing very well selling their wool.
Cacen gneifo is one of those magical recipes that connects people to something timeless and real. Every culture and tradition has something like this, and in today’s fast-paced, digitally-focused world, it’s such a great reminder of our humanity to pause and remember those foods, songs, dances, and rituals that live inside of us.
Many thanks to Atlas Obscura for the fascinating article and recipe, be sure to check it out! With gratitude we’re sharing it here.
The Recipe: Welsh Shearing Cake (Cacen Gneifo)
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes
- 8 ounces butter
- 8 ounces caster sugar
- 8 ounces self-raising flour
- 4 eggs
- 4 ounces candied citrus peel
- 2 tablespoons buttermilk
- 2 teaspoons caraway seeds
- 1 teaspoon ground or grated nutmeg
- Zest of 1 lemon
- Sprinkle of confectioners’ sugar
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and line an 8-inch round cake tin with parchment paper.
- Cream together the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl until it is well combined, light and fluffy. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs and buttermilk.
- Bit by bit, whisk the eggs and buttermilk into the butter and sugar mixture.
- Once all the eggs and buttermilk have been added, fold in the self-raising flour a little at a time.
- Stir in the lemon zest, caraway seeds, nutmeg, and candied citrus peel.
- Pour the cake batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 45 minutes or until golden brown and a wooden toothpick comes out completely clean. If the top is golden brown before the toothpick comes out clean, cover with tin foil for the remaining cooking time.
- Let the cake cool, then dust with confectioner’s sugar to serve.
Recipe Notes: If you’re having trouble locating candied citrus peel, we found these at Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street (he’s the guy formerly with America’s Test Kitchen). You can also make your own, courtesy of Martha Stewart, especially if you’d prefer organic.
Singing the Praises of Wool
In honor of Wool Month, we’re going to bake a Cacan Gneifo and celebrate all the wonders of wool! And next week, keep an eye on our Instagram account for news of something very cozy and exciting…
In the meantime, thank you for stopping by, and sweet dreams!