This week is all about a traditional Welsh fruit cake. I’ve had the recipe in printed form for 30 years so why make it now you might ask?
Well I guess there are a number of reasons. My maternal grandfather’s side of the family came from Wales. When I was very young I lived there for a while and throughout my informative years I spent many holidays there. Important reasons no doubt, but again one might ask why now?
Well a big part of the “why now” has to do with the fact that I decided I wanted to learn Welsh!
As an infant I was enthralled by a children’s programme on Welsh television. They had this humongous snakes and ladders board set-up where the children would walk around the board depending on the number they achieved from rolling the die. There were ladders to be climbed and slides, as snakes, to be slid down. Most entertaining to a young mind and with the constant repetition at least I learnt the numbers in Welsh from one to six!
I also recall my grandfather explaining to me how to pronounce the Welsh names of the towns we visited, that way he said I wouldn’t sound like a foreigner! He would tell me what the places meant, via a simple translation of the place name or indeed telling me the story behind the name of the place. In particular my young mind was captivated by the story behind the town of Beddgelert, or in English the Grave of Gelert:
He told me of a prince and his great wolf hound called Gelert and how, after a day out hunting, the prince returns home to find his baby child missing and blood on the chops of Gelert. Believing the worst the prince slays his own dog. Shortly after he hears the cries of his child and finds him safe yet close to a large wolf that Gelert had slain. Full of remorse he buries the dog in the centre of town and erects a marker in the dog’s honour.
Wikipedia, the source of all knowledge and the destroyer of dreams, will tell you that the grave is most likely that of a Christian missionary called Celert. All that is well and good, but it sounds a little tame and factual to my still fanciful mind…….
One of the places we would often visit is Conwy, or Conway in English. Its magnificent castle again made a great impression on my young mind. If you like castles then Wales is the place to go, they are really magnificently large military fortifications. In no way are these the palace-castles of other countries, these were built for one purpose only, war. If my recommendation were not enough, the UNESCO considers Conwy castle one of the finest examples of late 13th century military architecture in Europe.
Also of note are the fortified outer walls within which most of the town still lies. Back nigh on 50 years ago, my grandfather could normally park up close to the centre. I recall we often went through a fairly narrow arch in the town walls. As we went through the arch in the car, he always told me to breathe in otherwise we would not fit through….. so breathe in I did! My adult engineering mind no longer sees the logic of breathing in…… how sad it is to leave behind the innocence of youth!
When I was a little older, but still in my teens, my family would drive down to Wales to spend out holidays with my grandparents. It was a long drive, particularly in the early days before the building of many of the motorways, but we always knew we were near when we spotted the white spire of Bodelwyddan church. The spire holds fond memories for me as it heralded the start of our holidays, Bodelwyddan hospital sadder ones as it was there that my grandfather left us. That area holds one more fond memory though, the days we would go to Gwrych Castle and watch the jousting.
We would sit amongst the crowds and watch the forays below, as one knight attacked another, first on horseback and lance, then with swords and other medieval implements of war. As we cheered on the knights we often received dirty looks from our spectator-neighbours. They seemed to think it strange, as at my grandfather’s bidding we raucously cheered on the black night! Why be like the rest right?
I guess the other reason was a general interest in learning a new and very different language as well as putting my theories to the test, you see I have always maintained that a strong focus on grammar helped little in the learning of a new language. When I learnt English in school we did little grammar, whilst here, the Spanish students minds are full to the brim with grammar and rules. But which method is best?
I learnt some French and German at school, grammar included. I left school able to string a few phrases together but far from confident in either. Unexpectedly I ended up working often in both France and Germany. My fluency of both languages came on in leaps and bounds, simply from having to talk to people at work or in the street. This would seem to support my theory, but of course I had a base in both languages from school, I knew something of the languages structure and grammar.
And so we come to Welsh. I knew no grammar and my vocabulary was limited to a few numbers and place names. A perfect test-bed if you will for my theory. I chose one of the free language applications available and spend about 10 minutes per day studying Welsh. As I write this I am on day 34 of learning Welsh. Some 340 minutes, half a dozen hours at best…..not a vast amount of time perhaps, but what are my conclusions to date?
