Welcome to Blackbird Pie, the Tank & Ferry Test Kitchen and a place to investigate some culinary delights from another era. I'll be baking (and eating) and sharing my exploits and invite you to join me. If nothing else, it's going to be yummy, but also I hope to gain an insight into food and cooking from the era of The Liberty & Property Legends, wherever that journey may take me. I suspect it won't be too far from realizing a wonderful legacy of nourishing home and hearth cuisine and perennial favorites. And it may even take me to some entirely unexpected destinations...



Sunday, December 11, 2011

Prune Cake




                          "... if you or your dear ones don't fancy traditional Christmas cake  
                          or would like a change, roll out some smooth white fondant over 
                          the top of the toffee icing and crown this spicy fruit and nut cake
                          with a festive topping..."


 While prunes tend to get a bad wrap from time to time, once you've tried this traditional prune cake recipe you'll be convinced that not only have prunes been a desirable source of nutrition for a very long time, but they also make a delicious cake.


If you've opened up to this and thought, "Prune cake?" and "Is that the best she can put up?" perhaps we should address the name of the cake... in essence, this is a spicy fruit and nut cake. Now, doesn't that sound better? Rich with cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice, dotted with mixed nuts (your choice) for crunch, hearty with eggs, butter and flour and that secret magic ingredient sour cream, it's delish and satisfying. And the icing, a toffee and nut confection... well, let's just say it very nearly didn't make it to the top of the cake... yum!
      So, you'll need a couple of large mixing bowls; this is a big cake, quite thick in texture. Wet and dry ingredients prepared separately and then combined.
      I preheated my fanforced oven to moderate... 160 C, but you could go lower and cook the cake slower, I think. Grease or line your cake pan. I used an 8 in (20 cm) pan.
      What you'll need for this spicy fruit and nut cake:-

For the wet ingredients:
1 cup of sugar
3/4 cup of butter
3 eggs
4 tablespoons of sour cream
1 cup of chopped prunes
4 tablespoons of prune juice

For the dry ingredients:
1 teaspoon of bicarb of soda
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of allspice
1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg
2 cups of flour
1/2 cup of chopped nuts

So, cream together sugar and butter, and then add the eggs and beat these in. Add the sour cream, the chopped prunes and the prune juice. Give it a mix. 
      How hard was that then? Well, if your butter isn't room temperature, it will be a chore, so keep chilled butter for your shortbread pastry. Also, the sour cream looks clumpy when you mix it in, but don't worry about that because it all works out in the end. As for the prunes, well, there'll be a few left from the packet for tossing in your mouth while you mix. A health bonus, you might say. And prune juice is vitality itself. If I haven't convinced you yet, well maybe you're a hard case and won't ever touch a prune. More's the pity.
      Okay, on with the cake batter...

Sift the dry ingredients together into a bowl. Well, you can't sift the nuts, so sift all the others and then fold in the chopped nuts when you combine the wet and dry ingredients. You could sift the dry ingredients directly into the prune mixture... I just like keeping things a little separate in case I make a mistake and have to start again.
     I chose walnuts and almonds this time, but you could use whatever combination you fancy. The walnuts certainly go well with the spices, as would pecans for instance.
     Once all the ingredients are in your large bowl and getting to know one another, emitting a pleasing and spicy aroma, and the batter is becoming thick and fulsome beneath the wand work of your wooden spoon, you will realise what a great recipe this is turning out to be. Then when all are combined, spoon into your prepared cake tin and smooth out.
     Bake in moderate oven for 45 minutes, but do use a scewer to test doneness because it is a thick mixture.
     As thick a mixture as it is, as moist a cake as it makes, it still has a lightness to it.
     It is even better the next day (all cakes are in my opinion, except for gluten-free cakes). That's if it will last till the morrow.
  
     I let my prune cake cool in the cake pan for five or so minutes before I could wait no longer to turn it out.

     Now to frost this baby... this was a new way of creating icing for me, so I was completely fascinated by the process.

    Cook: 1 cup of sugar, 1 egg, 1/2 cup of sour cream, and 1/2 cup of chopped nuts in a small saucepan until all the sugar has melted and it starts to resemble soft toffee.   

Stir it well often, and don't go leaving it alone for too long while you attend to something else.  You'll know when it's done because apart from the fact that it looks and smells like soft nutty toffee, you'll have been taste testing it and wondering whether to bother icing the cake with it and resisting the temptation to eat it straight out of the pan... once you've got past this stage you're thinking 'I get to put this on prune cake, oh yum'. 
     The cake and the icing take quite some time to cool.

     Smooth that frosting over your prune cake (while beating back little fingers, and not so little, doing a good imitation of Winnie the Pooh and a jar of honey).

I sprinkled some almonds on top of mine, but you know what... if you or your dear ones don't fancy traditional Christmas cake or would like a change, roll out some smooth white fondant over the top of the toffee icing and crown this spicy fruit and nut cake with a festive topping, decorating with silver or gold cachous, or marzipan/candied fruits or whatever you usually like to adorn your Christmas cake.

This is an old-fashioned cake. It tastes amazing. The best part for me was that I could not help but feel a wondrous connection to that other time, and saw my sweet spicy fruit and nut Prune Cake sitting on Sheriff Cliff Ryan's kitchen table, waiting for him to slice a generous piece and tuck in. The grateful citizen who made it for him knew it would nourish, sustain and uplift him, and show him how much he was appreciated. Only fiction, you say... maybe, but in that moment of reflection and wonder, the cake and its sense of history were very real.

Post Script: This was such a hit with my family, I'll be baking it again for Christmas, this time testing out the recipe with gluten-free flour.

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