Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Any excuse for cake, or; "merci Madame Trellis pour le gateau"

Okay, so the heading of this post is slightly misleading as it's unlikely that I will even actually need an excuse to make cake. I find them all the time, and eventually it stops being having an excuse and becomes simply, making cake.

However, I did come up with a rather good excuse this week to try making fruit cake, a cake that has been on my mind for some weeks now, and with baking day a few weeks off yet, and me desperately trying to stick to the only baking treats once a month resolution (yes, I know I haven't quite got it yet, but I'm getting there), there was definitely going to be an excuse needed. The whole obsession with fruit cake started on our drive down to Brighton a couple of weekends ago. We were in the car waiting for Test Match Special to start and there was an interview with Henry "Blowers" Blofeld, the famous cricket commentator, on to fill the time. They were asking him about his experiences on Test Match Special, and how the now-tradition of them receivi
ng cakes in the commentary box came about. He was talking about the different sorts of cakes and mentioned fruit cake. This immediately transported me back to the summers of my childhood when my father would mark exam papers listening to the cricket, and during his break in the afternoon would enjoy a cup of tea and a piece of my mum's fruit cake. I haven't had her fruit cake since the first year of living in London, when, one holiday at home I mentioned how much I liked and missed it, and she, being the wonderful doting mother she is, and knowing that I wasn't actually all that happy going back, dutifully baked and wrapped a cake for me to return with.

So there I was sitting in the car thinking back to the days of fruit cake, and what did I do? I immediately send a message to my mum asking her to email me the recipe! There had to be some way that I could get around to making it, even if I had to wait until baking day.

As it happens I didn't wait that long. This week with our Abel and Cole order we were getting Stilton, and I just had an inkling that a ploughman's lunch of pickle, Stilton, salad and a hunk of fruit cake would be a winning combination: the sourness of the Stilton and the tartness of the pickle softened by the sweet, but not too sweet, cake. We just had to try it, didn't we. Like I said any excuse!

I had originally planned to make the cake the night before, leaving it over night to cool. However, it required eggs, and they, like the Stilton, would not be arriving until the following morning. I'd just have to make it as early as possible to allow it to cool before lunch (and with a baking time of 1 1/2 hours, that meant pretty early!)
With this decision made, I cast aside any other preparation and went to bed. Meaning that there I was on Wednesday morning at 9am frantically scouring cupboards in search of potential dried fruit options, and glace cherries! Ah, ever the prepared baker me. I had to do a little tweeking, most out of necessity, some out of choice, but in the end it turned out fine.

It didn't taste quite as nice as my Mum's, but then again, nothing ever does, does it? However, I really enjoyed it and was reminded immediately of lazy afternoons listening to the cricket, as well as causing me to curse myself for not having investigated making it sooner. Yet another one for the "make lots more of please" list. In fact, it has occurred to me that the next baking day happens to coincide with the third test match between England and New Zealand. Then I really wouldn't need and excuse, and there can just be plenty of cake!

Anyway, here's the recipe, courtesy of my Mum, according to whom it is from an old Stork margarine packet. I adapted this original recipe slightly. Firstly, I halved it so I could just make one small cake that we could eat in one go, keeping the amount of cake consumption to a minimum! I then cut down the fat by half, and used apple sauce as the other component. It worked perfectly, and didn't affect the flavour, I would be tempted to try it completely without butter next time just to see. Also, in my halving of the recipe I choose to use just one medium egg. Due to making these changes I added slightly more baking powder (literally just a dash more) to insure that the cake would rise properly. All in all the consistancy and rise was fine, and baking it for the same amount of time as the larger cake was needed and provided a lovely crunch outside and dense moist inside. Oh, I just remembered I didn't have glace cherries so I settled for some maraschino ones kicking around in our cocktail cupboard. They added a more particular flavour, so next time I'd wash and drain them thoroughly, however they helped keep the cake moist.

All-in-one fruit cake (makes one large cake)

6oz margarine
6 oz sugar
6 oz plain flour
1/2 level teaspoon baking powder
1/2 level teaspoon mixed spice
3 large eggs
10 oz mixed dried fruit
2 oz mixed cut peel
2 oz glace cherries

Mix all ingredients together. Place in greased and lined 7inch round cake tin and smooth top. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 350 F, Gas Mark 3, on middle shelf for between one and a half and one and three quarter hours.
Leave in tin for 2-3 mins. Then cool on a wire rack.

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