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Christmas Fruitcake Fit to Fight For: Dundee Cake

dundeecake This year, Christmas fruitcake has had a powerful competitor in terms of being the go-to punchline as the number of plays on Sarah Palin’s hunting prowess and the loss of poor Rudolph seem to have flooded the internet.

Once this season is over (and, one would hope, Ms. Palin and her hunting rifle will be put away to be played with some other time), fruitcake will again take its place in American humor along with jokes on wives, mothers-in-law, and George W. Bush’s prowess with a bicycle.

Frankly, I’ve never understood America’s seeming equation of fruitcake with the legs of couches, WMD and so forth – why use fruitcake when Lutefisk is at hand? (A Swedish-American co-worker from Minnesota described this traditional Swedish dish to me as “fish flavored soap.”)

Then again, I never had American commercial fruitcake until I was well grown.

I was brought up with my mother’s holiday dainties from the UK: Christmas “hard” pudding (“hard” as in soaked in brandy, lit on fire and served with an alcoholic sauce over the steamed cake-y pudding) and HER fruitcake, which is called Dundee Cake.

The problem with American commercial fruitcakes is that they seem to be prepared under the philosophy that they are cakes made out of glazed dried fruits, held together with a little bit of batter or syrup, instead of being a cake which just so happens to have some fruit in it. What people WANT is CAKE.

This is a cake that has fruit in it. It is a light batter and is a fruitcake that you will never, ever regift – as a matter of fact, I’ve seen people fight over the last piece of this stuff. My parents friends were so fond of it that the year that my mother had a heart attack and was in the hospital, I actually received a call from a concerned friend, an annual gift-ee, with the message, “Tell your mother that we miss her, that she must get better…and I guess this means we don’t get the Dundee Cake this year, eh?”

Here’s the recipe, straight from Glasgow:

Dundee Cake

As you can see, they are weighing everything out (which is what I did since I have a kitchen scale), but I’ve put approximate cup measures next for those who do not, plus a couple of suggestions.

Recipe Ingredients:

8oz Flour …………..regular all-purpose…..2 cups
6 oz Butter …………1 stick plus a couple of Tbs. Or a little more than ½ C. veg. shortening
5oz Caster/granulated sugar ………1 C. white cane sugar
4 Eggs
1oz Blanched almonds …………..1/4 cup of slivered almonds
1.5oz mixed peel ….they are talking about what we call ‘fruit cake mix’ here..1 C.
6oz each of currants, raisins, sultanas (seedless white raisins) …..I did not use this much – I used 1 C. of golden raisins and 1 C. of dried currents
Grated rind and juice of lemon …..I used ½ tsp. of dried grated lemon rind and 1/8 C. lemon juice
1 level teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons whisky ……….your choice, I didn’t use that; I used 1 tsp. of almond extract
2 tablespoons boiled milk and 1 tablespoon sugar….boiled milk? this is for the top, and I’d use a little fruit jelly cooked with 1 T. of sugar and 2 T of water


Cream the butter and sugar in a bowl. When it is white and creamy, slowly add the four eggs (one at a time), plus a spoonful of flour with each, beating well all the time. Stir in the nuts and fruits. Add the rest of the flour, (sifted with the baking powder) and the whisky. Make sure the mixture is stirred well – right to the foot of the bowl. If it is too stiff, add a little milk.
(Note from Aunt Toby: the batter should have the same consistency as pound cake batter – definitely thicker than a regular cake batter, should come off the beaters really slowly with a big “glop.”)

Place mixture in an 8-inch greased and lined (with waxed paper) cake tin. Flatten the top with hands which are slightly wet. Cover with foil or greaseproof paper and bake at 325F (170C) or gas mark 3 for two hours. Halfway through, take off the foil and arrange the split almonds in concentric circles on the top of the cake. Check the cake with a skewer towards the end of cooking – if it is still wet in the middle, put it back for more cooking! 5/10 minutes before cooking is finished, brush the top with the sweetened milk to create a dry glaze. Keep in the tin for 15 minutes before turning out on a wired tray. Store in an airtight container.

These are the instructions straight off the site. I have to tell you that my dear old Mum never, ever “flattened the top with wet hands” or baked it covered in foil. Something she did do was to make them at Thanksgiving then used the period between that holiday and Christmas to ‘fortify’ the cakes several times by unwrapping them, pouring several tablespoons of whiskey or brandy on the top of the cake and then re-wrapping. This makes for a very strong-tasting cake – very adult. I just poured mine into the lined pan, scattered the nuts on top and baked it. Also, I baked mine in my oven for one hour, in a bread loaf pan and it worked really well.

Take the pan out of the oven …and resist…resist…resist…the temptation to start cutting into it. This stuff needs to rest and get cold. Then it slices really nicely and you can set it out on trays for tea time. Serve with coffee and a big pot of English tea – nothing else is necessary.

Lovely grub, as my mom used to say.

(originally published at Oxdown Gazette)

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