Last-Minute Light Christmas Cake


There is a family story about Dundee cake. I took to making Scottish Whisky Dundee Cake for Christmas from Delia Smith’s Christmas book way back when it was first published in 1990 and my kids were still quite small. No one in the family – other than me – likes ‘proper’ Christmas cake: a rich, dark fruit cake that you make weeks ahead to mature and into which you feed brandy at regular intervals. So popular was the Dundee cake, however, that while my son was at university in Manchester, I would sometimes make one to take with me when I went to visit him. My daughter has never let me forget this; that I never made one for her while she was at university. This sibling rivalry has not lessened in impact over the intervening 12 years or more … now my son and daughter’s partners know the Dundee cake story … friends know about it … and even though I’ve reminded my daughter that she didn’t miss out entirely on treats (there definitely were a few!), I can barely say the words ‘Dundee cake’ without impact. Anyway, this year’s cake will be shared round all the family as we celebrate Christmas.

Delia’s book has been sitting on my kitchen worktop for a couple of weeks or so, reminding me that the cake needs to be made. Yesterday I got organised. But as I walked the busy aisles of Richmond’s Waitrose as last-minute Christmas shopping panic set in, I stopped at the baking shelves and considered making a change to the cake recipe. Instead of buying separate packets of sultanas and currants, candied peel and glacé cherries, why not buy that nice all-in-one bag of mixed fruits (Waitrose Sweet & Tangy Fruit Mix) that was looking at me from the dried fruit shelf? Yes I know it sounds a bit lazy, but I don’t bake often – certainly not the Dundee cake much these days! – and thus often end up throwing out ends of packets of all these ingredients. And the mix did sound nice. Not just the ‘usual’ ingredients for the cake (other than the cherries, which I thought we could do without) but also dried cranberries, pineapple and apricots. It sounded good; it sounded Christmasy.


The 500g pack didn’t quite add up to the usual amount of fruit I put in … so it wasn’t really going to be Delia’s Dundee cake. But I was pretty sure it was going to be nice. And just to share the love at Christmas, I made it in my new heart-shaped cake tin …


And also because it’s Christmas, I put in some of my Chivas Regal 12-year whisky rather than the cheaper supermarket brand lurking at the back of a cupboard. The Chivas is a lovely spicy, fruity blended whisky that would be perfect. I tipped the 500g mixed fruit into a bowl and added 3 tablespoons of the whisky, stirred and left for a few hours (or overnight). Then I made the basic cake mix: beat 150g butter with 150g light muscovado sugar until light and fluffy. Sift 225g plain flour with 1 teaspoon baking powder. Then add 3 eggs, one at a time, with just a little of the flour to stop the mix curdling. Beat well and then gently fold (not beat) in the rest of the flour mix. It should be quite a soft mix so if it’s very stiff, add a dessertspoon or two of milk. Now add 2 tablespoons ground almonds and grate in the rind of 1 lemon and 1 tangerine (or small orange).


Fold together carefully and then tip in the whisky-soaked dried fruit and mix.


Then spoon into a prepared cake tin. I normally use a 20cm round cake tin, which should be greased and lined with greaseproof paper. However, my new heart-shaped tin is slightly bigger so I had to cook the mixture for a little less time as it would be a shallower cake.


Decorate with blanched almonds – Dundee cake-style – if you like and then put in a preheated 180C/160 fan oven for about an hour. The original Delia recipe suggests 2-2½ hours but mine has never taken more than 1½ hours. Because my heart-shaped cake wasn’t as deep as usual, I checked after an hour and it was done.


Even though this is a lighter cake than a traditional Christmas cake and can be eaten straight away, it does benefit from a few days’ maturing – and maybe a little feeding of more whisky! – wrapped in greaseproof paper and foil. But I can guarantee that once you cut into it, it will go very quickly!


A very Happy Christmas to you all!!

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A lifelong lover of good food and travel; writer and book editor

11 thoughts on “Last-Minute Light Christmas Cake

  1. I’ve heard of a Dundee cake but have never had one. I can see that I’ve really been missing something good. I made a big fruit cake for just the two of us…none of our friends care for it but I’ll be making a Dundee sometime in the future. I hope you and your family have a wonderful Christmas.

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