What happened to the bloody Xmas cake (read also a dammed fine fruit cake)?

One of the great mysteries of our time, fruit cake, Xmas cake, sultana cake, raisin cake or almost any cake with dried fruits, gone! Disappeared from our tables, cakes tins and tummies. Why?


Few years back, filled with a glorious sense of love for all my fellow men, I had a bunch of xmas cakes made for me by one of Melbourne’s better bakers… Mum’s recipe, or one of them, she had many as did most woman of the time. I had them done in two sizes, they were delicious and we fed them all year with sips of brandy and port. I was confident that the public would appreciate my efforts. Nuhuhhh, none of it. I should add that the baker also baked a bunch of cakes for their own shops with the same slightly amazing result. In my case the cakes were sent to the homeless who would have no doubt enjoyed them. The bakers left overs I think were recycled into some other bakers delight.


Up until a few years back, most homes would have had a Xmas cake for the festive season and before and beyond that, a fruit cake for enjoying daily. Mums go to cake was a simple fruit cake that would have passed muster from a gaggle of ladies of the CWA. Well spread fruit etc, see below. It would have been a strange day when her cake tins were empty, right up until she died. Dad also loved what was called a ‘plain’ cake, as did I.


And then whole shebang went pear shaped… we lost the bloody lot. I blame celebrity chefs (they cannot bake) then TV chefs (way to much ego and not equal talent) Dieticians who have us focussed so much in the wrong direction. I blame Fast Food chains who have no problems creating and selling a hamburger with 1000 calories, yet don’t ever have a decently baked cake that is just 250 calories. I blame the time challenged, kitchen challenged, and those who just don’t want to cook. I blame the sort of lives many of us are forced to live these days.


Its a bloody sin. No one says you have to sit down and consume a whole cake at a sitting, just a nibble here and there would be great. In the days when I was a nipper, people sort of dropped in on the neighbours and in the towns and cities, there was some expectation that they would get a cup of tea and a slice of cake, maybe a shortbread or two. In Port Fairy the whole town would have been aware of who had the best cake and biscuits and they would have been high on the list of must do visits.  Mums Xmas cake was always sitting handsomely on a bit of heirloom epns that was sort of elegantly elevated sitting in the middle of the dining table or on the serving trolley with a beautifully worked bit of lacy fabric covering. The shortbreads would be kept in a biscuit tin because exposure to air would make them soft and having that crack and snap was a matter of cooks pride. Fancy cakes like chocolate, sponges and so on, were usually just occasion cakes, afternoon tea, visitors and family events.


There must have been a moment when the sun and moon aligned and created a cosmic moment that simply changed the collective taste buds of everyone. They started to dislike dried fruit. It happened to the girls/ladies of my own family whereas the boys/men, continued to like and enjoy them. What the hell happened, how? I am Buddhist, for us there is no divinity, nothing of a higher power, so who the hell do I blame?


To put things into some perspective, drying of foods is simply another way of preserving crops, whether its fruits, vegetables or grains. Much of the ‘preserves’ such as jams fall into this way of thinking. There is not a nation or country on earth who has not practised this way of thinking and whose food reflects this. Italy for example has several preserved fruits that are unique Cedron is one. In Greece and many of the middle eastern countries, visitors were offered small bowls of fruits preserved in sugar syrup. Preserved food was always highly regarded and was credited with having valuable and desirable health benefits. Dates used to be frequently used in days past, date scones, date loaf etc. I would be willing to lay odds that date usage in Australia is at an all time low.


Returning to the moment when in a bolt from the sky, we began to turn our backs on traditional foods. Its sad to say that a number of companies who specialised in the production of various forms of dried fruits, have ceased to exist and now I am told that only one company (Chinese owned) provides this essential food. Enthusiasm has grown for dried fruits of a more ‘interesting’ bent, such as Cranberries, Cherries and several others, while the traditional variety has become almost defunct.


