Sunday, November 8, 2009

Intriguing Ingredients - Dundee Cake

Dundee Cake

It started with a cake. It was the kind of cake that Arthur Rowe "...always liked, especially rich Dundees and dark brown home-made fruit-cakes tasting elusively of Guinness." One did not expect to happen upon such a treat during the rationing days of World War II, when England was at constant risk from aerial bombings. It was the kind of cake that drew a crowd of admirers, longing for a cut of buttery crumble, baked light with "real eggs," to cheer the heart and sweeten the tongue. Others were fixated on that buttery crumble, too, but their hearts held secrets that could not be cheered, nor did they want them to be. But it seemed like Rowe's lucky day, that he should win that "magnificent cake" at a fundraising fair, much to the consternation of those others. As it turned out, it was not his lucky day at all.

Billed as "An Entertainment" by its author, Graham Greene's The Ministry of Fear charts a distinctive, enigmatic, and malevolent storyline segmented by the state of mind of its protagonist, Arthur Rowe. Haunted by a crime committed as an act of compassion, conspired against by a fifth column costumed as fortune teller, séance medium, and charity league, Rowe is a man whose fate is as existential and bleak as the irony that grips and plunders his sanity and safety.

Life, unfortunately for Arthur Rowe, was never wistfully sweeter than during the brief respite of a seemingly innocent cake in an era when loyalty and love were especially unkind.

Dundee Cake – Adapted from the recipe on Food Down Under


2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice or
1/2 teaspoon each cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and ginger
1/3 cup ground almonds (also known as almond meal or flour)
2/3 cup golden raisins
2/3 cup dried currants
1 cup mixed candied fruit peel
1 cup butter, softened
¾ cup sugar
4 large eggs
2 tablespoons orange extract
3 tablespoons golden syrup, honey, or light-colored fruit jam
1 cup blanched almonds, chopped, slivered, or sliced


Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Grease an 8-inch X 3-inch springform cake pan, then line the pan's bottom and sides with cut-to-fit baking parchment, slightly overlapping the side strips. Grease all interior surfaces of parchment. (You may have to clip the side parchment to the pan to keep in place.)

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and spices. Set aside. In a small bowl, toss raisins, currants, and fruit peel with ground almonds until fruit is uniformly covered with the almonds. Set aside. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together with an electric beater until soft and fluffy (about 5 minutes). Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in orange extract. Slowly beat in dry ingredients, 1/3 at a time, into butter mixture, until batter is thick and well combined. Stir in fruit mixture. Spoon batter into prepared pan. Place pan on center rack of oven. Bake for 1 hour. Remove from oven, glaze cake with syrup, and scatter almonds on top. Return to over to bake another hour or until center tests clean with a slim knife or skewer. Remove cake from oven onto rack to cool for 20 minutes. Remove from pan, peel off the side parchment, then carefully slide the cake off the pan bottom with the bottom parchment intact. Return to rack to cool completely. Once cool (it will take at least four hours), cake can be lifted to peel off bottom parchment. Cut with a serrated knife. Serves 16 (realistically, 8). Best served the same day, when it's very moist and tender. Leftovers must be wrapped tightly in plastic; it is discernibly dryer as it matures, like most fruitcakes, accounting for the tradition of soaking to cure in whiskey, stout, or rum.

This recipe is for Simona of Briciole and Lisa of Champaign Taste, hostesses of the quarterly Novel Food event, featuring food and drink inspired by the books we love to read. Special thanks to both ladies for waiting on my post.

Half a Cake...

Been There, Done That ~
Simnel Cake
Candied Lemon Loaf
Extreme Gingerbread Muffin Makeover

Other Peoples' Eats ~
Mini Dundee Cakes
Christmas Marzipan Cake
Candied Lemon Peel


  1. It must have tasted really like a slice of heaven during those harsh times. The adjective "magnificent" fits perfectly. And the way you introduce the novel made me want to grab it right away. It's on my reading list now. Thank you for your contribution to our event.

  2. Ah.

    A Greene I'm not familiar with.

    Shall remedy that this weekend. Beautiful cake. With a cherry on top.

