Orange and Walnut Garland Cake

In my head, the book from which this recipe is adapted is practically modern, as I clearly remember the year it was published, but then my brain gently reminds me that 1978 is now 40 years ago and I am PLUNGED into a slough of despond at how OLD that makes me feel. But enough of the over-dramatics…

I found this recipe in Bread, Cakes and Biscuits, by Mary Norwak, one of the 500 Recipes series published by Hamlyn. It is a fantastic collection of almost every kind of tea-time bake you could wish for, reassuringly written by someone in whose recipes I have absolute confidence. If you’re in need of well-written, dependable recipes, then Mary Norwak is a name you can trust.

The 500 Recipes series is an immense collection of themed recipe books by a variety of authors and, when published, was very competitively priced at just 99p. I regularly find copies in charity shops and car-boot sales and have amassed quite a number of the range. Their only downside is, aside from the cover, a complete lack of illustrations, being printed as they are, on rather low-grade, coarse paper. So it takes a little imagination to be able to pluck out the real gems from a flat page of text.

I chose this recipe for a number of reasons: the unusual flavours, the simplicity of the recipe and the ease with which it can quickly be turned into a very eye-catching, celebration cake.

Nowadays, the more standard cake flavour combination is for coffee to be paired with walnut, but the brightness of citrus really lifts this cake into something altogether more delightful.

I have made a few, small, changes to the original recipe and am also introducing a new element, that of the glaze for the decoration.

Firstly, I have substituted Seville Orange zest and juice for the original sweet orange. The sharpness and bitter notes really pack a punch against the sweetness of the cake.  The simple glace icing is a revelation – I do so love it when an idea exceeds all expectation. This normally (for me) overly-sweet icing is really lifted by the tang of the bitter orange. And where do I have access to Seville oranges out of season, you ask? In my freezer, I reply.  Every Seville orange season, I buy, zest and juice at least one net of Seville oranges. After mixing the juice and zest together, I freeze it in ice-cube trays (one large ‘cube’ contains the juice and zest of 1 orange) and, once frozen, pack into a ziplock bag for later use, just as in this case. It’s fantastic for Seville orange curd, custard, even savoury dishes like roast duck or game casserole. I highly recommend the practice. If you have no Seville oranges, the recipe contains a suggestion for substitution.

You can leave the cake adorned with just the icing topping and it is delicious, but for a bit of wow-factor, you can add a garland of candied fruit and whole nuts. This is my favourite kind of decoration (requires practically zero skill and almost no effort from me), where the beauty of the ingredients IS the decoration and they can really shine. And on that note, I shall segue seamlessly into the new element of this recipe – the glaze.

You will have noticed that the fruit and especially the nuts in the picture above, have a glorious shine to them, and this is achieved through the use of a glaze. For fresh fruit tarts and the like, the traditional glaze is a syrup, but this has the downside of being exceedingly sticky, and in this case might interfere with the glace icing. Also, fresh fruit tarts tend to be eaten immediately, whereas this is a cake that will last several days in an airtight container. The glaze I have used for the decoration is a mixture of simple sugar syrup and gelatine. This adds the shine without the stickiness. The excess glaze will set like a jelly, and later can be gently warmed and re-used to decorate sweet buns, tea-breads, even sweet pies for an extra shiny appearance without stickiness.

Orange & Walnut Garland Cake

Do customise the flavorings to your own personal taste. Dislike walnuts? Use hazelnuts instead, or pistachios or macadamia nuts. Dislike candied peel? Make your own for a fantastic flavour punch, leave it out altogether or add in some more fresh zest.

225g self-raising flour (or plain flour + 1 tsp baking powder)
½ tsp salt
75g unsalted butter, softened
75g caster sugar
zest & juice of 1 Seville orange [1]
3 large eggs
30g candied peel – chopped
60g walnuts – quartered
a little milk (maybe)

Icing
zest & juice of 1 Seville orange [1]
120g icing sugar

Decoration
100g mixed whole nuts
50g candied peel, cherries, etc.

Glaze
50ml water
50g caster sugar
½ sheet gelatine – or enough vegegel to set 100ml of liquid.

  • Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
  • Grease and line an 18-20cm cake tin with parchment.
  • Sift flour and salt.
  • Cream butter, sugar and orange zest together until light and fluffy.
  • Add eggs one at a time, beating thoroughly between additions.
  • Fold in the flour.
  • Stir in the peel, nuts and juice. If the mixture seems a little heavy, loosen it to a dropping consistency with a little milk.
  • Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 50-55 minutes, or until the cake is cooked through[2].
  • Allow the cake to cool in the tin for ten minutes (to firm up), then cool completely on a wire rack.
  • After decoration, store in an airtight container.

Decoration
As mentioned above, there’s two tiers of decoration you can use for this cake, either with just a simple glace icing, or with the addition of a garland of candied fruit and nuts.  Read through both sets of instructions, because if you want to do the glazed fruit and nuts on top, you need to start before mixing the icing.