Having just had a conversation with the same baker (above) they say that the Xmas sales of small fruit cakes over the Xmas 2013 season, was quite OK. They do add that a specific type of client was the buyer and that precluded any younger customers.


Ah the vicissitudes of modern life, the confusion and direction. I accept that it is impossible not to change and that change is good in so many ways, we do seem to so often toss the baby out with the bath water. Or is it a simple solution… country people didn’t get zapped by the same bit of cosmic dust and continued to like dried fruit?

To sum up, I want to see the return of the Xmas cake, don’t actually give a toss what sort, I want to see us learning to eat and enjoy dried fruits again, I personally urge my own family to return to the whole cooking Xmas cake thing, ice it with even my mothers version of snow icing (she piled it on so thick and then used a knife to sort of flick it up, there was centimetres of icing and then the whole thing went dry and you needed a small axe to chip your way into it.) or her more frequently go to icing of a simple butter icing which gave you at best, a week or ten days to eat it before it went rank. If you must, then use almond icing with some royal icing on top, but try your best to make sure its not tooth breaking, even though it may well melt your teeth.


These are the family recipes… give them a go.


Sultana Cake

This is the much loved cake that is so easy to eat, its hard to know when to stop.

Pre heat the oven to 180°c/360°f (it will take 20 minutes to reach heat and have a shelf set just above centre, but not the highest)

250gr (8oz) butter softened

1 1/4 cups caster sugar

4 eggs

2 1/2 cups plain flour

1/2 tspn baking powder

2 tblspns milk

1/4 tspn lemon essence or a squeeze of lemon juice

1 1/2 cups sultanas


Cream the butter and sugar until it is light and creamy, there should not be any feeling of sugar in the cream, add the eggs, one at a time and beat in well after each addition


Sift the flour with the baking powder and begin to fold into the egg/butter/sugar mixture alternately with the milk and lemon juice, when this is well combined and not overworked, fold in 1/2 cups of sultanas.


Use a 20cm cake dish and butter and flour it well, put the mixture in and bake for 1 hour at 180°c/360°f, turn the temperature down and cook for a further 30 minutes (150°c/300°f) or until cooked.


Allow to rest in the pan for a few minutes, then turn onto a wire rack to cool completely.


Rich Xmas Cake

1 1/2 cups seeded raisins, chopped

1 1/2 cups sultanas

1 1/2 cups currants

2/3 cup glace cherries, chopped

3/4 cup of mixed peel

3/4 cup of blanched almonds, chopped

2/3 cup of brandy or orange juice

2 1/2 cups plain flour

1/2 cup self raising flour

1 tspn of mixed spice

1/2 tspn ground cinnamon (not cassia)

12/2 tspn freshly ground nutmeg

250gr (8oz) butter softened

1 1/2 cups soft brown sugar

2 tblspns dark plum jam

1 tspn vanilla extract

4 eggs

1 20cm cake tin


Place the dried fruit in a bowl with the brandy or orange juice and allow to stand overnight.


Sift together the flours and spices, cream the butter and sugar, add the jam and vanilla. Add the four eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.


Alternative add the fruit (don’t pour off any excess juice or brandy, add that too) and the flour to the creamed mixture using a folding motion working from the bottom of the bowl up to the top in a turning scooping motion.


When all the flour and fruit is added, let all the family have a small turn of the spoon for good luck and then tip it into the lined 20cm tin.


The oven should have been preheated to 150°c/300°f, with a shelf placed just below half way. Cook the cake on this setting and watch that the top does not begin to brown too quickly, if it does turn the temperature down and cover the top with some brown paper. Cook for 4 hours


After cooking, allow the cake to rest in the in for 3 – 4 hours, turn it out into a clean tin and cover well with greaseproof paper and store till Xmas time. It will get better.


Pineapple Fruit Cake

This is a yummy cake that goes really well at the afternoon tea break or in lunches.

