All Saints’ Day

Cooking Through the Christian Year


Franciscus, Egregius Pictor. The Trinity and Saints in Paradise, or La Cour Céleste from a volume of “La Cité de Dieu” by St Augustine. 1440-70. Tempera and gold leaf on vellum, laid down on wood panel. 178 × 222 mm. Bequest of Chester D. Tripp. Chicago: The Art Institute of Chicago.

With his heavy use of golden hues, Franciscus has created a transcendent depiction of the holy trinity above more than fifty saints and a host of angels. The trinity, seated at the top of the panel, is surrounded by angels playing various instruments. Mary, the mother of Jesus, is also pictured in this panel. The saints below are placed in a deliberate hierarchy with apostles at the top, followed by the patriarchs of the church, martyrs, and then women saints, who are often pictured last in early art. Many of the saints are haloed and some can be identified using symbols that are often associated with them.

All Saints’ Day – November 1st

All Saints’ Day, also known as Halloween, is an ancient celebration that dates back to the early church. In 609 AD, Pope Boniface IV chose All Saints’ Day to rededicate the Pantheon in Rome as a Christian church, renaming it Sancta Maria ad Martyres (the Church of Saint Mary and the Martyrs). All Saints’ Day was originally celebrated on May 15th, but in the Celtic world, it was celebrated on November 1st. Charlemagne was inspired by this tradition, and in 835 AD, the Pope and the emperor placed All Saints’ Day on November 1st.

November 1st is an important solar quarter day that marks the halfway point between the Fall equinox and the Winter solstice. This day has long been significant all over Western Europe because it marks a change in seasons; the harvest is over, and it is time to prepare for winter.

Some believe that celebrating All Saints’ Day on a solar day is evidence of its pagan origins, but the church has long viewed the sun and its cycles as a gift from God that brings order to our lives. The solar days should not be viewed as pagan in and of themselves, but rather as days of celebration and significance built into creation itself.

Over time, All Saints’ Day became a major holy day that celebrated all the saints. During major feasts of the church, it was common for the poor to go door to door collecting alms, and it was believed that those who gave alms received a special blessing, especially when they were generous during the holy season.

In the English-speaking world, it was common to distribute “soul cake” to children who went “souling” door to door on All Saints’ Day. Soul cakes were shortbread-like cookie cakes sweetened with raisins or currants and flavored with sweet spices like cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, or ginger. Each cake was marked with a cross to mark the holy occasion. This is the origin of trick-or-treating, and it is the most common culinary tradition of All Saints’ Day.

As we make and distribute our soul cakes to friends and family, we should remember our saints. There are many saints celebrated in the church year, but so many are left out. We have many friends and family members who help us find our way in faith and in life; they too are saints, and we should never forget how their lives, through the grace of God, have made us who we are. Bernard of Clairvaux taught us that we are able to see as far as we can only because we are standing on the shoulders of giants. Let us not allow this day to slip away as a saccharine celebration but take a moment to give thanks to God for those who have come before us.

*Caroling and wassailing follow a similar pattern of alms-giving and receiving. See the entry for Twelfth Night.

Soul Cakes

Soul Cakes

5 from 1 vote
Course: DessertCuisine: EuropeanDifficulty: Easy


Prep time


Baking time





Soul cakes or "souls" are round, spiced cookies marked with a cross and traditionally given out around Halloween and All Saints' Day. They are delicious paired with a cup of Earl Grey, a bottle of wine, or even a glass of milk.

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  • 12 tablespoons 12 unsalted butter, softened

  • 3/4 cup 3/4 (175g/6oz) granulated sugar

  • 3 3 egg yolks

  • 3 1/4 cups 3 1/4 (450g/1lb) all-purpose flour

  • 2 teaspoons 2 pumpkin pie spice

  • 1/4 cup 1/4 (60g/2oz) milk

  • 3/4 cup 3/4 (100g/4oz) currants


  • Adjust oven racks to lower-middle and upper-middle positions and preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk together the flour and pumpkin pie spice and set aside.
  • In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment cream the butter and sugar together at medium speed until thoroughly incorporated, about 2 - 3 minutes. Scrape down the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed.
  • Adjust the mixer to low speed and add the egg yolks one at a time. Mix until well combined about 1 - 2 minutes.
  • With the mixer on low speed slowly add the flour mixture into the butter/sugar/egg yolk mixture. Once all the flour has been added, add the milk and a soft dough will start to form.
  • Remove the bowl from the stand mixer and continue mixing the dough by hand. Once the dough is well combined and easily forms a ball, add in the currants. Mix the dough by hand until the currants are evenly distributed throughout the dough. Divide the dough into 4 equal balls.
  • Working with one dough ball at a time, roll the dough out until it is about 1/4" thick. Cut out the soul cakes with a cookie/biscuit cutter and place on the prepared baking sheets. Re-roll the scrap dough and continue making soul cakes until all the dough has been used up. Use a toothpick to mark each soul cake with the shape of a cross. (If using a cookie stamp, stamp the cookies before cutting them out with a cookie cutter.)
  • Bake the soul cakes for 15 - 20 minutes or until golden brown. Rotate the pans halfway through to ensure even baking.
  • After baking, transfer soul cakes to wire rack and let cool. Store in an air tight container once cooled.