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When you get laid off, start baking Welsh cakes

As proprietor of Copper Kettle Bakery, Helen Coates can turn out 500 of the sweets — in a half-dozen varieties — over a full day at the griddle. Gretchen Ertl for The Boston Globe

WESTWOOD — Helen Coates’s alarm wakes her at 4 a.m. Soon after, she says, her food processor is humming in the kitchen, swirling flour, sugar, eggs, milk, butter, and spices to form a dough for Welsh cakes.

These are the sweets she makes for her wholesale business, Copper Kettle Bakery, which she has operated out of her home here since last fall. The cakes are about the size of English muffins. In South Wales, where Coates was raised, the currant-dotted rounds are a teatime staple. Welsh cakes are closely related to memories of her late mother, Eileen Whitelegg. “Often when we were sitting and chatting, we would talk about Welsh cakes,” says Coates. “Who made the best ones, what butter to put on them, should you put sugar on them or not.” (Coates does not butter hers, but likes a sprinkle of sugar.)


The two fantasized about baking together at some point. “Mum and I had a dream about having a bakery one day and calling it Copper Kettle Bakery. She and I spent a lot of time over the years eating, talking, laughing, and crying in coffee shops and bakeries all over the place. It just seemed natural,” says the baker.

Eventually Coates immigrated to the United States and over the years worked for various companies as a project manager. When she got laid off last year from her job in product development for an online company, she knew it was the right time to fulfill her lifelong ambition. She decided on a Welsh cake business because the pastry is not readily available here. Coates figured anyone who tasted the tender, mostly handmade confection would have a hankering for more.

Before she rolls out the dough, she kneads in dried fruits or chocolate chips. Then she cuts large rounds and griddles them to a golden hue, like pancakes. Not too sweet, the specialty tastes similar to a scone, but doesn’t crumble, and breaks like a soft cookie.


The pastry hit the news when Ann Romney, wife of presidential candidate Mitt Romney, handed out her own Welsh cakes — she is of Welsh descent — to delegates and reporters on a flight to Tampa for the 2012 Republican convention. A few months later, the first lady hopeful also cooked up a batch on “Good Morning America.” It put the little-known cakes on viewers’ radar.

Coates has tweaked her mother’s recipe. She offers a half-dozen varieties, including ones studded with currants, dried cranberries, Turkish apricots, Bing cherries and pecans, chocolate chips, and a gluten-free version. A copper kettle now hangs outside her door. It didn’t take the baker long to snag retail accounts, corporate clients, orders on her website, and some from local families.

Helen Coates wakes up at 4 a.m. every morning to bake and deliver her Welsh cakes. Gretchen Ertl for The Boston Globe/Boston Globe

She lives with her partner, Chris Heespelink, and their 13-year-old twin boys, Miles and Noah, who might be her best salesmen. Coates packs Welsh cakes in their school lunch bags and the two dole them out to classmates. “Kids come to our door looking for Welsh cakes,” says the baker. Inevitably, families place orders, which she hand delivers.

On a recent day, Coates turned out more than 200 cakes in the morning, wrapped them half a dozen at a time, and made deliveries, all by 1 p.m. When she bakes all day, she turns out 500.

In her kitchen, the griddles are hot and a dozen Welsh cakes are browning quickly. An aroma similar to cookies baking permeates the air. Coates flips them off the grill. Some have indentations and more puckers than others, but all have delicious soft interiors. Because they’re handmade, the shapes are irregular.


“Every one is different, which is what I love about them,” says Coates. “They are imperfect, like all of us.’’

Copper Kettle Bakery Welsh cakes (6 for $9.50) are available at High Street Market, 687 High St., Westwood, 781-326-2715; and Mocha Java, 3 Eastern Ave., Dedham, 781-329-3955; or go to .

Ann Trieger Kurland can be reached at