Monday, December 3, 2012

A Taste of Scottish Tradition

Scotland? We're going to Scotland today?

You bet your sweet Scottie we are!

It's Christmastime, and one thing I love about being an American is how traditions and foods from different parts of the world blend together to become distinctly American, but still retain their roots.

Kind of like people, right?

I'm a perfect example of America's melting pot: my great-grandparents were 1) & 2) Swiss German, 3) Irish? or English? (someday I may tell you about the skeleton in that closet), 4) Irish, 5) English, 6) Scottish, 7) & 8) German.

I often talk about the Swiss and German part of my ancestry, but today we're heading north of the wall to the wilds of Scotland.

A traditional cake from Scotland is the Dundee Cake - a kind of light fruitcake. Rumor says it was developed for Mary, Queen of Scots, because she didn't like candied cherries and what-not in her cakes.

I came across this cake because I'm a Tasha Tudor fan.
She kept the tradition of making a Dundee Cake every year that was then eaten on December 6th, St. Nicholas Day. It was the start of the Advent season and a tradition her family still carries on to this day.

But the Tasha Tudor receipt (she never called them 'recipes') has candied fruit in it, and Mary Q of S wouldn't stand for that, so I started researching.

I found out the main thing that makes a Dundee Cake, other than being cakey and fruity, are the almonds.

No almonds? Then you just have a fruit cake. You might as well be English. A Low-lander. Sheesh.

I read through dozens of Dundee Cake recipes and came up with a cake all my own. I hate fruit cake, but I love this cake. I made it this weekend for our own St. Nicholas Day observance on Thursday.

So, (drumroll please), here's the recipe:

Jan's Dundee Cake

First, prepare your pan. I used my 8" spring-form pan, but you can also use whatever pan you have that gives you enough room for the cake to rise. A 9" round cake pan isn't high enough, but a 9" square pan should be big enough. Tasha Tudor's family uses two 9" loaf pans.

Grease your pan with butter or cooking spray, and line with baking parchment.

I cut a circle slightly larger than the bottom of my pan and laid it in the bottom.

Then I used three 5" strips of parchment to line the sides of the pan.

Now it's time to make the cake.

1/2 c. whole almonds

2 1/2 cups cake flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup raisins
1 cup slivered almonds, chopped as finely as you wish

1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 Tablespoons orange juice
1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
1/2 teaspoon orange zest

First step: blanch your almonds. This is super easy!

Put your whole almonds in a bowl. Be sure you use raw almonds, not roasted or salted.

Pour boiling water over the nuts just to cover them. Let them soak for one minute. Any longer and you'll get soggy almonds. Any shorter and you won't be able to get the brown skins off.

Pour the hot water off the nuts and rinse them in cold water. Now you can slip the skins off.

It's an easy process, but a bit tedious. Employ your elves (aka children hanging about) to help.

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, salt, baking powder and chopped almonds. Add your fruit pieces - I used raisins - and stir to cover the fruit with the flour.

Next, using your mixer (hi, Edna!), beat together the butter and sugar. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Then add the vanilla, orange juice, lemon extract and orange zest. Blend with a spoon or with your mixer on low speed.

Stir in the flour mixture. When it's well blended, pour the batter into your prepared pan. It will be thick - almost like a soft cookie dough rather than a cake batter.

The next step is your signature. Place the blanched almonds in a design on the top of your cake. Make spirals, sunbursts, whatever. The more almonds you use, the better.

Bake in a preheated 325 degree oven for about one hour.

Test for doneness with a cake tester or toothpick. Stick it in the middle of the cake. If it comes out clean, the cake is done. But with this cake you want a few crumbs sticking to the tester - it's better for the cake to be slightly underdone than overdone.

Cool in the pan for ten minutes, then remove from the pan, place on a cooling rack and let it cool completely.

Now comes the really hard part.

really hard.....

This cake is better after it's been sitting for a few days.

Wrap it up well in plastic wrap or an air-tight food storage container, put it in a cupboard or on top of the refrigerator, and wait.

Believe me, it's worth it. I tried mine straight out of the oven, then put it away and tried it again a few days later. It definitely gets better with age...not unlike certain Scotsmen...

The great thing about this recipe is that you can play with it and make it your own!

Here are some ideas of different additions you can make to the batter:

candied cherries
candied peel
dried cranberries
dried blueberries
whole almonds
ginger marmalade

So, are you ready to try this departure from traditional fruit cake, or are you one of the 50% of Americans who love those bricks of .....whatever they are?


  1. Hi Jan,
    I have English and german heritage but we always thought we had Scottish and do but wondered why pops father was called Patrick when he came from Scotland. Found that his parents moved to Scotland from Ireland during the potato famine, they moved to Scotland for a few years then to Australia.
    I do make a shortbread recipe each christmas.

