Naked Fruit Cake aka Mrs Milne’s Christmas Cake with Pineapple

The naked fruit cake

I never knew that fruit cake could be offensive.  That is, until Kiley, an American friend of mine, explained that in the U.S, there’s this tradition that people tend to ‘re-gift’ fruit cakes because they don’t like fruit cakes.  Hence those receiving the cake are kind of being told, “Here I’ve brought you a cake.  I mean, I don’t like it and someone gave it to me.  I guess you probably won’t like it too but hey, now it’s your problem.  And no, I didn’t like what you got up to at the office party.”  Hence, there’s offence in the giving and receiving of fruit cakes in the States.

The ease with which one can buy pineapples, ready to eat (or bake with!) in Cambodia.  This is at the Russian Market, Phnom Penh

Lining this 8inch cake tin for its looooong bake.

Not so in the UK.  I mean, some Brits really dislike fruit cake and would spit it out.  However, most like to eat fruit cake at any given time, from celebrating marriage with a rich boozy fruited wedding cake covered in marzipan and icing to the everyday cup of tea with a sticky slice of fruited malt loaf.  Shall I even mention Christmas cakes, Easter simnel cakes, Dundee cake..?  My mum used to make a fruited tea loaf which was delicious when toasted and buttered.

Perhaps (if I may venture a guess without causing offence) this clear cultural divide over fruit cake is because the majority of Americans have never experienced a good moist fruit cake?  I can relate!  I never really enjoyed eating fruit cake very much either growing up.  Much like how I didn’t really enjoy mince pies.  Too rich, too sweet, too dry, too much whiskey!  But I tolerated them because they were synonymous with Christmas.  I’d peel off the royal icing, give it to my brother and nibble away at the marzipan (which I loved even as a small child).  Sometimes I picked out the fruit when there was too much of it and the dried fruit was really dry and almost bitter.  Or the alcohol overwhelmed the cake.  But, from time to time, a homemade fruit cake would redeem all the bad ones for me.

Then one day at Mrs Milne’s* house, she gave us a slice of her christmas cake.  Oh it was glorious in it’s moistness, flavour and simplicity.  Not overly sweet.  No royal icing.  No marzipan.  No alcohol in this one either.  Just. a. naked. fruit. cake.  Mrs Milne told us that it was the addition of pineapple that set this cake apart, and I believe her.  Whenever I’ve used pineapples in a cake, they often  impart moisture, rather than pineapple flavour to a cake.

Now, over a decade later, it’s still my go-to fruit cake recipe.  I used it as my marathon training cake this time.  It seemed apt to fuel up on.  I left it a couple of weeks in a sealed container in the fridge while I went on holiday to Penang and 4 weeks on, it was still moist and moreish. I baked it for Christmas for Paul, one of my colleagues, because he’d been hankering after fruit cake for as long as I’d worked with him.  3 months on, he still requests I bake him one, once a fortnight, and then complains that he can’t stop himself devouring it.  He likes royal icing but not marzipan, so that’s how I make it for him.

What I love about this recipe is the lack of planning required.  See, I just can’t be bothered with the whole affair of soaking and feeding the fruit weeks or even days in advance.  I don’t have the fridge space for it and I definitely don’t want to leave it out for the ants, cockroaches and rats now that I live in the tropics.  I can pretty much make this cake from start to finish within 2-3 hours, depending on which cake tin I use.  (more on that below).  And now that I can source almost all of the dried fruit here in Phnom Penh, there’s nothing stopping me making this cake all year round.  I still have difficulty finding mixed citrus peel and currants, but it’s so much better compared to 3 years ago.  You can buy bags of mixed dried fruit in Thai Huot but they look weird with chopped red and green cherries perhaps?  So I came up with my own measurements, based on looking at the proportions of the ingredients of a Sainsburys bag of mixed dried fruit.

Anyway, what’s stopping you.  Go on, I dare you not to like this.

If you do add brandy, or whiskey… Then do tell me what you did.  I’ve never bothered, but I might like to one day.

*Mrs Milne was my singing teacher from when I was 14-18 and one of those wonderful, life-giving, energetic, charismatic, generous Scottish women.  I don’t know where she got this recipe from, so I attribute this recipe to her.

Ingredients for Naked Christmas Cake from Mrs Milne.

  • 7oz/200g plain flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 8oz/225g tin crushed pineapple (drained) or 1 fresh small pineapple, skin and eyes taken off.  One weighs between 250-300g here in Cambodia.
  • 2oz/50g glacé cherries, quartered
  • 5oz/150g butter, cubed and softened
  • 4½oz/125g soft dark brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 12oz/350g mixed fruit or
    • 170g sultanas or golden raisins, as they’re called in Cambodia
    • 68g black raisins
    • 62g currants
    • 50g mixed peel
  • Brandy if required.