  • Glace icing:
    • Mix the zest/juice into the icing sugar until smooth. It should be thin enough be able to pour, but not so runny that it just falls off the side of the cake.
    • Pour over cake and allow to drip down the sides a little.
    • Leave to set.
  • Glazed fruit and nuts:
    • Soak the gelatine in a little cold water.
    • Cut the cherries in half and trim the rest of the fruit to suitable sizes/shapes.
    • Dissolve the sugar in the water (zapping it in the microwave for a few seconds to warm it helps) then add the softened gelatine and stir until it is melted.
    • Now, there are two ways to arrange and glaze the fruit and nuts, either glaze first, then arrange, or arrange, then glaze.  Choose whichever approach you prefer.
      • Arrange then glaze: As soon as you have poured over the icing, press the fruit and nuts into the icing while it is still moist. As the icing dries, it will hold them securely in place. Using a clean paintbrush, paint the glaze over the fruit and nuts, being careful not to allow it to drip onto the icing too much.
      • Glaze then arrange: Put the fruit and nuts into a bowl and pour the glaze over. Toss gently to ensure and even coating. Drain in a sieve, then arrange as above.

[1] If you have no Seville oranges, use the zest of 2 sweet oranges and the juice of 1 in the cake, and for the icing, the zest of 1 orange and the juice of a lemon.
[2] Quick reminder on how to tell when a cake is cooked:

  • Ears: the cake is not making any bubbling/hissing noises.
  • Touch: the cake feels springy when lightly pressed with the fingertips.
  • Eyes: The cake has shrunk away from the sides of the tin a little.
  • Eyes: A cocktail stick inserted into the middle of the cake has no wet mixture on it when removed. NB when making moist, fruited cakes (apple, banana, etc) any fruit moisture is ok, it’s the cake mixture that’s important.
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Welsh Cakes

I’ve always had a fondness for Wales. The first family holidays were amongst its lush and rolling hills and I became an avid fan of rugby through watching Wales during the glorious days of the mid-1970s.

In terms of its food, I’m constantly frustrated by the existence of so few old books from which to draw recipes. I have on my bookshelves just three in the Welsh language, all dating from the 19th century, and, disappointingly, not one of them contains recipes for either Bara Brith or Welsh Cakes. I have a feeling that there must be a very rich hoard of manuscript recipes lurking somewhere in storage, perhaps in a record office or some archive, just waiting to be discovered.

I have already brought you a couple of Bara Brith recipes, being unable to choose between the rich fruitiness of one and the delicate texture of the other. For years I have been in search of an authentic and worthy Welsh Cake recipe, with no joy. With the best will in the world, the modern Welsh Cake can be a little on the heavy side. The more tactful descriptions suggest ‘close-textured’, other spade-a-spade critiques might go with ‘stodgy’. And the stodginess would seem to be almost necessary, as too long on the griddle and the pastry-like dough of the modern Welsh cake recipe is prone to drying out and becoming tough.

I have therefore been more than a little mollified by this week’s recipe, which I found in the digitised manuscript collection of the Welcome Library. It comes from the recipe book of Dorothea Repps (nee Fountaine) and dated 1703, when she was just 21 and already married to John Repps. I am extremely fond of this manuscript book, for Dorothea’s handwriting is bold, confident and easy to read, and adorned with swooping flourishes. This recipe for Welsh Cakes appears very early on in the book and consequently I feel confident that she must have recorded it  no later than 1710.

What I find curious, quite apart from it pre-dating most other Welsh Cake recipes by at least 150 years, is the fact that Dorothea spent her life in Norfolk, just about as far east and distant from Wales as you can get without falling in the sea. There’s nothing else in her book that is particularly Welsh, so its presence is something of an enigma. Also curious is the form that Dorothea’s Welsh Cakes take: a single, large, layered yeast cake sprinkled with currants and sandwiched with raisins.

Welsh Cakes Recipe
From MS 7788, Wellcome Library Collection

As with many recipes of this age, the quantities of ingredients are huge, and reflect the catering-size amounts required in a large house. I scaled them down to something more manageable and baked it as described and I have to be honest, it was a bit heavy. Nice, but decidedly door-stop. So I had another go, making even smaller, single-serving versions, with just two layers of the currant dough sandwiching the plump raisins. They were very neat, and baked to a lovely golden brown, but…..ordinary. Despite the richness of the mix, the oven heat, even without fan convection,  made the outsides of a crustiness that all the post-baking basting with milk failed to soften.

Having concentrated so much on the presentation, after carefully cutting and shaping these little filled cakes, I found myself left with quite a lot of trimmings. I can’t abide waste, so I decided to gather them together, re-roll and cut them like modern Welsh Cakes. Since the oven was in use baking the sandwich version, I thought I might cook these in a dry pan on the stove top. And this spur of the moment decision provided the secret to revealing the deliciousness of this recipe. For cooked in the traditional bakestone manner, they are extraordinary.

