“Where’s Grannie, Matt?” his father asked. “In the back parlor wi’ Grandda and a lady and a man,” Matthew replied promptly. “They’ve had two pots of coffee, a tray of scones, and a whole Dundee cake, but Mama says they’re hangin’ on in hopes of bein ’ fed dinner, too, and good luck to them because it’s only brose and a bit o’ hough today, and damned— oop!”—he pressed a hand over his mouth, glancing guiltily at his father—“ and drat if she’ll gie them any of the gooseberry tart, no matter how long they stay.”
Young Jamie gave his son a narrow look, then glanced quizzically at his sister.
“A lady and a man?”
Janet made a faint moue of distaste.
“The Grizzler and her brother,” she said.
Diana Gabaldon, Drums of Autumn (Chapter 34 – Lallybroch)
Dundee Cake originated in 19th C Scotland, and was originally a mass-produced cake made by the Keiller Marmalade Company.
So how did it come to be at Lallybroch in the 18th C?
Well, there’s a bit of a story behind that, ye see…
Fruit cakes have been around for centuries. The earliest recipe from ancient Rome lists pomegranate seeds, pine nuts, and raisins all mixed into a barley mash. By the Middle Ages, honey, spices, and preserved fruits had been added to the mix.
Fruit cake proliferated across Europe over the centuries, and when sugar imported from the American Colonies arrived in quantity, candied fruit became more affordable and the popularity of fruit cakes surged.
Meanwhile, in Scotland, a popular story claims that Mary Queen of Scots did not like glace cherries in her fruit cake, so one was made for her that used blanched almonds instead.
Which brings us back to our 19th C Dundee Cake, consumed in an 18th C parlor, while a 20th C woman stands nearby.
Obviously, there’s a time-traveling explanation for it all. Claire must have seen a few of these traditional, almond-studded Scottish fruit cakes during her visits to Lallybroch in Outlander and Dragonfly in Amber, and referred to them as Dundee Cakes. And while Jamie, Ian and Jenny had never heard them called them that before, the fact is that Claire was saying a whole lot of other strange things, and the whole “Dundee” reference probably just got absorbed into the Fraser/Murray lexicon without further puzzlement.
That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it like candied peel.
Most recipes I’ve come across would agree that to make it a true Dundee Cake, the specimen in question should contain almonds, whisky and orange peel — which connects it to Dundee and Keiller’s Marmalade. Most recipes also include raisins, currants and/or sultanas, as well as the once-forbidden glace cherries.
I’m with Queen Mary on this one. I don’t know what glace cherries are, but to my taste, I question their definition as food. If you like them, then go for it! The makeup of my cake was totally dependent upon the dried fruits I found in the pantry, and the combination turned out to be very good. I’ve included my selections in the notes under the recipe.
Candied peel is another common ingredient in most Dundee Cakes, but for me, the store-bought stuff ranks right up there with glace cherries. Instead, I made my own using this easy recipe.
I also included a couple of spoonfuls of marmalade. It’s full of rich flavour, and adds a delicate bitterness – a flavour not as popular as it once was, but one, I believe, that is much missed by our tastebuds.
After all, you can’t have good without evil, and sugar never tastes as sweet without a bitter counterpart.
Here in Canada, a fruit cake is also known as Christmas Cake. This version from Dundee is a little bit drier than the average fruit cake you would find around here at this time of year, but that’s not a bad thing. The crumb is still moist, it’s just not sodden. And while the batter is flavoured with a bit of whisky, it’s not going to keep you from driving home after indulging. (If you’ve ever had a slice of brandy-soaked cake at the end of a family gathering, you know what I’m talking about.)
This cake doesn’t require weeks of resting, but it is best baked, cooled, then wrapped for 3 days before serving. This gives the flavours time to mingle and develop healthy relationships with each other. And Christmas is all about the love, am I right?
(Click on the title below for a printable version of the recipe.)
: A traditional Scottish fruitcake originally from, you guessed it, Dundee. Made festive with dried fruit, marmalade and whisky, and festooned with almonds.
Yield: 8” Cake
- All-Purpose Flour – 1½ Cups
- Baking Powder – 2 tsp
- Cinnamon – 1 tsp
- Ground Ginger – 1 tsp
- Cloves – pinch
- Butter, room temperature – ⅔ Cup (5.25 oz)
- Brown Sugar – ⅔ Cup
- Eggs, large – 3
- Orange Marmalade – 2 Tble
- Whisky – 2 Tble
- Dried Fruit, larger pieces chopped (raisins, sultanas, currants, apricots, glace cherries, etc) (see notes) – 1 lb
- Candied Citrus Peel, chopped – 1 Cup
- Whole Blanched Almonds – 1 Cup
Butter bottom and edges of an 8” springform pan and line bottom with parchment (see notes).
Move rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 300°F.
Sift together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ground ginger and cloves. Stir gently.
Cream together butter and brown sugar in a stand mixer or in a large bowl using a handheld mixer. When light and fluffy, beat in one egg, then beat in a third of the flour, ensuring everything is well combined between additions. Repeat until all eggs and flour are incorporated. Beat in the whisky and marmalade.
Gently fold in dried fruit and candied peel and ensure fruit is distributed evenly.
Spoon mixture into prepared cake tin and carefully level surface. Decorate by laying almonds on top of batter in concentric circles. Do not push almonds into batter.
Bake until a deep golden brown, about 2 hours. Cool completely in pan set on a wire rack.
Remove from pan and store in sealed cake tin. Tastes best when allowed to mature in tin for 2 to 3 days before serving. Once cut, consume within 3 days.
Ith do leòr! (Eat Plenty)
- My 8” springform pan is missing. Instead, I used a regular cake pan, and lined the edge with a 4” wide piece of parchment secured with tape. This cake will rise above the top of a regular cake pan, but the parchment keeps everything intact. A great option to avoid buying yet another pan.
- Single malts are not necessary for baking. I used Dewar’s White Label. Avoid using a smoky whisky, and if you prefer use brandy instead.
- I used a combination of dried cranberries, sultanas, apricots and dates in my cake, mostly because that’s what I had in my cupboard. I also think that dried pears would be fantastic.
- I must have a bit of Queen Mary in me, because glace cherries have always kind of freaked me out. Same with store-bought candied peel. I used this recipe to easily make my own peel the day before I made this cake. (And the resulting leftover citrus simple syrup makes the BEST Whisky Sours.)