My mother is a beautiful, proud and decorous Punjabi woman. All her life she has lived an impeccable life. Brought up under the strict rules of my grandfather and the doting love of my grandmother, she grew up to be a woman of morals and high expectations. She watched over her own children like a lioness watches over her cubs. Never missing a beat when something was wrong or bothering us. She sacrificed, but all along kept her individuality, never loosing "herself" along the way.
Where ever she went her beauty and striking resemblance to India's most stunning dream girl always attracted a lot of attention, at times even creating havoc on the streets of downtown Delhi. (I am not going to mention the fact that my dad looks like India's hottest actor, for fear you might think I'm making it all up - but it's true!)
Growing up with my mum was divine. She had a way with words and things that always made us children see the sense in things, even if in the beginning of the discussion we were dead against the idea. This quality was also cherished by my friends, who often spent endless hours discussing their problems and issues with my parents. The house was always full of our friends, coming in and out. There was of course another thing my friends loved about my mum - her food.
We always had a fridge full of food. Be it the delicious desserts and cakes my dad brought back from the hotel or the multitude of different dishes my mum had prepared, we never threw anything away. It would always be passed around when our friends were over, during a debate, a soccer game, a problem solving discussion or simply when me and my best friends would return home in the middle of the night after a party and crave for something out of my mum's fridge.
She acquired her skills for the Indian cuisine by my grandmother, who was an exceptional cook. My grandmother groomed my mother, like any good Indian family, at a young age and cooking was one of the most important things an Indian girl learns.
However, her talent for the European cuisine was obtained by another great figure in her, and ultimately in my, life.
Tante Stephanie was the mother of one of my mother's best friends, Annette. They met during the time my mother traveled the oceans with my father, who at the time was a marine engineer on a ship. It was not long before both found that, although brought up in separate corners of the world, they had a lot in common. A lot but not everything. The one thing that distinguished them was - food.
While my mother loved cooking and learned how to make any dish quickly, Annette found food, and everything about food, tasteless. She would eat without appetite and sit at the dinner table only due to pure habit.
It was no surprise that Tante Stephanie found joy in my mother's ability to grasp the flavors of a dish by simply tasting them. She was ecstatic at my mother's enthusiasm to learn more about the cuisines she was introduced to. When Annette passed away at an early age it was a loss to both, however they found consolation in each other and of course - food.
My memories of Tante Stephanie are simply grand. She always smelled of violets. Even to this day when ever the fragrance of violets wafts through my nose I am taken back to her lovely house on the Loire and the endless evenings on her terrace, eating, drinking and chatting. Tante Stephanie was half French and half Scottish and the food she prepared represented the artisanal cooking of both countries. Traditional, down to earth and down-right good. Cooking was definitely her biggest strengths. She was able to reproduce a dish by simply tasting it. Regardless of how complicated the aromas and flavors would be, Tante Stephanie would know what ingredients were used, in which quantities, how long it was cooked for and how she would perfect it. Her neighbors often called her sorcière, witch and I was always spellbound by the way she moved and casted her spells in her kitchen.
My mother savored the time she spent with Tante Stephanie in the kitchen. Each recipe that she inherited from Tante Stephanie was cherished and often recreated in our own kitchen back home. Being the ideal student however, my mother never missed the chance to add her own note to the dish. It was her way of perfecting a perfect dish.
This fruit cake is one of the recipes that was handed over to my mother by Tante Stephanie. The Dundee fruit cake was a kind of family jewel on Tante Stephanie's Scottish side of the family. Her grandmother, her mother and finally she herself prepared it during the Christmas season, each lady adding her own little touch to the cake. Tante Stephanie showed her true affection for my mother by handing the recipe over to her a year before she passed away. My mother in return paid respect to this great gift by preparing this incredible fruit cake each year in December. She too added her touch to the cake.
A few years ago I inherited the recipe from my mother. She showed me how to prepare it and we had a great time in the kitchen talking about the great Tante Stephanie. I have been making this cake every year since then, adding my own note to the fruit cake.
Although you might be thinking all these modifications that have been made to the cake over the years might not have left much of the original version, I would like to console you. The cake is still very much in it's original form and each sorcière who was handed the recipe simply perfected it in her own way.
Paying my respect to such wonderful traditions and to family, I present to you my family's traditional feast - the perfect perfect perfect Dundee fruitcake! ;-)
Printable version of recipe and notes here.
Before jumping in and making the fruitcake I wanted to share a few important notes with you. These were all a part of Tante Stephanie's teaching and the notes my mother made. With a little care while preparing the fruitcake and considering these notes, I am sure practically anyone will be able to make a wonderful fruity and delicious fruitcake equally as exquisite as the ones I had the pleasure of enjoying at Tante Stephanie's or later at my mum's.
So, in future if you should ever make a fruit cake, either this one or any other one, you will find some very helpful notes here to refer to.