Put into a large saucepan

750gr (1 1/2lb) mixed fruit

1 cup soft brown sugar

1/2 cup brandy or sherry

3/4 cup cold water

1 cup crushed pineapple, including the juice (tinned is best for this job)

185gr (6oz) butter, chopped


Bring this to the boil and simmer for 3 – 5 minutes. Allow to cool completely.


Meanwhile preheat the oven to 150°c/300°f and put the shelf just below centre

Then to the cooled fruit mixture add..

3 eggs well beaten, sift together and add

1 1/4 cups plain flour

1 cup self raising flour

1/4 tspn bicarb soda

1/2 tspn mixed spice

1/4 tspn ground cinnamon

1/4 tspn ground nutmeg

1/4 tspn ground ginger


Fold this well into the fruit and egg mixture and place in a 23cm greased and lined cake pan.. This mixture will be quite wet, it should be, don’t worry about it.


Bake in a slow oven for approximately 2 1/4 – 2 1/2 hours or until cooked when tested.


Allow to sit in the pan for 20 minutes before taking out to cool completely on a wire rack.


A few facts and figures…


1 Hamburger – cheeseburger = 650 calories +++

1 slice of Christmas cake (70g) = 249 calories, 8g fat

1 portion of chocolate log (30g) = 101 calories, 3g fat

1 portion Christmas pudding (100g), custard and brandy butter = 587 calories, 22g fat

1 mince pie and double cream = 368 calories, 25g fat


CWA Quick and Easy Recipe – Boiled Fruit Cake


This week Betty Brown from the South Australian Country Women’s Association shared with us her recipe for boiled fruitcake.

250g margarine

1 cup of sugar

1 cup of water

3 cups of mixed fruit

1 tspn bi-carb soda

1/2 tspn cinnamon

1/2 tspn ginger

1/2 tspn mixed spice

2 beaten eggs

1 cup flour

1 cup self-raising flour

Place all ingredients except eggs and flours in a large saucepan and bring to the boil.

Simmer for 2 to 3 minutes until margarine melts.

Allow mixture to cool slightly, slowly beat in beaten eggs.

Sift flours and stir in to the mixture.

Pour into lined tin and bake at 170 degrees Celcius for about one hour or until skewer comes out clean.

Remove from tin and and put into airtight container when cool.

Below is the ‘rules’ for entering a CWA competition.

Section 1: Fruit Cakes

Prizes in Class: (a) First $120, Second $80, Third $40

Prizes in Class: (b) First $80, Second $60, Third $40, Total $440

Class (a) Rich Fruit Cake

Hints to competitor: In the fruit cake, nuts, if used should be cut to a size that will not interfere with the cutting of the cake. Slow baking is necessary to bring out the colour and texture. Size of tin, round or square, is 20cm.

A suggestion is 250g butter, 250g brown sugar and 1250g fruit.

Points to be looked for in judging: A smooth, even top, well risen and slightly rounded towards the centre, but not peaked. Smooth, even sides with no white patches or blotches on the surface. Browned evenly on sides, top and bottom. Texture should be fine and even, with no holes or tunnels: moist but not heavy or doughy. Fruit should be evenly distributed and a good balance of fruit and mixture apparent. Should not be over-flavoured with spices and essence so that the natural flavour of the fruits is lost. No almonds are allowed on top. Your own favourite recipe may be used.

Class (b) Sultana Cake

Hints to competitor: 250g butter basis is standard mixture for size and weight to be observed. A suggested guide for proportion of fruit and mixture is 250g butter, 250g sugar, not more than 500g sultanas. Size of tin can be round or square, 20cm.

Points to be looked for in judging: Evenly cooked on top, sides and bottom, and light in colour. Texture fine and even with no holes or tunnels, moist, but not heavy or doughy. Fruit should be evenly distributed and a good balance of fruit and mixture apparent. Cherries and peel not acceptable. No almonds allowed on top. Sultanas must not be cut.


Good luck.

~ by peterwatson on January 21, 2014.

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