Dundee Cake, Angus and Dundee
There is something rather refined about Dundee Cake, part of the Christmas tradition in many a British home. It may not be as much fun for the family to make as the richer, fruitier Christmas Cake proper, made on stir-about Sunday and endlessly topped up with spirits, but its more restrained approach and altogether lighter texture mean it is something to be savoured rather than got through. And there is a particular version, with the addition of whisky, which nods towards the drunken festive fruit-cake.
Why Dundee though? I have heard it suggested that the Dundee marmalade industry spawned this sweetie, with the ready availability of orange rind for zest; for the whole peel used fresh (one of my recipe books insists this is what should be used); or for candying there is some sense in that. One source even claims that Keiller’s of Dundee Marmalade fame actually developed and baked the cakes themselves in the 19th century.
Though there are innumerable variations, the basic Dundee is a buttery (say 8oz for a recipe using a pound of flour - don’t use margarine please) and egg-rich (four in most recipes for standard cake-tins, some demanding as many as six, but then what size?) mixture with plenty of dried fruit – always raisins or currants, sometimes with cherries - and peel either fresh or candied; the dried fruit should be roughly 2:1 fruit to flour. The sugary element (same weight as the butter) nearly always includes a darkener like black treacle or Demerara as anything between a touch or a quarter of the sugar used.
One version I know uses brandy to flavour the thing, which seems perverse (though the Auld Alliance as so often could be in the background): go for two or three tablespoons of whisky instead – sorry France but whisky is surely more suitable, more authentic, and as a far more complex spirit more interesting anyway. The top must be decorated with blanched almonds in a neat pattern of your own devising or in the traditional concentric circles, and the cake baked in a moderate oven for upwards of two hours.
Forget cream sherry with this one: pour a glass of Bunnahabhain from Islay, the best accompaniment to any fruit cake yet devised.