  3. A delicious cake!I love candied fruits and spices, so that sounds very tempting...



  4. Dundee cake reminds me of Christmas. Suddenly looking forward to the festive season!
    Also looking forward to seeing photos of the finished cake.

  5. This does sound like a perfect holiday fruitcake, though much lighter and airier! Love the connection to the novel as well (though the only Greene I've read is The Quiet American, and I wasn't a fan. . . this one sounds much more intriguing).

    Wanted to write and say how much I loved your last comment on my blog as well. Dynamic Duo! I think that will have to be their moniker from now on! ;)

  6. The Christmas Fruit cake kind and my favorite of all favorites. Susan, if I had this in front of me, no one else in the world would get a bite, not even my kids ;-)

  7. Another beautiful creation Susan :)

  8. Looks really well.Do visit my blog when u find time

  9. Goodness - a delicious recipe and a history lesson. talk about value...

  10. It has all the spices that I like. Delicious cake.

  11. I am love with recipes that are steeped in history, perhaps something our own ancestors have added to their own table.Dundee cake is one of those things I have heard about and not as yet tried.

  12. Great spices in your cake. It looks stunning! :)

  13. I need to read more of Greene--I think I'm only *really* familiar with The Third Man (especially thanks to the movie).

    And now I have another cake to add to my growing list of cakes to try!

  14. Have only ever had this from the bakery! After my recent experiment, I'm itching to make another cake, resisting it because it won't serve the purpose of de-cluttering! Or dieting :)

  15. There is always something beautiful that emerges from adversity! This is truly a delectable dessert!The crumbs on your plate says it all!

  16. Sounds good! Love the photo with crumbs and forks.

  17. I love this cake, the dry fruits makes it very rich, wish i could grab a slice right now:-)

  18. Dundee cake is Scottish, haven't made one in a long time. Your cake looks lovely :)

  19. Simona - The novel's unusual structure makes it worth reading for this alone. Greene called the work "An Entertainment," which implies it's a lightweight. It isn't. I was happy to participate in Novel Food again.

    Lucy - Ta. It's not generally well known, especially to our generations. Hollywood filmed it in the 1940's, but pulled a lot of punches.

    Wendy - I love this. My mother used to bake it when I was a kid. So much nicer than those compressed bricks passing themselves off as cake.

    Thank you, Rosa!

    Ricki - It's much lighter than the more common fruitcake, but still substantial and satisfying. You might like the 2002 film of "The Quiet American." It cuts out a lot of the political philosophizing and religious discourse, but if you don't care for espionage thrillers, you probably won't like this, either. Spectacular cinematography and a perfectly cast Michael Caine as the world-weary protagonist.

    Big hugs to the Dynamic Duo. : )

    Soma - Not even your kids? I predict a protest. ; D

    Wiffy - Ta, dear girl.

    Welcome, My Kitchen! Thanks for your visit. Good to see you.

    Hi, Koek! Welcome! Yes, a two-fer. Thanks!

    Hello, Helene! - Thank you. I do love warm autumn spices, too.

    Val - Though Dundee cake is of Scottish origin, there are probably more Canadians familiar w/ it than Americans.

    Thank you, Karine!

    Ruhama - If you like novels of moral complexity and labyrinthine intrigue, Greene might be your cup of tea. I was introduced to him, by (you guessed it), Reed's "The Third Man," a film I've seen about twenty-five times and never tire of.

    So many cakes, so little time.

    Sra - Best steer clear of this, then; itching means scratching, and you know where *that* leads!

    LL - Thanks. I like that shot best, too.

    Hi, Parita! Thanks. I would have loved to have shared. It wound up serving two, repeatedly, around here. : }

    Kelly-Jane - So good to see you! How are you? Thanks. The UK has all sorts of wonderful fruited treats to explore.

  20. Yours is one of the prettier Dundee cakes I've seen.
    I don't really like fruit cakes, but this is one of the vey few exceptions.

  21. The cake looks delicious and your photos are beautiful!!! Love your blog :)

  22. Lovely bake...Love your blog...the clicks are wonderful! They make me read more of the text later...Simply amazing!