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.

Understudies in Nigella’s Chocolate Banana Bread: Introducing Whiskey and Currants

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I know this is a rather strange title for a recipe: this is another one of my cakes that appeared, as it were, from the magic created when the actors of a recipe are not there, one looks for the understudies and BOOM! the result is far better than the original. I say ‘another’ because it isn’t the first time that I’ve improvised with ingredients whilst baking. My baking history is chequered with them, for example the courgette and walnut cake when my cupboard lacked most of the ingredients in and the carrot and pinenut cake that was created when I put baking powder in the wrong bowl of herman…

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The smell of this banana cake, that I conjured up, is of Christmas. No wonder as I used sloe whiskey and currants to substitute the called for dark rum and sultanas, respectively.

Have you ever come across – ? No! Have you ever tasted a banana cake that’s like a Christmas cake? You’ll now start posting recipes in my comments box to tell me of various banana cake recipes that do 🙂 *giggle* I would welcome them.

While I’m asking – do you know what makes a cake into a bread? I don’t know. Why is it that most banana cakes call themselves breads? Is it to do with the loaf tin that they are made in?

mixing egg
So… a confession. I made this cake because I was being made to pack up house, again! Do you remember the previous times that I moved flat and I found myself just having to make two lemon and ginger cheesecakesand bramble jelly? My fellow resident tutors and flat movers, David and Lucy, were really worried about the lengths that I went to avoid putting things away. So now, I’m very aware that I bake to distract myself from the pain of packing boxes; there’s always good reason. This time, I had a hoard of frozen bananas, 12 as it turned out, that needed to be used up. Well, why not strike a compromise with the chore of packing and this golden (brown) opportunity, and try out quick and easy banana bread recipes.

So, I did with Nigella’s and Deb’s (from Smitten Kitchen).

 

According to Nigella (How to be a Domestic Goddess), ‘[T]his is the first recipe anyone hesitant about baking should try: it’s fabulously easy and fills the kitchen with that aromatic fug which is the natural atmospheric setting for the domestic goddess.’Well that sold it to me… as if I needed any convincing. Nevertheless, there are even easier, equally enticing banana cakes out there. Cue: Smitten Kitchen’s Jacked Up Banana Bread. I made her banana bread at the same time that I made Nigella’s and it is just a tad easier to make. I’ll post that recipe later, because this variation of Nigella’s banana bread recipe, with the whiskey and currants, supersedes it in taste, flavour and richness.

 

banana and chocolate cake ingredients

 

Ingredients (and a suggestions box of other substitutes for the dried fruit and liquor at the bottom of this post)

  • 100g currants.
  • 75ml sloe whiskey, or any whiskey
  • 150g plain flour
  • 25g cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 125g unsalted butter, melted
  • 90-100g soft brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 large or 4 small very ripe bananas, mashed (about 300g in weight with the skins off)
  • 60g chopped walnuts
  • 100g dark chocolate, roughly chopped

Method

1. Put your chosen dried fruit and liquor into a small saucepan (I measured the currants and whiskey directly in the saucepan for ease) and bring to the boil. Now, remove from the heat, cover the saucepan and leave for an hour or so, in order that the currants can plump up as they absorb the most of the liquid. After which, Nigella says, to drain the currants. I decided it was a waste of the sloe whiskey, so I ended up adding it all, currants and whiskey, to the cake mix at the appropriate step. I’m rushing ahead of myself here. While the currants are plumping up, move on with the rest of the recipe.

2. Preheat the oven to 170°C/325°F/gas mark 3 and line a 2lb loaf tin. I only have a 1.5 lb loaf tin and it just about manages it.

banana and flour
3. Measure out the plain flour, cocoa powder into a medium sized bowl. Now add in the bicarbonate of soda, baking powder, salt and give them all a good mix with a metal or wooden spoon. This means that you don’t get any lumps of salt, cocoa powder or bicarbonate of soda in the eventual cake.

4. Melt the butter. I’ve used both methods of carefully zapping butter in the microwave (um, careful and zap don’t seem to be natural partners but what other word describes what happens in a microwave?) and melting it in a saucepan. Both work. If you are going to zap it in the microwave, choose a large pyrex bowl that is big enough to make the cake mixture in, as it will save on the washing up later.

stirring butter and sugaradding the banana - looks really yummy!
5. Once melted, add the sugar to the butter and stir well until the sugar is well blended into the butter. It should look almost toffee-like in colour because of the brown sugar. Follow with the eggs. Beat them in, one at a time, to the sugary buttery mixture then add the mashed bananas and beat well.

6. Now add the currants and the remainder of the liquid in the saucepan, along with the walnuts, vanilla extract and the chopped chocolate to the mixture and stir well.

adding the chocolate, nut and fruitadding flour to chocolate banana mixture
7. Add in the flour mix (see 3) but do it a third at time, stirring well after each addition. Once all of the dry mixture is mixed in, add the cake mixture into the loaf tin and bake in the middle of the oven for 1 hour. I check after 40 minutes and if the cake looks like it is browning at the top too quickly, then I cover it with some baking paper to protect the cake from burning. Sometimes the cake takes a little bit longer to bake, so don’t worry if it needs an extra 15-20 minutes in the oven. You’ll know when the cake is done when you insert a cake tester, or I use a sharp knife, into the cake and it comes out clean.

adding flour to chocolate banana mixwet banana and chocolate cake mix_1wet chocolate and banana cake mix_2
8. Leave the cake in the loaf tin to cool down completely, before slicing it up to eat. It does smell absolutely heavenly at the point the cake leaves the oven, but the inside of the cake steams up and collapses if you cut into it when it’s warm. Trust me. I made that mistake last week at Baking Club when we were far too impatient to wait because we were experimenting with various liquors and naturally wanting to taste the different flavours.

Verdict? Scrum-dili-O-cious. Honestly, this version is truly scrumptious and rich in flavour. I’ve made a few variations (listed below) but there is something to be said about how the flavours of whiskey, chocolate and banana complement each other and stand their ground against each other in this cake. You know how I said to leave the cake to cool down completely before cutting into it. I discovered that this cake gets better with age. The chocolate, whiskey and banana mature well together if you can bear to leave it a day or two before eating it and you’ll have a more complex flavour to savour. Leave the cake in an airtight container for at least a week and it won’t dry out… if it lasts that long!

Baking Club came round last Wednesday laden with various liquors. We tried a few out.

  • Banana, Date and Toffee Bread: 100g chopped up dried dates, 75ml of butterscotch schnapps, subsitute half of the soft brown sugar with dark brown sugar. I’d also leave out the 25g of cocoa powder with replace it with plain flour so that the toffee has a chance of coming through.
  • The original Banana and Chocolate Bread: 100g sultanas, 75ml dark rum – this is Nigella’s original recipe. Tastes alright but the whiskey and currants one tastes even better. I might try this one out later without the chocolate and compare it to Smitten Kitchen’s version.
  • Banana, Apricot and Chocolate Bread: 100g chopped up dried apricots, 75ml apricot brandy. – gave this one away before tasting it.

chocolate banana whiskey currant bread
 

An alternative to Christmas cake, perhaps?