DUNDEE CAKE

I know, I know … Fruit Cake, the most hated cake in the world!  I’ve heard all the jokes . . .

“only good as a door stop”
“found one in King Tut’s tomb and it was still edible”
… “advice is like fruit cake, something everyone gives, but no one wants
… “a cake made during the holidays that’s heavier than the oven it was baked in

but I LOVE fruit cake.  There I said it!  And this Scottish classic is one of my favorites.  Why?  Because it is made with sweet, thick orange marmalade, giving it a wonderful orangey flavor.  And to be an ‘authentic’ Dundee cake, the marmalade should be made with Seville oranges from Spain.  If you’ve ever had the opportunity to visit the beautiful city of Seville, you can’t help but gaze in wonder at the over 40,000 orange trees which line the streets.  At times, the trees are bursting with so much fruit, the streets are just littered with these brightly-colored orbs.

Sometimes referred to as ‘bitter orange’, the Seville orange originated in China and was among the many foods and spices traded along the spice route.  These trees were eventually cultivated in Spain and Portugal around the 10th century.  Interestingly, these oranges aren’t really eaten in Spain.  More than 15,000 tons are shipped to Great Britain each year.

How did the oranges end up in Dundee, Scotland?  Because of a storm at sea!  A Spanish cargo ship carrying goods and produce crashed into the rugged coastline in Dundee.  Among the many goods on the ship were oranges.  The oranges were ruined and couldn’t be sold, but a local  merchant, James Keiller, bought the load at a discounted price.  Keiller already sold jams in his shop and incorporated the oranges, fruit, pith and peel, into the recipe.  Food historians say it was his mother, Janet Keiller, who then took the marmalade and used it in a fruit cake, now known as the Dundee cake.

Keiller was the first to successfully commercialize his brand of marmalade using these bitter oranges and is responsible for the popularity of Scotland’s sweet breakfast treat.  When the British Trademark Registry Act came into existence in 1876, Keiller’s Dundee Orange Marmalade was one of the first brands to be formally registered.  In the 1920s, Keiller’s was purchased by Crosse & Blackwell, a name with which most of us are familiar.  That company was then sold to another very familiar name in the jam and preserves industry, Robertson’s.

Other historians say the Dundee cake is attributed to Mary Queen of Scots in the 1500s who didn’t care for traditional fruit cakes with all the glacéd fruits and cherries.  To please the Queen, her royal baker then made a cake which only had raisins, almonds and the bitter Seville oranges.  But the timelines vary too much for me.  The Dundee cake is made with orange marmalade which seems to have been created 100 years after Mary Queen of Scots would have enjoyed it.  Although marmalade has  been around since Roman times, it was almost always made with quince and honey, as a way of preserving the fruit.  The name “marmalade” actually originates from the Portuguese word “marmelo” or quince.  Believed to be the first published recipe for orange marmalade was found in a cookbook written by Eliza Cholmondeley in 1677.

However this spice cake came to be, by the 19th century, the Dundee cake was served in tea rooms across Great Britain and was the dessert of choice for  Winston Churchill and Queen Elizabeth II.  As with many ‘historical’ foods, an application has been filed by Dundee bakers for protected status for this spice cake with the EU.  The bakers’ hope is to keep this centuries old cake from becoming a cheap imitation of the original.  Let’s hope the rights are granted.

If you’re a fan of OUTLANDER, I’m sure Claire and Jamie would’ve eaten a few of these almond-studded Scottish fruit cakes during their time at Lallybroch.  I may not be a time traveler, but I am a fruit cake lover.  And, if you are too, I hope you have an opportunity to make and enjoy this classic fruit cake over the holidays.  Its perfect with a steaming hot cuppa!!

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References:  Walkers, Wikipedia, Food List, 196 flavors, IFoodTV, Daily Record, Scotsman Food and Drink, Andalucia
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Millionaire’s Shortbread

The first time I had this rich, buttery piece of deliciousness was about ten years ago, in a basement tearoom of an old Manor House in Cornwall.  The tearoom was very modest, providing visitors with just a quick cuppa and a biscuit (cookie) or scone.  But standing out among the other biscuits was this stunning shortbread …. a buttery cookie base with gooey caramel filling, topped with a thick layer of milk chocolate.  Irresistible!!