The thin crust that forms from contact with the warm pan (for a gentle heat is all they require) surrounds a yeast-raised interior so delicate and feather-light they almost disappear. They are at their best hot from the pan, sprinkled with a little caster sugar.

This combination of a centuries-old recipe, with a relatively modern form and method of cooking produces a real tea-time delicacy.  Wherever she gathered this delightful recipe from, I’m grateful to Dorothea Repps for recording it in her book so that we can enjoy them today. If you’re in Norfolk, you can stop by and thank her yourself: she is buried in the place where she lived until the ripe old age of 78 and lies surrounded by her family, in a vault in the magnificent church  of St Peter and St Paul, in Salle.

Dorothea Repps’ Welsh Cakes

You can, of course, use your own favourite spicing/flavourings for these Welsh cakes, instead of Dorothea’s suggestion of nutmeg. I suggest no more than a total of 1 teaspoon of whatever spices you choose.

Makes 16-20

225g plain flour
pinch of salt
½-1tsp freshly grated nutmeg
15g icing sugar
80g unsalted butter
1 large egg yolk
50-100ml milk
10g fresh yeast
40-60g currants

caster sugar for sprinkling

  • Mix the flour, icing sugar, salt and spices in a bowl.
  • Whisk 50ml of milk and the yeast together, then add the yolk and stir thoroughly.
  • Melt the butter and allow to cool a little before whisking in the milk/yeast mixture.
  • Add these wet ingredients to the dry and knead until the mixture comes together in a soft dough. Add more milk if necessary.
  • Knead for 10 minutes until smooth.
  • Knead in 40g of the currants. If it looks a little sparse to your tastes, add more until the desired level of fruitiness is achieved. Oooh, Matron!
  • Cover and set aside to rise until the dough has doubled in size. Due to the richness of the mixture, this may take between 1.5-2 hours.
  • When risen, tip the dough out and pat gently to deflate. Use a rolling-pin to roll the dough out to a thickness of 1.5cm.
  • Use a fluted, 5cm cutter to cut out little cakes, making sure each one contains a sprinkling of fruit. Re-roll trimmings until all dough has been used.
  • Cover lightly with plastic wrap and set aside to rise for 30-45 minutes.
  • When ready to cook, gently heat a thick-bottomed, heavy pan on your stove. My induction hob goes from 0-9, and I cook these on 5. I also place the cakes around the edge of the pan, avoiding the concentrated heat of the middle. The dough is rich with butter, so no further oil is required.
  • Bake the cakes until lightly browned on each side and the centre is cooked through: around 7 minutes for the first side, and 6 minutes on the second. Turn them gently, as the uncooked tops will have risen due to the heat and will be extremely light and easily deflated.
  • Remove the cooked cakes from the pan and sprinkle the tops lightly with caster sugar.
  • Serve warm, or allow to cool on a wire rack and store in an airtight box. Warm gently before serving

Soda Cake

This was a spur-of-the-moment bake this week, and in just over 1 hour after reading the recipe, I was taking this picture. Not as fast as scones, admittedly, but made from store-cupboard ingredients and comes together in mere minutes.

I found the recipe in a manuscript recipe book from The Wellcome Library, an impressively long-lived book containing over 100 years of family entries, starting around 1750.

The use of bicarbonate of soda became popular in the 19th century for its speed and ease of use, especially in areas where fresh yeast was difficult to come by.  This is a very early recipe – not the earliest I’ve found – that award goes to the recipe in “The Virginia Housewife” by Mary Randolph, published in the US in 1824, but this recipe has the added deliciousness of currants and candied peel.

Notes in the book suggest a larger proportion of peel and fruit can be used if liked, but I think it’s perfect as is. Best enjoyed fresh from the oven, it is delicious plain and also spread with an indulgent layer of butter.

You can add a little lemon juice to sour the milk if liked – the bicarbonate reacts best with acidity – or you could use buttermilk, a mixture of milk and plain yogurt or whey.

Soda Cake (1835) MS4645, Wellcome Library
Soda Cake (1835) MS4645, Wellcome Library

Soda Cake

450g plain flour
115g currants
115g caster sugar
115g unsalted butter
60g candied orange peel – diced small
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
240ml milk/buttermilk/yogurt+milk/whey

  • Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
  • Butter a square, 20cm tin or cover a baking sheet with parchment if you want to bake it freeform.
  • When the oven is heated, mix the flour, currants, sugar, peel and soda in a bowl.
  • Melt the butter in the microwave or in a pan on a low heat.
  • Add the milk (or whatever liquid you are using) to the melted butter and pour into the dry ingredients.
  • Mix thoroughly and either shape into a round on the baking sheet or in the tin, if using. Try and mound the mixture up into a dome shape, if possible, but don’t faff about too much The quicker you get the cake into the oven after adding the liquid, the more lift you’ll get from the reaction of the soda.
  • Bake for 50-55 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Turn the sheet/tin around after 30 minutes to help with even colouring.
  • Cool the cake on a wire rack.
  • Enjoy warm.