    1. I love shortbread. So buttery, with that subtle delicate sweetness...

      My possible Irish great-grandfather's great-grandfather moved from Ireland to England before coming to America, so for many years we thought he was English. But someone distantly related to me did some genealogical digging and found the Irish connection.

      Those Irish really get around, don't they?

    2. Oooh -- shortbread. I've been looking for a good recipe. Can't decide between the white sugar kind or the icing sugar kind. Which kind is yours, Jenny?

    3. Kav mine is more a shortbread recipe I make cookies with. it uses icing sugar and it does taste yummy. wondering how I will do it this year heart my wrist on Thursday and as the bruising goes down it hurts more. I dont think its broken as I can use it but it may be sprained. I wonder if I should get it check out but not sure.

  2. YAY!! I'm Scottish and am LOVING this recipe! there's a bit of a war inside between my English Hathaway ancestry and my Carmichael heritage. But check out this hair- Scotland for the win.

    OK, I was completely distracted by the yummy pic of Sean Connery... But then I went back and read the part about letting it sit.


    Here's what I'll do. I'll make TWO. One for the kids to eat right away, and one that I will sneak into the laundry room and hide away.

    That's my plan and I'm sticking to it.

    P.S. Edna says that cake is very fetching. High marks for form and presentation!

    1. Two cakes? What a great idea!

      My mom and brother both have red hair. I missed out on the red and got blonde. My mother-in-law always hoped we'd have a red-haired child, but it didn't happen. My oldest son has quite a bit of red in his beard, though, so maybe in another generation it will pop up again.

      And thanks to Edna on her approval. I always wait with bated breath for her opinion. She's the grand dame around here, isn't she?

    2. In our family, it skips a generation. My grandmother had red hair. I had red hair. My siblings children have ahd red hair, but not my kids. So... Recessive gene all the way.

      But my oldest daugter has very dark brown hair and has random deep red hairs. I keep pulling them out to show her and she gets irritated. I wonder why???

    3. LOL, Virginia!

      All three of my kids had red hair at birth. My daughter is the only one who stayed that way. It's gorgeous. A mix of copper red, dark gold blonde and light blonde. Overall, she looks like a strawberry blonde.

  3. P.S. There should be audio version of this post, read by Mr. Connery.

  4. Bah! Don't dis traditional fruit cake. I love it -- especially with marzipan and royal icing!!! But I love Dundee cake as well. You might say I'm an equal opportunity cake lover. :-) Love how beauteous yours turned out. I bet it tastes as good as it looks. And thanks for the Scottish pictures. Simba loves the sheep and I love Connery so we're both happy campers. And the scottie dog is an added bonus!

    1. Isn't that scottie at the end quite the gentleman?

      And did you notice the resemblance between him and Mr. Connery? Coincidence? Hmmm.....

  5. Aye, Lass, I'll be tryin' this bite o' cake wi' the upcomin' feast day, me bein' Catholic an' Celt an' all....

    And I ken what ye say 'bout the dried fruit: A penance, 'tis, and none the better for ruinin' a fine bit o' cake, in me humble opinion.

    But I opine too much I fear, for I'm middlin' makin' a cake as I speak, a birthday cake of splendor unpassed! A blessing to you, to yours and on your crops, lass!

    1. I saw that birthday spread on Facebook, Irish-Ruthy! It looks wonderful!

    2. Oh my stars, I was in CAKE HEAVEN. No lie.

      Smiling. Smiling. Smiling!

  6. Jan, this is totally up my alley. I happen to be a rare lover of fruitcake. Of course, not just any fruitcake. It's gotta be from Collin Street Bakery and loaded with pecans.

    I also love me some panettone, which means this recipe fits right in. Can't wait to try it.

    1. Okay, Mindy. Now we need the panettone recipe!

  7. Oh, wow, Jan!!! I think you're right. The hardest part will be waiting!!

    It sounds delicious. There isn't much better than orange zest to flavor something. And I can handle raisins. I'm with Mary QOS! I don't want all that gross fruit!


  8. Jan, my son, whose hair was copper colored at birth, turned into a blond as he got older. Now it's almost brown except when he first gets it cut and in the summer, it looks dark blond.

    He just grew a beard for No-Shave November, and it has all kinds of red it in! I love it. :)

    1. There's a no-shave November? I think two of my boys started practicing back in September...they say it keeps their faces warm.

      Yeah, right. At least they keep them trimmed.

      (By the way, isn't it weird to talk about our sons having beards? Aren't they, like, three-year-olds?)

    2. Oh, boys and beards....

      Who told them they could grow up???? 'Sup wi dat?

    3. At least they still play with toys :)