I have mastered about a dozen verbs to say things in the present and the past tenses as well as a relatively large vocabulary. All very practical stuff, words one would need to get by communicating with basic concepts. I can apply the verbs to myself, as in “I am doing something” or I can use similar structure to ask the same of another person “Are you doing something?”.
So early days I know, but as far as my theory is concerned I have not really missed the grammar. Of course there are language structures I see that I don’t fully understand, but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t use them. At this point I can say that I am very happy with what I have learnt and feel I could communicate quite a few basic concepts.
All I can say is that it works for me, but it might not work for you. I suspect many would feel frustrated by a lack of structure or something as simple as not learning a language verb by verb, and by that I mean all the forms of the verb. For example I can say “I want an apple” in Welsh, I have no idea how to say “He wants an apple”, but at this moment in time, to me at least, this problem is of little consequence…….……
Oh….. and before I forget…. for you English teachers out there and I know I have a couple at least. The cake is called Ann Dafis. Welsh has a few double letters, “ff” is one of them. A double “ff” is pronounced as an “f”, whilst a single “f” is pronounced as a “v”. The name of the cake therefore would be pronounced Ann Davis in English. The same pronunciation rule applies to and explains the difference between the words “of” and “off” in English!
So I close off this section of the article with one of the best of my fruit cakes…….
Teisen Ann Dafis
Makes 1 18cm diameter cake
350g Plain flour
225g Brown sugar
1/2 tsp Nutmeg
1/4 tsp Baking powder
Pinch tsp Salt
Take the butter, lard, eggs and milk out of the fridge to allow them to come to room temperature.
Sift together the dry ingredients.
Rub the fats into the dry ingredients.
Click on the link for further information on rubbing in.
Stir in the dry fruit.
Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients.
Preheat the oven to 180ºC or 160ºC if fan assisted.
Beat the egg then add into the dry ingredients.
Start to mix together the dry ingredients adding the milk little by little until it forms a soft, sticky dough.
Grease a 18cm diameter loose bottomed tin.
Put the dough into the tin, flattening off the top. Use the last scrapings from the mixing bowl to smoothen out the top.
Bake for about 1 hours and 45 minutes or until firm and a skewer comes out clean when stuck into the middle of the cake.
Leave to cool for a bout 10 minutes then take out of the tin and place on a wire rack to cool completely.
Ann Dafis was I understand a famous baker from South Wales in the early 1900’s. She supposedly sold the recipe for this cake for money, something not uncommon for bakers to do at the time. Given that Welsh is very much on my mind these days I decided to try this recipe, which as I have mentioned above has sat around for decades.
I have made some changes to the original recipe:
I understand from background reading on Welsh cakes, that it was more common to use brown sugar in cake making. The recipe as I have it just stated “sugar”. I decided to use brown sugar.
The recipe just used raisins. I had some sultanas to hand and decided to make my cake with a mixture of raisins and sultanas. You can always use all raisins if you want a more authentic cake.
As for the spices, the recipe had “¼ tsp sweet mixed spice”. I have very few ready made spices mixes and as few ground spices as possible. Wherever I can I grind my own spices as needed. I find that is this way the spices last longer and have a better flavour.
I tend to make my own sweet mixed spice as needed therefore. In this case you will see I have used a pinch of allspice, cinnamon, ginger and cloves. Again, you can follow my lead, use your own spice mix or use an off the shelf product.
I have mentioned Wales in the past, when talking about one of my favourite routes through North Wales. You can find the article and the recipe for Sponge Parkin here:
Or if you want a simple cake that is just that bit different then try my Cinnamon Crumble Cake, just click here:
tsp – Teaspoon – 5ml
tbsp – Tablespoon – 15ml
Imperial to Metric Measurement:
1 oz – 28g
1 lb – 16 oz – 454g
1 gill – ¼ pint – 142ml
2017 Lincoln W. Betteridge