Some cakes are just ugly. You can tell they’re ugly when even food stylists have to distract you with pretty plates or outrageous cake toppers. (Case in point.) Take for example this Dundee cake. It’s cracked, an uninspiring brown, and dotted with splotches of half-hidden fruit.
But if you’re able to look past its flawed exterior, you’ll find delicious moistness, and a sharp citrus, nutty, and boozy flavour.
A dundee cake is a Scottish cake of cherries, sultanas and almonds. They’re traditionally topped with rings of blanched almonds, but as you can see, I don’t have the time or patience to be artfully placing nuts on my cake. (So maybe it’s my fault the cake’s ugly. Still tasty though.)
I’m no stranger to a good fruitcake. Take my boiled Christmas fruit cake for example. I love fruitcakes because of their wonderfully complex flavours, their richness and super dense texture, and their long shelf-life. In fact, that’s what fruitcakes were historically for – a long-lasting food source in the days before domestic refrigeration. That’s why many cultures have their own version of fruitcake, but by and large they were all dense and boozy. (To keep away moisture, bugs, and rot.)
This dundee cake is ridiculously simple. Although it spends a long time in the oven, putting the batter together is the work of minutes. The recipe is infinitely flexible as well where the filling is concerned – go ahead and choose your own selection of dried fruits. I’m partial to raisins and dried cranberries, but there’s plenty to choose from. You can even add chopped nuts if you like. But I would recommend keeping the cherries, orange flavourings, and the booze (whether the real stuff or essence) – after all, it wouldn’t be a dundee cake otherwise.
250g unsalted butter, softened
285g caster sugar
100g ground almonds
Zest of one orange (or 1/2 tsp orange essence)
375g all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/3 cup brandy or sherry (or 2 tsp brandy essence + 1/3 cup milk for a non-alcholic version)
400g small dried fruit, e.g., raisins, sultanas, dried cranberries etc. (any combination you like; try to use at least 2 types)
180g glacé cherries, chopped (if you can’t get good quality ones, dried cherries will do)
3 tbsp candied citrus peel
Makes a very dense 8-inch cake.
Step 1: Preheat your oven to 160°C (320°F). Grease and line one 8-inch round cake tin.
Step 2: Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Mix in the ground almonds and orange zest, then beat in the eggs one at a time.
Step 3: Sift in the flour and baking powder and mix together with the brandy/sherry/milk. Finally, stir in the dried fruits and candied orange peel.
Step 4: Pour the batter into the tin and bake for 2 hours 15 minutes. After 1 hour and 30 minutes, loosely place a sheet of aluminium foil on top of the cake tin in the oven. This prevents the top from burning. Cool and serve, although the flavour improves the longer it is stored.
This particular cake was destined for a birthday celebration, so icing and decoration was in order. I just used a simple icing made from the basic buttercream ratio: 150g butter/shortening, 300g icing sugar, a pinch of salt, dashes of orange and brandy essences, and milk to thin it to a spreadable consistency. (The piped-on glaring eyes are an inside joke.)
Of course, I was icing an entire cake, so if you just want to cover the top, I reckon half of the amounts above would suffice. Or to make things simpler, just mix some orange juice (from that orange you zested for the cake?) into icing sugar until you get a thick paste to spread over top. (Icing sugar requires very little liquid to dissolve, so go easy on the juice.)