When is a fruitcake not a fruitcake? When it’s a Dundee Cake

I promised a traditional Scottish treat to accompany my last post, and here it is. Now, I’ll be the first to throw my hands up and admit that Dundee cake isn’t a perfect match for a post on Edinburgh. After all, Dundee is a good 60 miles away. But I couldn’t think of a cake that originated in Edinburgh, and I really, really like Dundee cake, so you know, it will have to do.

I never actually ate Dundee cake when I lived in Scotland. The first time I tasted it was just a couple of years ago. We spent a weekend celebrating Ed’s dad’s 60th birthday in Dent in the Yorkshire Dales, one of his favourite walking destinations. On the Saturday morning we took a stroll across hills and streams to the lovely little cottage where Margaret and Tony, friends of Ed’s parents, live in idyllic isolation. And waiting for us in their lovely garden was a feast of cakes!

While a chocolate birthday cake was the centrepiece of the spread, I spent most of my time gorging on Margaret’s Dundee cake. I’m pretty sure I was shoving the slices into my mouth, possibly not bothering to swallow before reaching for the next one. I loved this cake, and went on and on and on about it so much, that Margaret was kind enough to post me the recipe the very next week. This is her recipe for you, with a couple of adaptations.

Dundee Cake is a fruitcake for people who don’t like fruitcake. Does that make sense? To me it just doesn’t conjure up the same 'ewww, fruitcake' feelings that seem to afflict so many otherwise enthusiastic cake lovers. In fact, the myth goes that Mary, Queen of Scots, who was particularly picky about her fruitcake (she didn’t like cherries in hers) inspired Dundee cake.

Although most modern versions do now contain cherries (off with their heads!), if Mary’s allowed to take liberties, then we are, too. If the only dried fruits you like are raisins you could use just raisins in the cake – or get experimental with chopped apricots, sour cherries and dates. If you don’t like glace cherries, do as Mary’s baker did and leave them out. Same goes for the dreaded candied peel. This delightful handwritten recipe seems to get closest to the heart of the matter: the baker has written ’12 oz raisins etc.' Basically, use whatever you like!

If you’re part of the 'ewww, fruitcake' brigade, I urge you try Dundee cake with the fruits that you like. Then we’ll have a chat about whether or not you like fruitcake.

Dundee Cake

175 g unsalted butter
175 g granulated sugar
grated rind of 1 orange
grated rind of 1 lemon
4 large eggs
200 g plain flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves
500 g mixed fruit (raisins, sultanas, currants, chopped apricots, chopped dates, sour cherries, etc.)
50 g glace cherries, halved (or substitute more fruit)
50 g mixed cut peel (or substitute more fruit)
50 g whole blanched almonds

Preheat the oven to 150C / 300F. Grease an 8 inch (20 cm) deep sided cake pan, either springform or with a removable bottom.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, at least 2 minutes. Add the zest of the orange and lemon and cream in. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well and scraping down the bowl after each addition. Add the flour and spices and mix until most, but not all, of the flour is incorporated. Now with the mixer on low, or switching to a wooden spoon if you were using a handheld mixer, mix in the fruit, cherries and peel until well mixed. The batter will be extremely thick, consisting of more fruit than batter!

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula. Arrange the almonds in circles around the top of the cake.

Bake on the lowest rack of the oven for about 2 hours. Times can vary drastically according to your oven however, so check the cake after 1 1/2 hours – it may need to bake for up to 2 1/2 hours. When done, the top of the cake will be evenly brown and will spring back when pressed, and a tester inserted in the middle of the cake will come out almost clean, with just a couple of crumbs clinging to it.

Leave the cake in the pan for at least 15 minutes before turning out. Kept wrapped in an airtight container, this cake will keep for several weeks.