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Kindred spirits of the King Arthur family are the Kitchels, a family who has been aware for some time that somehow, its name had something to do with small cakes. But how, no one knew for years. As most family stories have a basis in reality, here is this one's.
Some years ago, Allan Kitchel, who was in the crayon business, was in contact with a Charles Messinger, who represented him at Bedford, England through the Cosmic Crayon plant. Mr. Messinger sent on to Mr. Kitchel a newspaper clipping which he'd come across from Harwich, England. In it there was a reference to the Harwich Mayor "tossing out Kitchel Cakes." Mr. Kitchel's son, Tim, wrote to the Mayor (who turned out to be a lady) and this is what he discovered. The following came from the Harwich and Dovercourt Standard, November 16, 1935.
".....what is the origin of the custom- the throwing of 'catch-alls' (small buns or cakes) from the window of the Guildhall on Mayor's Day each year? It was quite by accident that a clue came to light that led to the discovery of the origin of the custom which has puzzled so many people. Searching in Halliwell's Dictionary of Archaic Words, there appeared the word 'kichel,' defined as a small cake and given as being an ancient Anglo-Saxon word. At once the connection between 'kichel' and what is now 'catch-all' became obvious, for both mean a small cake.
"A further search was made to confirm this connection and in Brand's Popular Antiquities was discovered the following: Kichel -- it was a good old custom for godfathers and godmothers every time their godchildren asked them for a blessing to give them a cake which was a 'god's kichel.' Thus explains an ancient custom that has continued for a thousand years or more and must have survived the Norman Conquest.
"The origin of the custom is shown to be religious and although its religious significance has been forgotten in the passing centuries, it could scarcely be more fitting than that the Mayor of the borough should continue this custom and as 'god-father' to the borough give 'God's blessing' in the old form of 'kichels' to the children of the borough.
"It is interesting to note that in Aldeburgh 'kitchels' are baked and sold on New Year's Eve and great ill-luck is foretold for those who do not order at least one 'kichel' for each member of the family."
And what is a kichel made of? There seems to be no special recipe -- but a leading Harwich baker says: "They are just a good quality currant bun shaped like a torpedo."
Recently we have stumbled across a recipe for God's Kitchels in a small book called A Proper Tea by Joanna Isles, a graphic artist who lives in London and works for the BBC as illustrator of children's programs. Our version of her recipe will give you a chance to use the puff pastry we have on our Web site database; search for it by using the words "puff pastry" or "pastry."
Once the puff pastry is made, which can be done well ahead of time and refrigerated or frozen, this part is easy and quick, one of its great advantages.
1/2 recipe of puff pastry (use King Arthur's recipe from our Web site or any puff pastry recipe) or about 1 1/4 pounds (This is where a scale is most helpful)
1 tablespoon honey, warmed until it spreads easily
1/4 cup currants
1/2 cup candied fruit and peel, minced
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 tablespoon brown sugar
icing sugar (This is a super-fine grind, known as caster sugar in England. It is available in most groceries on this side of the Atlantic.)
Preheat your oven to 425°F.
Roll out the pastry on a well-floured surface until it's a bit larger than 9 x 18-inch. Trim away any folded edges so the layers of pastry will puff up as they bake. With a bench scraper, cut the dough in half so you have two 9-inch squares of pastry.
With a pastry or good feather brush, gently brush the honey on both squares, leaving a 1/4 to 1/2-inch border around the outside edge clear. Set one square aside. On the other, sprinkle the fruit and nuts over the honey, and shake the spices over that.
With your fingertip, wet the edges of the pastry that you have left clear. Gently turn the piece of pastry you set aside over and place it, with the honey side down, on the pastry covered with the fruit and nuts. Pinch the top and bottom pieces of pastry together so they are well attached.
With a knife, cut about halfway through the top layer of pastry about every 2 inches, first one way and then at right angles to the first cuts. You should have about 16 squares. You can make them smaller if you wish.
While the oven finishes preheating, chill the shaped pastry for 10 minutes or so.
Bake the kitchel for about 30 to 35 minutes or until it is puffed and lightly browned. After it has baked, sprinkle it with icing sugar and return it to the oven until it has melted.
To separate, saw gently with a serrated knife through the indentations you made before baking, moving back and forth rather than pressing downward. Then pass out the New Year's good luck!
This recipe reprinted from The Baking Sheet Newsletter, Vol. III, No. 2, December 1991 issue.