Christmas “Dundee” Cake

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Our favorite Christmas cake is this rich, moist confection made with fresh and dried fruits, citrus and lots of nuts. My mother calls this a “Dundee Cake,” and we learned to enjoy it while living for a while in Scotland.

Friends were coming to join us for afternoon tea yesterday.  That was reason enough to make the first batch of the season.

My mother’s delicious pound cake recipe serves as the foundation.

Pound cake was the first cake she taught me once I finally graduated from the Bette Crocker school of boxed cake mixes so many years ago now.  Good pound cake is one of those wonderful traditions handed down generation to generation in some families; and I’m so glad my mother passed this legacy on to me.

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Here is the recipe card I copied from her file more than thirty years ago now.  It gives you the basics, but the fine points come only with initiation in the kitchen at the hands of a master baker, like my mother.  You may think I’m exaggerating a little here; but those also initiated into the secrets of making pound cake will understand.

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Now, it is simple enough to throw a handful or two of currants and a cup of chopped almonds into this basic batter and call it done.  Dundee cake, a Scottish favorite, is traditionally made with almonds, currants, and sultanas.  And it is traditionally decorated with sliced almonds on top.

But this is a “riff” on the traditional recipe.  My mother has made this “blonde” fruitcake from time to time over the years, in addition to her dark applesauce fruitcake.   Since this is my favorite, I add a bit here and there to make it special for my friends and loved ones.

If you decide to make it for yourself, leave yourself enough time to relax and enjoy the process.

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This is a long prep with many steps.  And you can take the basic outlines of this recipe and add a bit more of what you like, and leave out those things you don’t enjoy.

Candied fruit remains controversial in my family.  To Mother, it is required in all fruitcakes which bear that name.

My generation is not as fond of it, and some refuse to eat it at all.  So the cake will turn out fine without any candied fruit.  I’ve listed it here, but leave it out if you want.

Begin by setting out three sticks of butter to soften and five eggs to warm to room temperature.  Preheat the oven to 300F, and pour a cup of good spiced rum into a medium sized bowl to marinate the dried fruit.  I let the fruit soak while doing the rest of the prep, stirring it into the batter as the last step before filling the cake pans.

I soak about 2 cups total of fruit to include: raisins (light and or dark), chopped dates, chopped dried apricots, and chopped dried cherries.  I often add dried cranberries in place of the raisins.

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Measure 2 1/2 cups of all purpose or cake flour into a very large bowl.  All of the nuts, spices, zest, and the candied fruit will get tossed in this flour to coat.  Zest an orange directly into the flour, and add a cup of dried coconut flakes.

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Juice the orange into the rum and dried fruit bowl.

Spread three cups of nuts (pecans, hazelnuts, slivered almonds and walnuts… whatever you have) on a pan and let them toast for about five minutes in the pre-heating oven, while you do other things.

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When they are fragrant, chop them coarsely and add them to the flour.

Other dry ingredients for this bowl include 1/2 tsp. of baking soda, salt, 1/2 tsp. of cardamon powder, 1 tsp. nutmeg, and 1 tsp. ginger.

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Mix everything well to coat all of the fruit and nuts.  This helps keep them well distributed in the final batter and prevents clumping.

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Measure a cup of milk, and add 1 tsp. of vanilla and 1 tsp. of almond flavoring.  Sift three cups of flour onto a sheet of waxed paper.

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Prepare three loaf pans or one tube pan and one loaf pan by spraying them well with a non-stick cooking spray.  I also line loaf pans with waxed paper and sift a little flour into fluted bundt pans to prevent the cake from sticking.

With all ingredients and the pans prepped, the cake comes together fairly easily.

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Place two whole sticks of butter, and three TB of the third stick in a mixing bowl and beat on medium speed.  Slowly add three cups of granulated sugar and beat until the sugar is dissolved.  Stop and scrape down the bowl and beater to recombine all ingredients.

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With the mixer running on medium, add five eggs, one at a time, beating well after each egg.  Scrape the bowl and beater to combine all ingredients.  Beat again on a fairly high speed until the mixture lightens in color and looks very fluffy.

Add one c. of sifted flour and 1/3 c. of milk to the mixing bowl, and beat on low.

Add the remaining flour, a single cup at a time, with a chaser of 1/3 c. milk after each addition.  Stop the mixer when the last addition of milk is worked into the batter.

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Scrape the beater carefully and again scrape down the sides of the bowl.

You now have three bowls of ingredients:  the soaking fruit; the flour/nut/zest mixture; and the butter and egg batter.  Make sure the bowl with the nuts is large enough to combine all ingredients.

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Add the batter to the large bowl of flour, spices and nuts, stirring with a large rubber spatula until the two are well combined.

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Pour in the soaking fruit and rum, and add a cup of canned or Maraschino cherries.  Drain the juice before adding the cherries to keep the cake light in color.  Adding the juice results in a pink cake….

Stir until the batter is smooth and no dry flour remains.  Make sure your mixing strokes bring up all of the remaining flour and fruit from the bottom and sides of the bowl.

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Use a large ladle or dry measuring cup to scoop the batter evenly into your pans.  Fill each pan about 2/3 full, as this cake will rise.  Scrape down the sides of the pan and distribute the batter evenly.  The batter should be very thick and heavy.

Put all batter filled pans into the oven at the same time, on a rack positioned in the middle of the oven.

Once the cakes are in the oven, don’t open the door for the next 75 minutes.  This is important for the rise and texture of the cake.  After the first 75 minutes are up, very small pans may be done.  A tube or bundt pan usually takes 90 minutes to bake, and may need longer depending on how much fruit you have used.

Check finished cakes for doneness before removing them from the oven to a cooling rack.  Loosen the sides of the cake from the pan with a knife, and gently turn each cake out onto the rack.

You may glaze the cake with melted jelly when they are partially cooled.  I’ve used blackberry jelly, though apricot would be just as good.  Just melt about 1/4 cup of jelly in the microwave and brush it on to coat the entire cake.  Garnish with nuts and more cherries if you like, or sift powdered sugar over the glaze.  You  could also ice the cake with butter-cream frosting or coat it in chocolate ganache.

Fruitcake should be wrapped tightly and kept in a cool room.  Mine often stays in the garage, where it will keep for a few weeks.  Many people like to age their fruitcakes for several days to let the flavors develop before cutting them.   They are also delicious straight from the oven.  Since this recipe makes a lot of cake, you can sample it straight away while also putting cake aside for later.

You will never really appreciate how absolutely satisfying and delicious this cake can be until you have a slice (or two) for yourself.

Baking is good for the soul, if not for the waistline. 

If you try the recipe, just know that you will perfume your home with deliciousness for at least the next day, and you’ll have the perfect dessert on hand for your special gatherings.

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Woodland Gnome 2014

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About woodlandgnome

Lifelong teacher and gardener.

12 responses to “Christmas “Dundee” Cake

  1. looks good- and that little note card 🙂
    warmed my heart ❤ keep it forever 🙂

  2. Did you ever see Truman Capote’s ‘A Christmas Memory’ starring Geraldine Page? This post made me think of it. Your cakes look delicious, clearly a labor of love!

    • Thank you, Eliza. Missed that film. I”m glad the post brought back happy memories, however. If you try the recipe, please let me know whether you like it. We polished off half of the loaf at one sitting 😉 Happy weekend, Eliza 😉 WG

  3. Another fancy name for ‘Fruit Cake’ ? I love Fruit Cakes! Say it loud. Say it proud!

  4. my goodness these look and sound terrific!

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