Cattern Cakes (St Catherine’s Day)

St. Catherine of Alexandria, was reputedly one of the most intelligent and beautiful women of her day. Of noble birth, she refused marriage to the emperor as, being deeply devout, she considered herself to be a ‘bride of Christ’. Fifty philosophers were sent to convince her otherwise. But she proved superior in argument to them all. She was therefore sentenced to die on a spiked wheel, after which the Catherine Wheel firework was named. This didn't work! So they had to resort to beheading. In my experience Catherine Wheels have never worked! Catherine was made patron saint of spinsters, spinners, lace-makers, wood turners and rope makers. Her saints day was removed from the church calendar by the Catholics but a short service is still said in the chapel at Abbotsbury and at the Monastery of St Catherine in Sinai. The couture houses in Paris hold a party for unmarried employees over the age of 25 - the Catherinettes - who wear green and yellow hats, the colours of St Catherine. This got me wondering if there is a connection with Kingsdown’s Church being dedicated to St Catherine.

"Cattern cakes" originated in Tudor times by the Nottinghamshire lace makers who made them as part of the celebration of their patron saint day. A lightly spiced cake with a hint of aniseed. Their consistency is similar to rock cakes and are ideal for the “dunkers” amongst us.

Ingredients - makes 10

10oz (300g) flour 4oz (100g) melted butter
2tsp caraway seeds 1oz (25g) currants
½ tsp ground cinnamon 1 large egg
8oz (225g) caster sugar 2 oz (50g) ground almonds
½ packet of dried yeast or 1oz (50g) fresh yeast ½ packet of dried yeast or 1oz (50g) fresh yeast
a little extra sugar, cinnamon & caraway seeds for sprinkling


  1. Pre-heat oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6.
  2. Sift the flour and cinnamon into a bowl and stir in the currants, almonds, caraway seeds and sugar and the dried yeast if used.
  3. Add the melted butter and beaten egg.
  4. If using fresh yeast, mix with 1oz of the sugar until liquefied and add at this point. Mix well to give a soft dough.
  5. Roll out onto a floured board to give a rectangle about 12"x10".
  6. Brush dough with water and sprinkle with the extra sugar and cinnamon.
  7. Roll up like a Swiss roll and cut into ¾" slices.
  8. Place these slices spaced well apart, on a greased tray and bake for 20 minutes. Take care not to overcook as they can become too hard.
  9. Cool on a wire rack. Sprinkle with extra caraway seeds if liked.

Modern versions of this recipe use self-raising flour and omit the yeast. The old versions with yeast are much more authentic and taste better.


St Catherine of Alexandria

Medieaval Church of St Catherine