Monday, 25 November 2013

Cattern cakes

Today is St Catherine's Day, patron saint of spinsters, spinners and lace makers, and also whom the Catherine Wheel firework is named after. 

I hadn't really heard of St Catherine until I read about her in my new favourite book, Cattern Cakes and Lace, which I uncovered in an Oxfam bookshop a few weeks ago. It only took a quick flick through the pages and there was no question that it was coming home with me!

I really can't describe this lovely book better than by quoting the blurb on the back cover: "An enchanting...calendar of traditional festivals and feast days, and the foods [and] folklore...associated with them." 

What makes me love it so much is how it's illustrated. Every page is decorated with objects and images relevant to the custom and the season: lace, buttons, bobbins and beads, seashells, seeds, flowers, fruit and leaves, poems, pictures and postcards.

It's taken me ages to write this post because I have the book at the side of me and can't resist reaching over to leaf through the pages. Sadly it's out of print but there are lots of second hand copies available from your favourite online stores.

As I did with Nigel Slater's Kitchen Diaries, I'm trying to read it bit by bit following the months, which is what brought me to November and the Cattern Cakes of the title. Cattern is a corruption of the name Catherine and the cakes were traditionally eaten by lace makers in Tudor times to celebrate her day.

They're really more of a biscuit than a cake but what drew me in was the inclusion of caraway seeds as I still have lots left over from making the Goosnargh cakes back in March. There are other versions of this recipe which include yeast but I stayed faithful to the version in the book.

If I made them again, I'd make a couple of changes. The mixture was very crumbly and difficult to pull together. Even half an hour in the fridge didn't help so I'd recommend adding a few drops of water to help with rolling out. 

The other change I'd try is not adding the cinnamon to the mixture but saving it for sprinkling on the dough before rolling up. That way you'd get more colour and definition in the spiral. Of course you could add it to the dough too if you really like cinnamon!

They went down a treat with the girls at work and I found they were better the next day when they'd firmed up and the spices had had plenty of time to permeate. I hope you like them. x

Cattern cakes

275g self-raising flour
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
25g currants
50g ground almonds
2 tsp caraway seeds
200g caster sugar
100g melted butter
1 egg, beaten
Extra caster sugar and cinnamon for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 200C/Fan 180C/Gas 6

1. Put all of the dry ingredients into a bowl.
2. Add the butter and beaten egg and mix well to give a soft dough. You might need to add a few drops of water at this point to help the mixture come together.
3. Roll out into a rectangle until the dough is about 1cm thick.
4. Brush the dough with water and sprinkle over the cinnamon and sugar.
5. Roll up like a swiss roll and cut into 2cm slices.
6. Place on a baking sheet leaving plenty of space as the biscuits will spread. Bake for about 10 minutes.
7. Leave to cool completely.


  1. These sounds interesting, as does the book.

  2. These look good, my colleagues love a bit of home baking too! That book looks really interesting.
    Marianne xx

  3. What a lovely book, I must keep a lookout for it as a companion to the seasons. I love cinnamon so I'd go for the two dose option!

  4. These look delicious! I really love caraway seeds, although I use them most on my pizza:) I look forward to more treats from your lovely book.

  5. This sounds a really interesting book- and anything with cinnamon is always a winner in my opinion. Sounds tasty:)

  6. What a beautiful book and such a great find. I love the look and sound of those cakes, I'll have to try them sometime.

  7. That book looks wonderful. I love hearing about random and unknown feast days. Apparently, in Sweden, they have a "Cinammon Bun Day" (October 4th) which always seemed fun. These cakes look delicious. x

  8. I can see why the cook book appealed to you - sounds fascinating, and always interesting to learn some history along the way. I have memories of being chased by a Catherine's wheel as a child, so now I know more about it. Thanks for sharing :)

  9. oh that looks like a wonderful recipe book, I did just the same with Nigel - must re read December!