The batter for the fruitcake is basically a regular cream cake batter, where butter is creamed together with the sugar and then the eggs are added and beaten in portions to make a smooth mixture.
Before you start read the recipe carefully and set out all the required kitchen machines and ingredients. Measure all the ingredients as required by the recipe and set aside.
You will need to allot a lot of time to make a really good fruitcake, because the preparations and the baking time takes a little bit longer than most cakes.
Before you start with the batter prepare your cake form carefully, by lining it with baking paper and place the oven rack/baking sheet right in the middle of the oven. Then pre-heat the oven at the required temperature.
Preparing the Cake Form
Butter or spray your form, making sure that you butter the sides and base well. Fruitcakes require to be lined with a double layer of baking paper, on the sides as well as on the bottom. Cut out two sheets of baking paper to fit the base and strips to fit the sides of your cake form. Line the base with both sheets of baking paper and overlap the strips for the sides. Press down and straighten out all the creases.
Because of the longer baking time, fruitcakes require more protection from the heat. This is basically to avoid the cake from getting too dark around the sides and base. Therefore, pack the outer sides of your form in a few sheets of newspaper. As the oven is set to a low temperature this is totally unhazardous. To protect the form with newspaper, take a few sheets and wrap it around the form tightly, making sure that the newspaper is not sticking in the form. Then simply tie some kitchen thread around the from tightly.
As I mentioned above, it is advisable to weigh all the ingredients and prepare your kitchen machines in advance. Sieve your flour and baking powder, chop up your dried fruit and nuts. If using dates or prunes, check if you need to pit them. Take the butter out of the refrigerator in advance so that it is soft once you are ready to use it. Even eggs should be at room temperature and should be taken out in advance.
When is the cake done?
This was my mum's single one question to Tante Stephanie and many years later, I too asked my mum the same question. Every oven is different, gas, electric, etc. Tante Stephanie simply suggested to use the old toothpick trick. About 20 to 30 minutes before the required baking time of the cake is up, stick a toothpick into the middle of the cake, if it comes out clean then it is ready and can be taken out of the oven.
Leave the cake to cool in the cake form overnight. Fruitcakes are actually the most wonderful type of cakes. Their aromas and flavors infuse with each other as time goes on. Tante Stephanie compared the fruitcake to a good bottle of wine - time brings out the best of flavors. So, by leaving the cake for a few days or, as we do, a few weeks - you will be rewarded with an aromatic, fruity and moist cake.
250 g soft butter
230 g brown sugar
4 eggs - lightly beaten
160 g raisins
160 g currants
185 g mixed dried fruit - dates, figs, apricots, prunes
60 g dried cherries
60 g Amarena cherries - substitute with cocktail cherries
95 g powdered almond
90 g almond slivers
240 g all-purpose flour - sieved
1 teaspoon baking powder - sieved
2 tablespoons rum
120 g whole almonds - peeled
Notes about the ingredients:
The original Dundee cake is made with currants, raisins and sultanas. My mother substituted the sultanas with a variety of mixed dried fruit. Tante Stephanie also used cocktail cherries in her version of the cake. My own touch was substituting theses with delicious Amarena cherries. Furthermore, Tante Stephanie used dried orange an lemon peel in her cake, which gave a wonderful fragrance. This time I chose to use dried, slightly sour cherries. Cranberries would also make a great additions to the cake.
Pre-heat the oven to 150 degrees C. Prepare a round cake form (20 cm diameter) as explained above.
In a mixing bowl cream the butter and sugar using a hand mixer or your kitchen machine, until smooth. Slowly add the eggs in portions - beating each portion until in has been fully incorporated into the batter.
Transfer to a larger mixing bowl and add all of the dried fruit, Amarena cherries and the almond slivers and powder. Fold into the batter.
Add the sieved flour and baking powder and pour in the rum. Using a metal spoon carefully fold into the butter cream.
Pour the batter into the cake form and smooth out the top. Line with the whole almonds. Bake for 2 to 21/2 hours. About half an hour before the the time is up check to see if the cake is done. Place a toothpick into the middle of the cake, if it comes out clean it is ready to be taken out.
Allow to cool for at least 4 hours, recommended overnight. Store in an airtight container for a few days, to allow the flavors to infuse.
It's always a heavenly experience when I make and then eat the cake. I am always taken back to Tante Stephanie's house on the Loire or my mums's kitchen in Doha. Filled with good memories and cheerful spirit this cake is pure pleasure. I normally make the cake towards the end of November. It is then stored for a week in an air tight container and then we enjoy the full flavor of this luxurious cake throughout December. The cake will be on the dry side when you cut it a day after it has been baked, but if it is kept for a few days it will begin to get more moist as the fruits combine their juices into the cake.
This is my own entry to this months Monthly Mingle - Traditional Feasts.
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