winter solstice cake with pineapple
Today I approached my kitchen in an entirely new way.
First, I tried to remove as much stray cat hair as possible clinging to my clothes.
Then, I tied back my wayward hair.
I even put on an apron (I own an apron? Well it was a giveaway with a magazine or something).
My hands were washed, the table and bench top wiped.
I got out all the ingredients ahead of time.
It was like the totally organised, Virgo part of me was invited to a party and the rest of me came along for the ride.
After two days marinating of copious amounts of dried fruit in the largest bowl I could find, today was D-Day. Cake wise that is. Barring any catastrophe, I would make a solstice cake.
I was sure there would be far too much fruit. No way would the completed mix ever fit into the cake tin. I even got out the tape measure to see if the largest tin really was 9 inches (in old money). I had contingencies, the muffin tin at hand if there was any leftover but despite all odds the quantities were perfect. Imagine that, when you follow the recipe it all worked out in the end.
I improved a little on the spices, threw in a random ingredient and even blanched my own almonds.
And now I sit, being tortured by the most exquisite aroma of a cake cooking for at least another 3 hours.
So I typed two weekends ago. I had so much fun “acting into” the role. Really, it took me back to my acting days.
My mother, the daughter of a baker, spent her teens icing cakes and slices and other sundry kitchen handing. I grew up knocking out sweet treats under her tutelage. But in my post-non-dairy, health conscious years the ritual of the cake is all but lost on me. My mum is on the decline these days; she doesn’t cook let alone bake. The last time I made Alison Holst’s Pineapple Christmas Cake I was still at school, my mother buzzed about the kitchen lending a hand yet still made me feel like it was her creation. This drive to bake a solstice cake has been a very personal one – part pagan and part nostalgia. I’ve been slow on the uptake about this but I have realised making any kind of food from my childhood has become a way of reconnecting with the happy memories I have of being mothered, in the kitchen where she reluctantly spent most of her time.
So a confession. I don’t really like fruit cake, though the Significant Eater goes wild about it. The making of the cake was about the process for me – I don’t give a hoot about the outcome but I promise before the event is up I will have the critics road test it for us all. With such good quality ingredients (organic butter, flour and eggs, dried fruit not preserved with additives, I know you would expect nothing less from me!) it would be really difficult for anyone to mess it up.
Another joy about baking a cake that I had forgotten about was the child like pleasure gained from licking the beaters and the bowl before cleaning up. I certainly know that got my taste buds excited.
As you may have guessed, I had to make a few tweaks to the original recipe. Firstly if you want a temperance cake, omit the rum and brandy and just soak the fruit in the pineapple and its juices. The original recipe doesn’t macerate at all but I think it is always a good idea to rehydrate the fruit. The real deal also uses 1/2 tsp of almond essence and a 1/4 tsp of ground nutmeg. The former is too synthetic for my liking and the later; well I just got swept away by the smell of mixed spice instead.
I have always wondered why my fruitcakes are blondes while others knock out to brunette til I came across the SE’s mother’s recipe that calls for something called Parisienne Essence. Basically this little concoction of chemicals is used to make gravy darker and other such things. As much as I liked the idea of a lush, dark battered cake I wasn’t going to use some fake browning agent. My solution was to use 1 tablespoon of cocoa. I didn’t want this to be a chocolate cake so figured that a tablespoon would make the colour slightly richer (along with brown rather than white sugar). Though have to admit my choice of rum, not my favourite brown distillation brandy, was a tribute to rum and raisin dark chocolate. It could have been worse, I seriously considered Malibu as a companion to the pineapple for a number of days!
Stay tuned for the updates on taste, appearance and texture.
Have you started your solstice cake yet? Get cracking as you have til the 25th June to submit it.
Pineapple Solstice Cake
1.5 kg mixed, dried fruit* (sultanas, diced dried apricots, currants etc)
1 cup crushed pineapple
200 ml dark rum
225 g (8oz) butter
1 cup brown sugar
3 teaspoons mixed spice (or 1 tsp each mixed spice, cinnamon and ginger)
1 tablespoon cocoa
6 large eggs
3 cups flour
blanched almonds – to decorate
1/4 cup of brandy
Soak the dried fruit, pineapple and rum in a large bowl for 1-2 days. Keep covered but stir occasionally. In the cooler months it is fine to leave it macerating at room temperature.
Preheat your oven to 150 c (or 130 if using a fan forced oven). Line a 23 cm (9inch) cake tin with a double layer of paper. You can use newspaper or brown paper on the bottom and a layer of baking paper on top.
Cream butter and sugar until light and creamy. Add spices and cocoa and give it another whirr with the beaters. Add eggs separately (it is a good idea to crack them as needed into a small bowl, to make sure you don’t wreck the cake with a dud egg or a bit of shell). Between each egg add a little of the sifted flour if there is any sign of curdling.
Stir in the macerated fruit mixture and slowly add the rest of the flour. Use a wooden spoon and a lot of muscle to as you work the mixture. Make a wish as you stir away (mine was for better muscle tone). Add a little extra flour if needed, you are aiming for a moist batter that will "drop from the hand" (so said the recipe I slavishly wrote in my best hand writing as a teenager). It just means that it batter shouldn't be so wet it sticks to your fingers. Once you have reached the required consistency, dollop the mixture into the lined cake tin, pushing it well into the corners. If you are not going to go the whole hog and do the marzipan icing, then decorate the top of the cake with blanched almonds.
Bake at 150c for 2 hours, then at 130c for a further 1.5 – 2 hours. You know it is cooked when the skewer comes out clean.
While still warm (the recipe stated to do it in the first 5 minutes) pour over the brandy, if you like a slightly tipsy fruit cake, it is Solstice after all. When cool enough to handle, take the cake out of the tin and cool on a wire rack.
Once fully cooled store in an airtight container. For a Christmas cake I noted to make it in October. We also lovingly 'fed' the cake with a tablespoon of brandy sprinkled over the top every week. I've never been a fan of glace fruit or marzipan as I feel so much fruit and sugar is sweet enough. But don't hesitate to make this cake your own by honouring it with your own family traditions.
* For this cake I used sulphur free dried fruit – 750 g sultanas, 500 g diced dried apricots and 250 g currants.