This week I am

baking cakes. Specifically, Dundee cake.

I grew up with buttercakes and cheesecakes and poppyseed cakes, added chocolate cakes with 50 Fabulous Chocolate Cakes (Penguin), and have recently been experimenting with fruit cakes. The Dundee cake is the current work in progress. It’s an important cake, a candidate for special protection from the European Commission, as other Scottish delicacies have. There’s a campaign to have the Dundee Cake awarded PGI (Protected Geographical Indicator) status.  http://www.scotsman.com/lifestyle/heritage/bid-to-grant-dundee-cake-protected-status-1-3080382

So perhaps I shouldn’t be making it at all. Let us say this is my tribute to it. It’s a great cake, distinguished by its use of dried fruit, orange zest, almonds, and a pattern of blanched almonds on the top.

My recipe has evolved from the one published in Afternoon Tea, by Michael Smith (Macmillan 1986). Smith was a great champion of British food, and he is a food writer I have come back to over the years because the recipes are so good. He had a great sense of what actually worked as a recipe.

Dundee cake is very good indeed for afternoon tea, or morning tea, or even after dinner. Most recipes call for grated orange zest and/or candied peel. I use confit orange slices, because the Seville orange tree in the back garden is so fruitful that I make marmalade and confit orange slices. I also add a tablespoon of marmalade, in tribute to Janet Keiller, of Dundee, who worked on the commercial production of Seville orange marmalade. The Keillers first started making Dundee cake commercially sometime in the middle of the 19th century. It is thought the origins of the cake are much earlier. There’s a story that the cake used to be made without cherries, because Mary Queen of Scots did not like them. More research needed on that.

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250g butter (room temperature), 250g Demerara sugar, 85g almonds, 4 large eggs, 240g plain flour, 90g self-raising flour, pinch mixed spice, 240g currants, 240g sultanas, 180g raisins, tablespoon Seville orange marmalade, 100g glace orange slices (or Seville orange slices in syrup), 100g glace cherries, tablespoon whisky (optional).

Line a baking tin with paper. The tradition is for a round tin, but I use a square one because this particular baking tin cooks so well. It has a removable base.

Turn the oven to 160C.

Pour boiling water over the almonds, and leave for five minutes or so. Then slip off the skins, and allow the almonds to dry on kitchen paper. Leave for at least 10 minutes, then chop half of them finely.

Sift the flours together with the mixed spice.

Chop the oranges and glace cherries.

Mix the dried fruit together, add a few tablespoons of the flour and toss so that the dried fruit is dusted well in the flour. This helps to stop the fruit clumping, and then to blend it more easily later.

Beat together the sugar and butter until creamy. (Demerara sugar will always remain a bit grainy. Add the eggs, one at a time, with two tablespoons of flour after each egg.

Add the whisky, the marmalade, then the chopped almonds, orange slices and cherries. Mix well. Add the flour, mix well. Then add the dried fruit, and mix well. At this point, it is quite hard work. The mixture will be thick.

Put the mixture into the lined baking tin. Make sure it is evenly packed. Smooth over the top. Arrange the remaining almonds decoratively.

Bake for two hours (or a bit longer). Test with a toothpick after two hours:  if it is dry, the cake is cooked. If it is sticky, it will need a little more cooking.

Remove from the oven and cool a little before unmoulding. Remove the paper.

Allow to cool completely. Wrap in foil to store. It is best if you can wait two days before cutting the cake.

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