Mum’s cake repertoire was slim.
At one of end of things, there were those heavy fruit cakes stuffed full of dried fruit and spices boiled together; at the other end, her simple butter cakes in three varieties — plain, chocolate or rainbow — and covered with icing.
To be honest, my natural love of cakes is as slim as my mum’s repertoire. But what I do remember is a cake that sat somewhere between these two: it was her sultana cake. There’s something about the blending a good butter cake with the sweetness of plump sultanas: it says ‘afternoon tea’ with such comfort. It did then, and it still does.
Mum’s recipe book, of which I’ve written elsewhere, includes a few recipes for sultana cake. In my quest for the afternoon comfort I remember, I’ve made them all. The best one — and the simplest by far — should really be called sultana and cherry cake given the generous addition of glacé cherries to the batter. To be honest, the cherries make it a bit more fun without any diminishment of comfort.
Like that for an old fashioned pound cake, this cake’s batter has no raising agent. It’s lightness depends on the air that’s beaten into the butter and sugar before the flour is added. However, this cake’s secret is found in not over beating. Be warned: go beyond ‘pale and creamy’ to ‘light and fluffy’ and you’ve gone too far. The fact is, if too much air is beaten into the mixture, the batter wont be strong enough to hold the fruit and it will all sink the bottom. That’s not good.
Here’s what you need
- 300g sultanas
- 200g glacé cherries
- 250g softened butter
- 250g castor sugar
- 4 eggs
- 250g plain flour
Here’s what you do
- Place the sultanas and cherries in a bowl and cover with cold water. Let this sit for 30 minutes or so to plump the sultanas up.
- Preheat the oven to 160c (145c if you have a fan forced oven).
- Grease and line a high-sided baking tray, 20cm by 30cm, with baking paper.
- Cream the butter and sugar in an electric mixer until pale and creamy in consistency. About 4 minutes should do it.
- Add the eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition.
- Drain the sultanas and cherries with a sieve and add to the batter, mixing together well.
- Add the flour a third at a time, folding it gently through the batter.
- Pour the cake batter into the cake tin and smooth over.
- Bake for 45 minutes or until an inserted skewer comes out clean.
- Cool the cake in the tin, then cut into generous squares.
You can add a thin lemon icing if you like. Simply combine the juice of a lemon with a tablespoon of melted butter and sufficient icing sugar to make a thin paste. Drizzle it over the squares and serve.
Of course, they can be tucked into an airtight container and kept for later, but where’s the comfort in that?