Sunday, January 14, 2007
Godcakes seem to be peculiar to Coventry, although similar pastries known as God's Kitchels (or Kichels) have an association with the Suffolk area (according to Florence White). Both Godcakes and God's Kitchels were handed out at the beginning of the year (or Easter), by godparents to godchildren. The idea was that when a godchild approached their godparent to request a blessing, they would come away with a double-whammy - a blessing and a cake. A fair deal for the godchild, I think. Many internet sources claim that Chaucer mentioned Godcakes, but from a speed through online transcriptions it appears that it is Godde's Kichels that are referred to - see The Sompnour's Tale (set in Holderness, Yorkshire).
From a glance at the photo at the head of this posting, many pastry fans will see that Godcakes bear more than a passing resemblance to jam puffs; and to be fair, aside from the filling they are identical. Jam puffs are known apparently known in the bakery trade as 'Coventrys', by reason of their descent from the Coventry Godcake. Godcakes are filled with mincemeat rather than fruit/jam.
Historically, Godcakes ranged in size and price, depending on the pocket and generosity of the godparent. The triangular shape, along with the three slashes in the top of the pastry, has led to speculation that the cakes were representative of the Trinity, but this is an assumption rather than a fact. Dorothy Hartley mentions this association with the Trinity, but says 'the origin is obscure'.
Godcakes are very easy for the heavily pregnant and time-poor cook to assemble. They are also a good way of using up any leftover Christmas mincemeat. Some recipes call for an addition of rum to the mincemeat; and if you fancy slipping a measure in, then please do so. If you purchase a pack of puff-pastry, then this recipe couldn't be simpler. Recipes and methods vary very little between sources - both Florence White and Dorothy Hartley carry recipes, but see also Town & Country Fare & Fable, and English Teatime Recipes.
Dash of rum (optional)
1 egg white and some caster sugar to finish
1. Preheat oven to 220C/425F/Gas mark 7.
2. Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface.
3. Methods divulge at this point, so you can either cut out squares (4 inches per side), and then cut the squares into triangles; or leave the squares uncut. It depends whether you want to make your Godcake using two triangles pressed together, or using a square folded diagonally. I tried both ways to see what worked/looked best.
4. Place a teaspoonful of mincemeat in the middle of your pastry shape. Don't be too generous, otherwise the mincemeat will squidge out when you press the pastry together. I found that if the quantity looked a little mean in my eyes, then it was sufficient.
5. Moisten the edges of the pastry with a little water, and press either the second pastry triangle on top, or fold the other half of the square over to form a triangle. Press the edges of the triangle to form a seal/eject mincemeat all over the worktop.
6. Cut three slashes in the top of your Godcakes. Brush with egg white and sprinkle with sugar.
7. Bake for approx. 15 minutes, or until golden and well puffed up.
8. Cool on wire rack.
The two triangles method produced a very neat looking cake - should this matter to you.
The folded square method produced a cake that distorted a little in the baking, but I rather like the way that the puffed pastry has an emphatic fold - like a big pastry duvet...
Needless to say, regardless of method, both sets of cakes were consumed very quickly, without either consulting godparents or considering the needs of those requiring blessings. Bless us.
One last thought on Godcakes. For Christmas my brother gave me a fantastic book called 'England in Particular', that is filled to the rafters with interesting lore and history on all aspects of England. Godcakes, according to this book, have a second meaning. A god cake (or jam puff) is a Warwickshire name for the triangle of grass at a road junction - created as the road splits to go left and right. I thought that this was probably a lost expression, but when researching Godcakes on google, I was extremely heartened to come across a note in July 2004 Parish Council minutes for Balsall, Warwickshire (not far outside Coventry), that read:
15.8 The Footpaths and Highways Committee will consider the request to re-plant the Godcake in Oldwich Lane.
Please no-one write and tell me that this doesn't refer to a large jam puff at a crossroads.