Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Ruby Wedding Cake - A Call for Recipes!

My parents are to celebrate their Ruby Wedding Anniversary (40 years) next month and I would like to bake for them a special cake, reminiscent of their wedding cake which was an iced rich fruit cake in the tradition of most British wedding and celebration cakes.

Naturally I have pages and pages of recipes for such cakes, and have one that I am fond of from a Nigella Lawson book and that I have made twice (once as a Christmas cake and once as a birthday cake).  However, whilst the recipe in question produces a very good cake I would love to know a recipe for a grand old fruit cake that would really blow your socks off.  I have fond memories from my time at work of a Christmas cake brought in by a colleague and made by his Grandma.  This was also a fruit cake, not as dark as some, but it was moist, not too crumbly, flavoursome, packed with fruit, nuts, peel, and topped with homemade marzipan and then royal icing.  If I could only eat one type of cake until my dying day, then this would be this one.  I might die 40 stone, but I would have spent my cake eating time wisely.  Somehow it just ticked all the boxes and was superb eating.  Rather than bake dozens of recipes to try and find an equivalent, I wondered if anyone out there might have a recipe that hand on heart they could swear would also put me (oh, and my parents too) into raptures?  All recipes gratefully received (to annaweller at me dot com), and I have a new hardback copy of Elizabeth David's 'English Bread and Yeast Cookery' to pass on to the sender of the recipe that I choose to bake.

Thanks to everyone who sent me recipes.  I have gone with Kate Noble's recipe for 'Hot Toddy Fruitcake' from the BBC Good Food website, partly because I love a really moist fruit cake but also because my parents are big tea drinkers, so it is appropriate that the fruit soak and the 'feed' are based on black tea (don't suppose they'll mind the whisky input either).  I have baked the cake a month ahead of time - we are having a family get-together later in October - so I shall feed the cake weekly and ice closer to the time.  Pictures to follow.  Of the other recipes sent, well, so many sounded darn good that I shall be trying them out for Christmas cakes for me and to give as gifts.  Thank again to all you bakers kind enough to take the time to let me know your favourite recipes.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Shooting Cake for the Glorious Twelfth

Hello again, at long last I am here to bring you more baking and this time I am here with my junior chef, Ellis.  I confess that I have been motivated by the arrival on my doorstep of a book sent by Grub Street, Elizabeth David's 'English Bread and Yeast Cookery'.

It seemed churlish, if not rude, not to give them a quick puff and bake a few goodies from it.  I do have a copy already and indeed have baked from it previously on these pages, but this splendid hardback copy looked at me with authority and said 'Stop shirking, and get back in the kitchen'.  By serendipitous chance I chose to bake Shooting Cake yesterday - the 'Glorious Twelfth' (August the 12th, like it or not is the start of the shooting season) - so I'll take that as an auspicious sign that the Blog Gods are smiling on my return...

Shooting Cake, although Elizabeth David doesn't mention in this book, was part of the spread produced by the Edwardian country house kitchen either to greet the hungry back from a day's shoot on the moors, hills, great estate or as part of a heaving picnic luncheon to fortify the hunters.  The Glorious Twelfth being the start of the game season I can presume would have been an occasion for a particularly splendid feast to mark the day.

David's recipe comes from 'Ulster Fare', a booklet produced by the Belfast Women's Institute Club, 1946.  The original recipe uses 1lb flour, 1/2lb brown sugar, 1lb raisins, 1/2lb butter, 2 eggs, peel and juice of two lemons, 2 teaspoons of carbonate of soda mixed with warm milk.  The cooking instructions were to bake in a slow oven for two hours.  Elizabeth David adds the comment, 'I cannot help thinking that two hours' baking for a cake containing just three pounds of ingredients would be excessive.  It would be a good idea to try the cake in half quantities and for a shorter cooking time'.  In a footnote on the same page she then gives her own version of the recipe: 'I now make the cake with 1/2lb flour, 1/4lb Demerara sugar, 1/4lb raisins, 1/4lb butter, 2 eggs, peel and juice of one lemon, 1 level teaspoon bicarbonate of soda.  Bake in 6 and a half to 7 inch round tin, 3 ins. deep, for 50 minutes at gas no. 5, 375 degrees F, 190 degrees C'.

The recipe is also mentioned in a previously unpublished essay by Elizabeth David (written in 1978), that is printed in 'Is There a Nutmeg in the House?  Essays on Practical Cooking with Over 150 Recipes'.  In this text the cake is called Lemon and Brown Sugar Cake:

'As an alternative to the rich and leaden fruit cake of Victorian tradition I think this one might prove popular.  It has a most refreshing flavour and attractive texture.  There is nothing in the least troublesome about it, even to a reluctant cake maker like myself.

Ingredients are 250g (1/2 lb) of plain white flour, 125g (1/4 lb) of butter, 125g (1/4 lb) of Demerara cane sugar, 125g (1/4 lb) of seedless raisins, the grated peel and strained juice of one lemon, 125ml (4 fl oz) of warm milk, 2 eggs, 1 level teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda.  To bake the cake, a 17-18cm (6 1/2 - 7 in) round English cake tin, 8cm (3 in) deep. (I use a non-stick tin).

Rubbing butter into flour is tricky with hot hands...

Crumble the softened butter into the flour until all is in fine crumbs. Add the grated lemon peel, the sugar, and the raisins. Sift in the bicarbonate. Beat the eggs in the warm milk. Add the strained lemon juice. Quickly incorporate this into the main mixture and pour into the tin. Give the tin a tap or two against the side of the table to eliminate air pockets. Transfer immediately to the preheated oven (190° C/375° F gas mark 5). Bake for about 50 minutes until the cake is well risen and a skewer inverted right to the bottom of the cake comes out quite clean. Leave to cool for a few minutes before turning it out of the tin.


The Demerara sugar is important.  Barbados is too treacly for this cake.  The raisins I have been using of recent years are the little reddish ones, seedless, from Afghanistan. They need no soaking, no treatment at all.  Just add them straight into the cake mixture.  They are to be found in wholefood shops.It is important to put the cake into the oven as soon as you have added the eggs, milk, and lemon juice mixture. This is because the lemon juice and bicarbonate start reacting directly they come into contact.  If the cake is kept waiting, the rising action of the acid and the alkali is partially lost and the cake will rise badly.

Under the name of 'Shooting Cake', the recipe on which mine is based appeared in 'Ulster Fare', a little book published by the Ulster Women's Institute in 1944 (sic).  I was struck by the composition of the cake - the Demerara sugar, the lemon juice replacing the acid or cream of tartar necessary to activate the bicarbonate and the grated peel instead of the more usual spices.'

My assistant chef found the sugar 'fuzzy' and the raw cake mix 'sour'.  He was keen to try a slice but not overly impressed.  I could see a few dry spots in the cooked cake indicating that we needed to have made a few more turns of the bowl with the spoon.  The mixture also could have done with the milk that David omits from the revised instructions in the 'English Bread' book, but includes in the recipe set out in 'Is there a Nutmeg...?'.  I came to this second recipe only after I had baked to the first.  However, it was a tasty cake and I liked the lemon flavouring alongside the addition of dried fruit.  Within a smidgin of butter the slight dryness could be overlooked, and very nice it was too with a cup of coffee.  Ellis was happy to lick the butter off his slice, but did at least nibble enough to qualify as a test portion.

Spot that sneaky finger. It was one of a party of them lying in wait to snatch the cut slice.

If you fancy something savoury as a starter, have a look at this blog featuring a recipe for the truly excessive Shooter's Sandwich, created for gentlemen (it does appear a very masculine sort of sandwich) to take out on the shoot with them.