Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Even the Dalai Lama Can't Resist This Christmas Cake

Dundee Cake. Now why was that written on my clipboard? I was back at the farmers' market selling my ipies. As I mentioned in my last post, I keep a clipboard nearby so I can take notes about the different pie stories and dessert memories customers share with me.

But I didn't remember speaking to anyone about Dundee Cake. Intrigued, I looked it up once I got home and found that it is a popular cake similar to a fruitcake served throughout the United Kingdom -- primarily during the Christmas season.

And like the Lafayette Gingerbread, its creation involved yet another story that supposedly took place in the 1700s!

This time the location was Dundee, Scotland in 1797. There a Spanish ship carrying oranges sailed into a fierce storm. The ship took shelter in Dundee Harbor. Its cargo included Seville oranges, which were then purchased by a Dundee grocer named James Keiller.

Seville oranges aren't your typical sweet orange -- they are bitter. Mrs. Keiller decided to boil the oranges with sugar and the resulting product became known as Dundee Orange Marmalade.

But what about the cake? Most likely Mrs. Keiller created the cake so there would be something to spread all that lovely marmalade on. The marmalade is also used as a glaze for the cake. She created the concentric circles of whole blanched almonds on top of the cake to distinguish a Dundee Cake from other fruitcakes.

Mrs. Keiller obviously had quite a talent for marketing.

Both the marmalade and the cake became famous through the United Kingdom and continue to be extremely popular today.

I must admit I'm not a fan of fruitcakes. The cakes I have had the misfortune to taste have been very dry and the fruit overly chewy. The experience led me to almost believe that old joke by comedian Johnny Carson that there really is only one fruitcake in the world and it keeps getting passed down from one family to the next each Christmas!

And I don't think Italy's Panettone or Germany's Stollen taste much better. So I wasn't too motivated to experiment with Scotland's Dundee Cake.

But all this reading about Christmas cakes did get me thinking about my family's own Christmas cake tradition. I hadn't actually thought of the cake I make each Christmas as an official Christmas cake. But I guess it really is.

At least it is certainly an American version of what I think a Christmas cake should be: cinnamon and chocolate are important ingredients in this cake!

I'm not exactly sure when the tradition started. At least ten years ago -- maybe more -- I came across a recipe in a cookbook for a Chocolate Chip Coffee Cake. I decided I would bake one for each family and give them out when we gathered for Christmas Eve.

Now, I have a large family so that often meant at least ten cakes. But my family loved the cake so the Chocolate Chip Coffee Cake has become an annual Christmas tradition.

Then I thought how nice it would be to make each neighbor a cake. And the cleaning lady, dog sitter, dry cleaner, hair cutter......

My Christmas cake production was a bit out of control. And no, it hasn't changed -- I still bake at last 20 cakes during the Christmas season. Nothing like the smell of cinnamon and chocolate to get me in the Christmas spirit!

So maybe I should give the Dundee a try. Maybe it would become a favorite cake, maybe even a tradition.

There are many recipes claiming to be the original Dundee Cake recipe. All are pretty similar in that they use raisins, spices, and some type of candied fruit. Most also include a small amount of whisky. My 1959 edition of the Fannie Farmer Cookbook has a Dundee Cake recipe that includes almonds in the batter as well as on top of the cake but interestingly, no whisky.

I came across a few recipes that called for sultanas -- a very exotic sounding ingredient, which I found out, is another name for golden raisins. I think I like the name sultana better!

In the end I used a recipe from the May 2004 issue of Bon Appetit Magazine. The recipe dresses up the small town Dundee Cake by including a sauce made of (of course) orange marmalade, whisky and orange sections.

Imagine my surprise when I found out that the James Keiller & Son Company (no credit given to Mrs. Keiller though) still makes the original orange marmalade! Of course I had to buy a jar to use in my Dundee Cake.

The cake uses almost a cup each of sultanas, dark raisins and dried currants so the batter was extremely thick. I hoped my Dundee didn't turn into a hockey puck.

But the finished cake was anything but heavy. Yes, it was a dense cake but the texture was crumbly but still moist because of all that fruit.

It was also delicious and addictive. I couldn't stop shaving off bits to nibble on. It was also a beautiful cake and wouldn't look out of place on a dessert or breakfast buffet.

Now I can understand why according to the Europe Intelligence Wire Service, when the Dalai Lama visited Scotland in 2005, he expressed his hope that he would be able to enjoy a slice of the "rich, fruity cake." It seems the Dundee Cake was a favorite of his!

Of course a Dundee Cake was quickly dispatched to His Holiness and we can only assume he was deeply contented.

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