In case we have not already mentioned, Emily and my brother were married in September. Em and I spent countless hours on the phone discussing all the minutiae, as brides and bridesmaids are wont to do. When Em and I were discussing what sort of cake to have, I suggested that my grandma could make one. I just knew it would be the kind of thing that my grandma could do.
My grandma was very happy to help and she took on the cake as a great project. I was her number two.
Em knew pretty much exactly what she wanted in terms of appearance: three layers of descending diameter, stacked one on top of the other, with a ribbon to hide the joins.
Initially, there was a bit of drama regarding whether or not to have a fruit cake, and whether or not it should be wheat-free. Em wasn’t sure whether she would like fruit cake (it does seem fashionable to have mud cakes now) and Em is also wheat intolerant.
“I want to be able to eat my own cake,” were the bride’s words. It seemed fair enough.
Eventually, it was decided that the cake would be a fruit cake, because they are best made six weeks in advance. This gave plenty of leeway should things have gone awry (not that they did). We also decided that the bottom two layers would be made with wheat flour, and that the top layer would be made with spelt flour. Problem solved. Personally, I prefer fruit cake because it is ‘classic’, and there’s something to be said for tradition at weddings. My grandma’s fruit cake is also extremely tasty.
My grandma had a wedding cake book from the 70s which advised what diameter each descending layer should be. So, we made a 10 inch, an 8 inch, and a 6 inch cake.
The fruit cake recipe was one of my grandma’s staples – a recipe passed along from an old friend many years ago. It was a challenge for me to work with pounds and ounces; converting caused my brain no end of confusion. The recipe, and the conversions, is included below.
My grandma made many, many practise cakes. I was given a few of them. They tasted pretty darn good. I think that the best ingredient (after the brandy!) is the slithered almonds because they add a little texture – not crunch, but a gentle bite. The cakes basically taste like what they are – a whole bunch of sultanas, raisins, currants, almonds and glacé cherries all soaked in brandy and held together by a little flour and egg.
Six weeks before the ‘big day’ we made the real, non-practise, cakes. I went over to my grandma’s place and we measured, mixed, and baked. Fruit cakes are reasonably simple to make – they basically involve placing all the ingredients in a mixer and mixing away. The mixture did tend to curdle a bit when the eggs went in – no matter how soft the butter was or how slowly the eggs were added. My grandma said that this was ok because the cakes are so dense and full of fruit – it actually doesn’t make a significant difference to the final cake.
A few weeks later (with a few extra cousins on board), we iced the cake. We decided not to do an almond layer of icing as it was a bit involved and apparently is not particularly tasty.
My grandma had done some research and found that the best icing method is simply to buy pre-made packet icing. While this goes against my instinct, it was a good idea. The icing actually tasted pretty good – not too sweet – and it was extremely easy to work with.
The icing is prepared just by placing it in the microwave for 30 seconds to warm up, then rolling it out into a large circle exactly like pizza dough. Then, it is placed over the cake – it is so pliable that any bumps are very easy to smooth out.
After they were iced, the cakes were left to dry for about a week. The day before the wedding, a cousin and I delivered them to the restaurant. They were each placed on silver cake bases and dowel was used to support the middle and top layers.
Frankly, I think the final product looked simple and elegant and it tasted great as well. Many thanks to our grandma for her effort and expertise.
For the seasonally minded – this cake is exactly the same as a traditional Christmas cake. If you bake this one on the weekend it will be perfection come 25th December!
Nona’s fruit cake (after Mary Morgan)
½ lb. (227g) butter
½ lb. (227g) brown sugar
¾ lb. (340g) currants
¾ lb. (340g) sultanas
¼ lb. (113g) raisins
6 oz. (170g) mixed candied peel
½ lb. (227g) glacé cherries, chopped
2 oz (57g) almonds, blanched and chopped
Rind of one lemon
½ lb. (227g) plain (or spelt) flour
Pinch of salt
2 tsp. mixed spice (ground nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger etc.)
½ gill brandy (70mL) (can substitute rum) (Nona uses more, about ⅓ of a cup)
- This recipe is for the 8 inch cake. Double it for the 10 inch and half it for the six inch.
- Line bottom and sides of tin with baking paper and grease with butter.
- In a mixer, cream the butter and sugar. Add eggs very slowly, one by one. (Break into a cup first in case you get a ‘bad’ egg.)
- In a large bowl, put all the fruit. Sift in flour, salt and mixed spice. Add all this slowly to the mixer. Mix until combined. Add brandy and mix a little more.
- Put mixture into tin. Bang tin to even it out and level with a damp hand.
- Tie two layers of newspaper around tin to insulate. This stops the outside from cooking faster than the inside.
- Place on the bottom shelf of oven and cook for about 3 hours at 300°F (150°C). Test cake with a skewer. If cake needs more cooking, leave it in for about half an hour longer. You may need to tweak this, depending on your oven. Nona said that oven manuals usually have specific fruit cake instructions.
- When cake is cooked, poke some holes in it with a skewer and pour some more brandy over the top. If wheat-free or gluten-free flour is used, the cake will probably require more brandy as it may be dry.
- Eat when cool or leave to ‘mature’ for about six weeks.