With it being the summer holidays, the girls and I have done lots of picnics on our days out and this cake is excellent for picnics. It’s easy to make, is very moist, lasts for ages and is absolutely delicious. In fact Mr OC loves it so much he moans with joy when eating it!
I have adapted it from Jill Brand’s version in Best-kept Secrets of the Women’s Institute Cakes and Biscuits (ISBN 0 74322 111 7) and reading through her introduction for this cake now she also says it’s ideal for picnics, so I must be right. Jill uses half and half wholemeal plain flour and self-raising flour. I use half spelt flour, half plain flour and two teaspoons of baking powder instead. The spelt flour gives it a lovely nutty flavour and texture.
Because I am lucky enough to have an Aga I make this cake in the evening and then leave it to cook slowly in the simmering oven all night and then check with a skewer when I get up and if I think it needs it I bake it for about 10 mins in the baking oven just to finish it off. It is deliciously moist this way and has the added bonus of filling the house with the scent of fruit cake with a generous dollop of mixed spice all night. But I have also cooked it the normal way and the way I will tell you about in the method below and it is almost as delicious.
For the mixed fruit I use whatever I have in the house, but it normally includes equal measures of raisins, sultanas and cranberries. I have tried dates but I didn’t chop them finely enough and I found them a bit mealy.
450g (1lb) mixed dried fruit
200g (8oz) caster sugar
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
100g (4oz) butter
200ml (7 floz) water
100g (4oz) spelt flour
100g (4oz) plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp ground mixed spice
50g (2oz) glace cherries, chopped
Preheat the oven to 160°c (gas mark 3) and line the base and sides of a 18 cm round cake tin.
In a large pan place the mixed fruit, sugar, butter, bicarbonate of soda and the water and bring to the boil. Simmer for 10 minutes and then take off the heat and cool for 15 minutes.
Beat in the eggs. Sieve the flours, baking powder and mixed spice into the bowl. I add the cherries to the flour so that they get a good covering of flour in the process and this helps to stop them sinking to the bottom of the cake when cooking. Add the cherries and mix well.
Pour the mixture into the tin and either cook in an Aga in the way described in the introduction or in the preheated oven for 1¾ – 2 hours until a skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tin for 15 minutes and then turn out onto a wire rack and leave to cool completely.
Quite a lot has been happening in this household lately and I felt in need of some serious comfort and restorative baking. These biscuits are an adaptation of my chocolate, oat and almond cookies that I posted some time ago. This time spelt flour comes into play and gives the biscuit a delicious crumb.
My eldest is now off from school for the summer and so we baked these together, the three of us, piled up at the worktop. I was very happy indeed when she shouted “Yippee, this is fun, and I am not at school this time”. A reference, I have no doubt, to the fact that since she started school she usually comes home to something that her younger sister and I have baked together, but the three of us haven’t had much time in the kitchen together lately.
Making these biscuits went a little way to righting that wrong.
Makes about 12 large biscuits.
100g softened butter
100g soft brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
75g plain flour
50g spelt flour
50g ground almonds
25g cocoa powder
2 tsp baking powder
100g good quality dark chocolate, chopped into chunks
Preheat the oven to 180°c, gas mark 4, or use the baking oven of a three or four oven Aga.
Beat the butter and sugar together until fluffy and light. Add the egg and the vanilla extract and beat well. With a large metal spoon stir in the flours, baking powder, almonds and cocoa powder.
Place heaped dessertspoonfuls of the mixture onto lightly greased baking sheets and cook in the centre of the oven for 12-14 minutes. Take out of the oven and leave to cool for a minute or two before lifting onto a wire tray. They are delicious eaten still warm from the oven but they taste good the next day too, should you have any left.