But now, at least 10 years later, Millionaire’s Shortbread is EVERYWHERE!  From the food counters at M&S, to the bakery cases in the finest patisserie, to handy packages of 2, 4 or 6 pieces at every roadside rest area shop.  But, honestly, even the prepackaged shortbreads were pretty darn good.

How did Millionaire’s Shortbread get it’s name?
Shortbread originated in Scotland around the 12th century as a simple unleavened biscuit (cookie) using just the ingredients available in most homes at that time ….. butter, flour, sugar.   The refinement of this biscuit didn’t occur until Mary Queen of Scots assigned her French chefs to the task.  Only with the addition of more butter, more sugar, a pinch of salt, and formed into different shapes, did this delectable morsel become in demand.  Over time, other ingredients were added, lemon, almonds, ginger, cinnamon.   This version, with its creamy caramel center and thick milk chocolate topping, didn’t appear until the 19th century.  It is said that to be able to afford this decadently RICH biscuit you actually had to be a “Millionaire”.

Of course, I had to try my hand at making it.  I must admit to a couple of fails (overbaked shortbread, burnt caramel, etc.), but the last one turned out exactly how I remembered it.  So, don’t be afraid to make a mistake (or two), it’s well worth the effort in the end.

MILLIONAIRE’S SHORTBREAD 
Shortbread base:
2 sticks butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
2-1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch

Caramel filling:
1/2 cup water
2-1/2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup heavy cream

Chocolate topping:
8 oz. milk chocolate chips
1 teaspoon vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 350°.  Grease and flour, or line with parchment paper a 9″ x 13″ baking pan.  I recommend using parchment paper.  It makes getting the shortbread out of the baking pan much easier.

In one bowl mix together the flour and cornstarch.  In another bowl using a stand or hand mixer, beat the softened butter til creamy.  Add 1/2 cup of sugar to the creamed butter and beat til lemony colored, light and airy.

Using a wooden spoon, slowly add the dry ingredients to the creamed mixture, blending well. The mixture will be very crumbly (short).  Don’t overwork the dough or your cookies will be tough.  Dump the batter into the prepared baking pan and press down with your hands.  Use whatever you happen to have (with a flat bottom) to press the batter down firmly and evenly.

Bake at 350° for 16 to 18 minutes – just until its set and lightly browned.  Take the shortbread out of the oven and let it cool in the pan while you prepare the caramel.

The caramel can be tricky (believe me, I’ve burnt a couple of batches).  The secret is to not stir it, or take your eyes off it, while its boiling away.  A minute will make all the difference.  If you want to use a candy thermometer, then by all means use it.  I didn’t.


Using a heavy, high-sided saucepan pour the sugar into the center of the pan.  Then carefully pour the water around the outside of the sugar.  Try not to get the sugar onto the sides of the pan or it will crystallize.  If this happens, have a pastry brush handy in a cup of water to wash down the sides of the pan.  Do not stir the sugar and water together.  Just let it be.

Using medium heat, bring the sugar and water to a boil – NO STIRRING.  When it boils, reduce the heat to low and let it boil away until its caramel colored.  You can determine how dark you want it … but don’t let it burn.  This will take about 15 minutes.

When it is ready, remove the pan from the heat and drop in 2 tablespoons of butter.  The mixture will immediately boil up.  Using a wooden spoon, quickly stir in the butter.  Now pour in the 1/2 cup of heavy cream.  Again the mixture will bubble up.  Stir it down quickly.  Continue stirring until the caramel has cooled down and thickened.  This will take about 5 minutes.

When it is ready, pour the caramel over the cooled shortbread and place the pan into the refrigerator to let the caramel set.

This is the easiest part … dump a bag of chocolate chips (milk chocolate or semi-sweet, it’s up to you), into a microwave-proof bowl and melt the chocolate.  When its melted, stir in the oil. Quickly pour the warm chocolate over the cooled caramel filling and, with the back of a spatula, smooth out the surface.  Let the chocolate cool completely.

When ready to serve, take the shortbread out of the pan.  If you’ve used parchment paper, you can just lift it up and out.  Using a very sharp knife, cut the shortbread into bars or squares.  It’s up to you!  Stack them up on a plate and keep an eye on them because they’ll disappear right before your eyes.  But, if they don’t, they’ll keep very well in an airtight container.

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