The Welsh Cake That Celebrates The Traditional Day Of Shearing Sheep

After a long day of shearing sheep, it seems only right that farmers and workers be rewarded. Enter shearing cake, a sweet Welsh recipe provided as a form of gratitude. Though this simple yet thoughtful cake recipe has now taken on many variations throughout the world, traditional shearing cake delivers mouthfuls of moist, soft bites flavored with caraway seeds, nutmeg, and citrus. Slices are best served with tea, and since the baked treat was often enjoyed in pastures, finished recipes don't call for intricate frostings or decorative designs. Just like a solid loaf of homemade banana bread, these recipes could be found in hardy forms that could be easily transported. Though the traditional recipe has evolved, the cake still carries memories of the past.

At a time when sugar, butter, and lemon zest were pricey commodities, shearing cake was a much-appreciated token of gratitude. Caraway seeds themselves were thought to represent fruitful harvests and good fortune, and when sheep shearing was largely a communal affair, these sweet treats were a welcomed reward after work was complete. 

The sweet taste of gratitude

Also called cacen gneifo, shearing cake is best enjoyed the same day, and the spongy scone-like treat can be enhanced with slatherings of salty butter or generous toppings of Demerara sugar. Shearing cake is similar to caraway bread, and the traditional recipe was made like a scone. Though the exact origins of the cake are hard to trace, instructions discovered in a mid-19th-century cookbook outline the recipe — in which breadcrumbs would be made by rubbing fat and flour together adding before buttermilk, caraway seeds, and honey to the mixture. Today, shearing cake recipes can be found with pieces of fruit like raisins or apples baked into each slice.

Shearing Day — the time in which this cake is used to celebrate — is still tradition for many farmhands, but you don't need to get your hands dirty to partake in the delicacy. Though original recipes might be more difficult to come by and more modern shearing cake recipes contain dried fruit, juice, and heavy cream, the simple enjoyment of tasting this down-to-earth treat has not changed. Served with a warm cup of tea, you, too, can sit back and relax — without having to spend a day working on a farm.