Dundee Cake

Dundee Cake

This recipe is fabulous – and this recommendation is coming from an until-recently Dundee-Cake-Disliker. The crust is crisp but delicately thin, the insides delicately moist and buttery, rich with the sweetness of sultanas and the tang of candied orange peel.

The modern Dundee Cake has an iconic appearance: the carefully laid-out pattern of whole, blanched almonds immediately distinguishes it from other fruit cakes. For many years I’ve not been a fan, based on the Dundee Cakes I’d been served as a child: dry, crumbly, tasteless, overly-fruited masses with burnt nuts on the top and, horror of horrors, glacé cherries studding their depths.

After a bit of digging around in the cake history books, it turns out that the Dundee Cake known today is quite a few steps removed from the original. So I had high hopes that with a little experimentation I could, as with other recipes I’ve managed to rehabilitate from childhood dislikes, bring Dundee Cake back to its former glory and once again make it a teatime favourite.

Dundee Cake was first made by the Dundee-based Keiller company, as an off-season sideline to their marmalade business, as a way of using up excess peel generated by the marmalade manufacturing process. By gentleman’s agreement, no other bakers in the city made the cake. Keiller’s were also responsible for popularising their creation under the name Dundee Cake, described by Alan Davidson in the Oxford Companion to Food as light, buttery delicacy stuffed with sultanas, almonds and candied orange peel.

Quite when the cake was first made is a bit of a mystery, but it is mentioned in stories and novels of the mid-nineteenth century. An 1853 edition of The Lancet carries an advertisement for a Regent Street caterer, which includes Dundee Cake in its list of available cakes. This recipe is based on Madam Marie de Joncourt’s 1882 recipe, but tweaked to conform to the description of the original delicate and rich cake: more butter, almonds, sultanas and peel, no currants, no almonds on top. I’ve left off the distinguishing almonds, because they’re not mentioned in the original recipe, but you can make your own decision on that.

Dundee Cake

180g butter – softened
112g caster sugar
4 eggs
1tsp vanilla extract
180g flour
150g sultanas
2 tsp baking powder
1/3 grated nutmeg
100g ground almonds
125g candied peel, cut into thin, 2cm slivers

  • Preheat the oven to 170°C, 150°C Fan.
  • Grease a 20cm, deep (at least 10cm) loose-bottomed cake tin.
  • Line the base with a circle of parchment.
  • Tear off a long strip of parchment, long enough to wrap around the whole tin.
  • Fold the strip of parchment in half lengthwise.
  • Unfold, then fold in each long edge towards the centre fold.
  • Fold both halves together, making for four layers of parchment.
  • Line the tin with this 4-ply strip of parchment. Any fruit-filled cake needs protecting from the high temperatures that baking in a tin will generate.
    Grease the parchment on the sides and base of the tin.
  • Put the softened butter into a bowl and whisk until light and creamy.
  • Add the sugar and whisk until pale and fluffy.
  • Whisk in the eggs one at a time. Whisk for a good 3-4 minutes before adding the next egg.
  • Stir in the vanilla.
  • Gently stir the remaining ingredients together, then fold into the wet ingredients. Don’t over-mix, or you run the risk of deflating all the air you’ve just whisked into it.
  • Spread the mixture into the tin and level the top.
  • Bake for one hour, gently turning the tin around 180 degrees after 40 minutes.
  • Check for done-ness by inserting a wooden toothpick deep into the centre of the cake. If no liquid batter is clinging to it when removed, the cake is done.
    Cool for 10 minutes in the tin, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.
  • Store, wrapped in foil, in an airtight tin.

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