The Great Northern Soul Cake Bake

The Great British Bake Off technical challenge can be devilishly difficult. But this November we’re calling for bakers to tackle a historical recipe linked to trick-or-treat traditions that were popular in the North long before Halloween was invented. Wield your whisks, and fire up your ovens for the Great Northern Soul Cake Bake!

A soul cake was a small cake or bun specially prepared for All Souls’ Day (2 November). A tradition of ‘Souling’, an ancestor of ’trick-or-treat’, can be traced back to the 16th century. People would move around a village, singing or performing a small play in return for a cake; this act of charity would also benefit the benevolent giver. Soul-caking was mainly a tradition in northern and western England, but different regions had different recipes, performances and memories associated with the practice.

Our Records of Early English Drama North East team now need your help to understand this tradition, the recipes involved, and to help soul-caking rise again in a way unique to County Durham. A selection of your ideas will go into a booklet of recipes and stories to be distributed across Durham. The best overall submission will win dinner in a local restaurant.

There are three main challenges you can take on, with entries due by 30th November.

Technical Challenge

Just like the Great British Bake Off technical challenge, historic recipes sometimes only give a bare outline! This basic recipe dates from a 1604 manuscript, written by Lady Elinor Fettiplace:

Take flower & sugar & nutmeg & cloves & mace & sweet butter & sack & a little ale barm, beat your spice & put in your butter & your sack, cold, then work it well all together & make it in little cakes & so bake them, if you will you may put in some saffron into them or fruit.

While modern recipes for soul cakes are pretty straightforward, this one uses ‘ale barm’ (or froth), which might have been a fermenting agent. It is not clear whether this should rise like a bun or bake like a shortbread. Can you experiment and share what you think it should be like?

Soul Stopper

Scones with champagne flute

Variants on soul cakes can be found across Europe. Can we establish a definitive County Durham version?

Submit your ideas for a soul cake inspired by our region. This could be a traditional recipe with a twist in the ingredients, an inventive shape, or a bake with a story to tell.

Soul Cake Memories

Victorian tea parlourDid you make or share soul cakes in your family or community in the past? Whether you’re from County Durham or beyond, share your memories so the research team can better understand this tradition and how it varied from region to region, as well as locally.



Pass on your technical bakes, stories, and soul-cake memories to Records of Early English Drama North East, for possible inclusion in a booklet and further development of this baking project. Tweet your pictures with #SoulCakeBake. Ready, steady, bake!







What do you think? Share your thoughts below.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Create a free website or blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: