June 13th, 2014


Four recipes for heavy fruit cake

Of course, I was not in the least surprised when the Secretary suggested that I make another fruit cake for the festivities. My first endeavour in that direction had, after all, been undertaken in honour of the celebrations for [community profile] maryrenaultfics' fifth anniversary. And it had been quite an endeavour, indeed, in the circumstances—that is to say, because I live in a Book that takes place during wartime, with its rationing. As a result, though, the entire enterprise became a crossover event involving people from more than one of the Author's Books; and this added greatly to the satisfaction of all concerned.

So I was not greatly surprised that the Secretary felt that it would be appropriate to undertake another baking event. Then, though, she suggested that we have multiple cakes, in different flavours. There was even a poll (among ourselves, that is, not one of the polls on LiveJournal) to decide what additional varieties of cake to bake. All agreed that they should be fruit cakes, in the same spirit as the original.

In the end, we came down to four variations: the original (which was my dear mother's Christmas cake recipe for many years); a variation with somewhat different fruit and no chunks of nut (for apparently there are those who like the flavour but, for some reason, don't care to bite into big bits); a plain currant Dundee (which was [profile] sandy_too's mother's usual Sunday fruit cake); and a version with a blend of fruit chosen to appeal particularly to the Ancients.

All, though, are based on my mother's recipe.

Now, I have altered the amounts. Obviously, I had to scale everything up to make the giant cakes for the festivities. On the other hand, my mother always used to make three cakes in the autumn, which were aged for at least three months, with the first one being broached just before Christmas. We thus had cake for most of the following year, though we always ran out long before the new cakes were ready. However, I understand that people nowadays prefer to make only one cake at a time; so I have reduced everything to one-third of the original recipe.

Now, first, you have to prepare the fruit. I am accustomed to stoning the dates, seeding the raisins, shelling the nuts, and chopping up quarter-rinds of candied peel. The Secretary assures me, though, that this will not be necessary.

¼ lb red candied cherries
¼ lb mixed candied peel (orange, lemon, citron)
2 candied pineapple rings
1/3 lb cooking dates
2/3 lb currants
2/3 lb muscat raisins (if you can get them; if not, Lakia raisins; if not that either, then regular raisins)
1/3 lb sultanas
1/3 lb bleached sultanas a/k/a golden raisins
1/3 lb almonds (already shelled, unsalted)
1/3 lb walnuts (already shelled, unsalted)
2 tbsp wine
2 tbsp flour

Cut the cherries in half. Stone the dates (if they need it), and cut them into chunks. Cut the pineapple into sections similar in size to diced pineapple pieces. Break the walnuts into chunks. Blanch the almonds, and dry them in a low oven. Wash and pick over the raisins, sultanas, and currants to remove any bits of stalk; and seed the muscat raisins (if they need it).

Put all the fruit into a large mixing bowl, and toss with two tablespoons of flour so the pieces don't stick together. Pour a couple of tablespoonsful of wine over the top, and toss again. Leave overnight.

bowl of dried fruit and nuts for making a heavy fruit cake

The next day, you move on to the actual cake baking.

First, you put the dry ingredients into a bowl:

2/3 lb flour
1 flat tsp baking powder
pinch baking soda
1 tbsp cocoa
pinch salt (optional)
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
½ tsp mace
¼ tsp cloves
¼ tsp allspice
¼ tsp ginger

Blend together lightly with a spoon. Then move on to the other ingredients:

3 eggs
1/3 lb butter (unsalted)
1/3 lb Demerara sugar (or dark brown sugar), the darkest available
2 tbsp black treacle a/k/a blackstrap molasses

Separate the eggs. (That means that you put the whites in one mixing bowl and the yolks in another.) Beat the whites until they are stiff, and then beat the yolks until they are pale. Be sure to do the whites first, since they must be done with very clean beaters if they are to whip properly. You can then beat the yolks without having to wash the beaters in between.

In a third mixing bowl (yes!) put the butter and sugar. Cream them together. (That means blending them until they are a smooth creamy texture.) Pour the yolks into the bowl, scraping them all out with a rubber spatula. Beat them in until they are fully blended. Then use the spatula to scoop the egg whites into the bowl as well. Fold them in. (This means lightly mixing them with the spatula, doing so gently but firmly until the mixture is smooth.) Add the black treacle, and beat again until smooth.

Now, gradually add the dry ingredients (i.e. the flour and spice mixture). Don't add more than a quarter at a time. At first you will be able to use your electric mixer easily; but, as it starts to labour, begin to add a little liquid:

¼ cup wine (approx)
¼ cup orange juice (approx.)

I suggest you alternate between them, since it's hard to be sure exactly how much you will need. The final texture should be a thick batter.

bowl of batter for making a heavy fruit cake

Stir in the fruit by hand. Add a cup or two at a time, stirring in with a spurtle or wooden spoon. (What is a spurtle, you ask? I must admit, I had never seen one before myself. I was lent one by [profile] sandy_too. Apparently, they are common in Scotland. His mother gave him one when he went to medical school so that he could use it to stir his morning porridge; but he says that he never has time to make it.)

I should add that, as the batter becomes full of fruit, stirring it will become increasingly difficult; but it is possible. Eventually, what you have will look like a big bowlful of fruit covered stickily with batter.

bowl of batter with fruit and nuts for making a heavy fruit cake

Now you have the fun of preparing the cake pan. For this, you need a round springform pan (i.e. one with a removable base). If possible, you want one that is relatively deep in proportion to its diameter. A good fruit cake is solid. However, if necessary, you can bake it in a loaf pan.

You are going to line the pan with oiled brown paper.

Take a large brown paper bag (or plain brown paper), and cut two pieces. First, you need a strip long enough to go round the inside sides of the pan with at least two inches to spare for overlap. This should be at least an inch or two higher than the cake tin. (If you can't do the full length with a single piece, by all means cut two, and then overlap them,) Second, you need a round piece that is at least two inches wider than the base of the cake tin.

cut pieces of brown paper for lining a cake pan for a heavy fruit cake

Lay the pieces of brown paper on the kitchen counter, and pour a little cooking oil on them. Brush or rub the oil over the paper until all the paper is greased. Be sure to oil both sides of the paper. I generally use my fingers: it's a lot like fingerpainting, and rather fun. (Wash your hands after.)

Put the round piece in the cake pan, pushing it down so that it covers the base and comes a little way up the sides all round.

round piece of oiled brown paper in cake pan, for making a heavy fruit cake

Then put the long strip in, winding it round the cake pan inside the sides of the round piece, so there is a good overlap.

both pieces of oiled brown paper in cake pan, making a heavy fruit cake

Now, pack the batter into the cake pan. Put a few spoonsful in the bottom first, pressing it into the sides of the pan, being sure that it holds the greased brown paper firmly in place. Then add the rest of the batter, firming it down lightly as you go so there are no gaps.

filled cake tin, unsmoothed, for making a heavy fruit cake

When all the batter is in the pan, smooth the top over with a wet knife. Scrape any spare batter from the mixing bowl, and use it to cover exposed fruit, especially any larger pieces.

filled cake tin, smoothed over the top, for making a heavy fruit cake

If the strip of paper around the sides is sticking more than one inch above the top of the pan (or the top of the batter, if the pan is too shallow), use a pair of scissors to cut it smoothly to size.

Bake at 300°F for at least three hours, until a cake tester comes out clean. Turn off the oven, and let the cake cool in the oven overnight.

The next day (for it will truly take that long for the cake to get cold right through to the middle), gently remove the greased paper from the cake but do not throw it away.

heavy fruit cake, freshly baked and still in oiled paper

Brush the cake all over with brandy or whiskey. Yes, that means the sides and bottom, too.

heavy fruit cake, brushed with brandy

Replace the greased paper around the cake.

Cut two pieces of waxed paper, and wrap the cake in it, first one way and then the other, so there are no gaps. Then cut a large piece of aluminum foil, and wrap the cake again, pressing the foil around the cake so that the waxed paper lies flat underneath. If the foil is not wide enough to cover the cake completely, use a second piece.

four heavy fruit cakes, wrapped for storage

Store the cake for at least one month before cutting. Three months is better; and, as I said, is the length my dear mother preferred. Indeed, it is quite traditional to make a Christmas cake as much as a year ahead of time: it just gets better with age. If you make it far in advance, check it once or twice during the year, each time brushing it over again with brandy.

Even a cut cake will store indefinitely, if well wrapped. Should it dry out, unwrap it carefully, brush it over with orange juice, twice, a day apart; and then brush it again with brandy. Rewrap it again, immediately (using new waxed paper and aluminum foil if necessary); and store for at least a fortnight before cutting.

Well, now. That's my dear mother's recipe for Christmas cake; and, indeed, it is similar, I think, to most recipes for a truly dark fruit cake, which, you know, is such a popular sort of cake, especially with the gentlemen. However, there's no doubt that it is rather expensive to make, with all the best sorts of dried and candied fruit. Cherries, in particular. The candied pineapple, too. A lot of people can't afford to make their cakes with such variety, and simply use what they can.

So that brings me to the first variation: the currant Dundee. (Dundee cake is what a heavy fruit cake is called in Scotland, especially if it doesn't have any marzipan and royal icing on it.)

Well, for the currant Dundee, all you do is substitute the equivalent weight of currants. That's about 3½ or 3¾ pounds or so. Since currants are almost black in colour, this makes for a very dark cake indeed, and one that is quite saturated with their distinctive flavour.

currants for making a Currant Dundee fruit cake

Now, for the apricot fruit cake, I had to devise a new medley of fruits, for people wanted a blend of flavours. Because apricots have rather a delicate flavour, I decided also to alter the recipe for the batter somewhat. In the dry ingredients, I left out the cocoa, since it darkens the cake; and in the wet ingredients, I substituted golden syrup for the black treacle, and golden sugar for the Demerara.

As for the fruit, I used:

1 lb dried cooking apricots
2/3 lb currants
1/2 lb muscat raisins
1/2 lb bleached sultanas (golden raisins)
1/3 lb sultanas
2 candied pineapple rings
1/3 lb ground walnuts
1/3 lb ground almonds

Please note the cooking apricots. These should not be confused with the Turkish apricots that the Secretary enjoys so much, which (in my opinion) are rather bland and sweet. Cooking apricots are tart, and usually sold split in halves. The Interviewer says that she thinks they come from California, which may be true, though I gather she doesn't actually do much baking herself.

fruit medley for making a heavy apricot fruit cake

Finally, we come to the fourth heavy fruit cake that I made. I must admit, it does have a very distinctively different flavour. Figs (so popular with the people from the Author's historical Books) are not the sort of thing that I am accustomed to putting in fruit cakes, though I am certainly fond of them stewed.

Once again, I left out the cocoa, and substituted golden syrup and light brown sugar. As for the fruit, you can see:

1/3 lb chopped Calymyrna figs
1/3 lb currants
2/3 lb bleached sultanas (golden raisins)
1/4 lb citron peel
1/3 lb walnuts
1/3 lb almonds
1/8 lb crystallized ginger
1/8 lb pistachios

Quite different! Furthermore, I left the almonds whole. It does mean that they show up rather boldly in the bowl.

fruit medley for making a heavy fig fruit cake

And here are the four types of cake, as they came out of the oven. As you can see, altering the fruit (and, to some degree, the batter) makes quite a difference in their appearance:

Christmas cake:
traditional English Christmas cake

Currant Dundee:
currant Dundee cake

Apricot Fruit Cake:
heavy apricot fruit cake

Fig Fruit Cake:
heavy fig fruit cake

To serve, use a sharp heavy carving knife to cut across the cake to produce a large slice about half an inch thick. This is then cut into long narrow fingers about one to one and a half inches across. For most people, one or two of these pieces is an ample portion, for the cake is very rich. (Growing boys are another matter. So are Greek soldiers, I have discovered!)

And I'm sure you're wondering what they look like when they're cut. (Well, those of you who weren't able to come to the festivities, for—if you did—I dare say you tried a piece.) Well, here's a plateful:

Four types of heavy fruit cake.  Upper left:  fig fruit cake.  Upper right:  traditional Christmas cake.  Lower left:  currant Dundee.  Lower right: apricot fruit cake.
Fig Fruit Cake           Christmas Cake
Currant Dundee         Apricot Fruit Cake

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For the [community profile] maryrenaultfics 10YO celebrations, I decided to make a Greek dessert as one of my dishes for the Taste of MRF bake-off. This was to honour Renault's historical novels, which are set in ancient Greece. (To honour her modern novels, I made a traditional English dinner, shared with my mother.)

Now, when I think of Greek desserts, I think of baklava. It doesn't go quite back to the period of which Renault wrote. However, a similar sort of pastry, called γάστριν (gastrin) was apparently made in Crete in Roman times. What I've made is a sort of bastard version of this recipe. The filling is almost authentic, but I used phyllo pastry instead of bothering to mix the gastrin dough.

Here are the ingredients I used:

ingredients for baklava

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Liver and Bacon with Dumplings

For the [community profile] maryrenaultfics 10YO celebrations, I made two dishes: baklava in honour of the Ancients, and this dish in honour of the Moderns. It's a traditional English dish, handed down in my father's family. Unfortunately, nowadays I only make it for two, myself and my mother; and, as it is a casserole, it really makes better for at least four. So, in the recipe, I shall give approximate amounts for you to do it yourself properly, should you wish. However, the pictures are perforce of a rather scaled down version.

Here are most of the ingredients (except that I forgot to take the bacon out of the fridge):

ingredients for making a casserole of liver and bacon with dumplings

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