I completely fell in love with Welsh cakes after Jim gave me my first taste of one in Pontypridd market. The Welsh cooks of old did a lot of cooking on bakestones, which are essentially round cast iron skillets. They'd place them over a fire in their home, and use them for things like these sweet little cakes, which have a crisp outside and a soft, slightly crumbly inside that is to die for. You can replicate that bakestone style of cooking using a heavy-bottomed non-stick pan. I love serving these warm as they are or filled with a spoonful of cream and a few berries. Jim was using chunks of chocolate, different dried fruits and even sprinkles of desiccated coconut, so feel free to experiment once you’ve mastered the basic recipe.
Sieve the flour into a large mixing bowl and add the sugar and mixed spice. Cut up the butter and add to the bowl with a pinch of salt. Use your hands to rub it all together until you get a fine breadcrumb consistency. Toss in the dried fruit, then make a well in the centre of the mixture and crack in the egg. Add a splash of milk and use a fork to beat and mix in the egg. Once combined, use your clean hands to pat and bring the mixture together until you have a dough. It should be fairly short, so don’t work it too much.
Put a large heavy-bottomed non-stick frying pan on a medium heat. While it’s heating up, dust a clean surface and a rolling pin with flour and roll the dough out until it’s about 1cm thick. Use a 5cm pastry cutter to cut out as many rounds as you can. Scrunch the remaining scraps of dough together, then roll out and cut out a few more. To test the temperature, cook one Welsh cake in the pan for a few minutes to act as a thermometer. If the surface is blonde, turn the heat up a little; if it’s black, turn the heat down – leave for a few minutes for the heat to correct itself, then try again. When you've got a golden cake after 4 minutes on each side, you're in a really good place and you can cook the rest in batches. It’s all about control.
As soon as they come off the pan, put them on a wire rack to cool and sprinkle them with caster sugar. You can serve them just like this, as they are. Or, if you want to do what I've done, gently cut each cake in half while turning so you get a top and a bottom. Whip the cream, sugar and vanilla paste together until you have soft peaks. Put the berries into a bowl, slicing up any big ones, and toss them with the juice of 1 lemon and a sprinkling of sugar. Open the cakes up, and add a little dollop of cream and a few berries to each one.