Method

  1. Chop up the pineapple* very finely and put it into a medium sized bowl.  I guess you could also blitz it in a food processor for speed, but I don’t have one so it’s a knife and the chopping board for me.  *If using tinned pineapple, drain the crushed pineapple first before putting it in the bowl.
  2. Measure out the dried fruit and add them to the pineapple.  If you’re going to add brandy, then add it in now.  Give it all a good stir so that they mix well.  Leave it as you get on with the rest of preparation.  As the dried fruit sits with the pineapple, they’ll get a chance to plump up as they soak in the liquid.
  3. Preheat the oven to 160ºC/320ºF/Gas Mark 2½.  Prepare your cake tin.  Because of the long baking time, I wrapped the outside of my baking tin with newspaper, tied it up with some string.  I also lined the bottom and sides of my cake tin as well.
  4. Measure out the flour in a medium sized bowl and add the chopped glacé cherries to the flour and coat them in flour.  This helps the cherries not to all sink to the bottom of the cake.
  5. Cream together the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl.  I use a hand mixer on high speed for about 5 minutes.  Next beat in the eggs one by one.  Then lower the speed and mix in the flour with the cherries.  Finally, add the fruit.  You can continue with the hand mixer, or using a spatula, fold in the fruit or give it a good stir.  Whichever way you choose, make sure it’s evenly mixed in.
  6. Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin and level the top with the back of metal spoon or the spatula.  Then pop it in the middle shelf of the oven and bake… I do recommend checking on the cake to make sure it doesn’t burn on top.  I’ve put suggested timings below according to cake tin sizes.

I have used various sized cake tins to make this and of course the baking time differs.

  • 8 or 7 inch tin = 1hour 45mins.  Check on it at 1 hour 15mins
  • split the mixture into two 6inch tin = 1 h – 1h 15mins.  Check on it at 45 mins
  • split the mixture into two 2lb loaf tins = 45mins-1hour.  Check on it at 40 mins.

My colleague, Paul, wanted it with royal icing but without the marzipan. So, this is what he got.

Kat’s mum’s apple cake

Apple cake baked in Phnom Penh
The apple cake that I baked living at Simon and Becci’s in Phnom Penh

I recently found out that these apples are really tasty and cheap, compared to the other varieties of imported apples that they sell here.  So, when I woke up, I realised that the one thing that I really wanted to do today was to bake Kat’s mum’s apple cake.

applesapples slices 2
Remember how I confessed to being a baking addict?  Since moving to Cambodia, I’ve limited myself to baking once a week and I think that’s as far as my baking addiction allows me to go before I get my next fix.

That need fuelled my first ever visit to a fruit stall in the Russian market, where I bought 8 pomme for 8400 riel (the equivalent of $3.50).    I may have overpaid for my apples: I haven’t learned yet how to bargain for food in the market.  But, I didn’t mind paying a bit extra if if meant that I could bake.  However, I wasn’t quite prepared to pay $3 for 250g of palm sugar (the only raw sugar they had available), when what I really wanted was demerara sugar.  Let’s bake together at a later date, palm sugar.  I think that you’ll be delightful in a cookie.

This apple cake goes down in my baking history as the third ever cake I made on my own.  I was 21 at the time.  Kat’s mum baked this apple cake for us when Kat invited a few friends to her Devonshire home for a holiday during our final year at university. The cake tasted wholesomely delicious and I found myself asking Kat’s mum for the recipe. I was no baker in those days so what convinced me to attempt making this cake was her reassurance that the recipe was really simple.

And it was.  Once it entered into my baking repertoire, it was then pretty much the only cake that I baked for the next 2 years.

I told you that I came late into this baking thing later than most foodies.

apple peel

The only step that requires a bit of time is peeling, coring and chopping the apples and this time, Simon and Becci did that bit for me this time round.  Hurrah for happy helpers.  But once you’ve done that, you can pretty much throw the ingredients altogether, mix it around with your hands and pop it into the oven.  There’s no faffing with trying to make it look pretty: part of the charm of baking this cake is that is meant to look rustic.  I’ve made it before when I’ve reserved a few choice apple pieces to make it look prettier, but the detail got lost underneath the topping of sugar and ground cinnamon.  You can also use a loaf tin or a round tin, as you can see from my photos.

Since being here and discovering how expensive it is to bake with butter (the cheapest i’ve found is $3.50 for 227g) I reverted back to using margarine.  The cake tastes better, I think, if you make it with margarine rather than butter.

You can also use any apples.  I really like using cooking apples because of their tartness and size, but it doesn’t seem to matter.

Ingredients for Kat’s mum’s apple cake

  • 8oz/225g self-raising flour
  • 4oz/110g margarine
  • 4oz/110g granulated sugar, preferably golden but it can be white
  • 3 or 4 cooking apples, peeled, cored and sliced into 1-2cm slices.
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • a splash of milk

Cake topping – adapt the measures according to taste.

  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp demerara sugar

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/gas mark 6.  Grease and line either a 2lb loaf tin or a cake tin, that is deepish and anything between 8-10 inches.
2. Prepare the topping first for ease because your hands will be gloopy by step 5.  In a small bowl, mix together the demerara sugar and cinnamon.
3. Peel, core and chop the apples and put them into a large mixing bowl.
4. In a medium sized mixing bowl, rub together the flour, butter and sugar until they resemble crumbs.  Add this crumbly mixture to the apples.

until the mixture resembles crumbsmixing the apple cake 2throw the cake mixture into the tin

5. Add in the eggs and a splash of milk.  Mix it around with your hands so that it all combines into a gloopy mess.
6. Sprinkle the demerara sugar and cinnamon mix on top of the cake.

Trying to make it pretty apple cake
you can prettify it if you want

7. Pop into the middle of the oven and bake for about 1 hour.  Check after 40 minutes.  If the top of the cake is browning too much  then cover the top with foil.  The cake is ready when a tester comes out clean.
8. Let it cool down and rest before taking it out of the tin.

trying to make it pretty baked apple cake
but the cinnamon/sugar topping negates the efforts

Enjoy while it’s still warm if you can.  I think that it’s worth pointing out, that with this cake you get one portion of your fruit and veg allowance, only if you eat a quarter of the cake.