Monday, May 11, 2009

Traditional British Food, Part 3: As Nutty as a Fruitcake?

Yes, Lincolnshire Plum Bread looks like fruitcake, but it's not. Not quite. According to Merriam-Webster, a fruitcake is "a rich cake containing nuts, dried or candied fruits, and spices." Lincolnshire Plum Bread has the dried fruits and the spices, but no nuts. Also, thankfully, the fruit is of the dried, not candied, kind. Of course, the Oxford English Dictionary simply states that a fruitcake is "a cake containing fruit." The whole time I was in school, we were never allowed to define a word using that particular word. Shame on the OED for being so unhelpful.

Suffice it to say, Lincolnshire Plum Bread may be fruitcake, but it's so much better. It's gooey and buttery and has a nice hint of spice. In fact, if you make it, "through a mouthful of fruit cake" you may be "congratulated...crumbily." (This quote was given under the OED fruitcake definition. Evidently, it's from an out-of-print novel from 1967 by one Jeremy Potter entitled Foul Play. From what I can find out, it's not the same Foul Play as the movie.)

Lincolnshire Plum Bread

I've adapted this recipe from Jane Grigson's British Cookery, which, unfortunately, seems to be out of print. I'm looking forward to cooking a lot of recipes from it, though, and will share them here. I did a bit of internet research and found this video, an interview with a baker in Lincolnshire, and learned that "plum" used to refer to any dried fruit. There are no plums in Jane Grigson's recipe (which differs very much from Pete Welbourne's), but there are dried plums--that's "prunes" to you and me. If you can't find dried currants (I got mine at the local health-food store), use raisins instead. They taste a lot alike.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon mixed spice*
1/2 cup butter (one stick)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon molasses (haven't ordered black treacle yet)
2 eggs
1 tablespoon brandy or cognac
1 cup (1/4 lb) pitted prunes
3/4 cup (1/4 lb) dried currants
3/4 cup (1/4 lb) golden raisins (sultanas)

  • Preheat oven to 250 degrees fahrenheit.
  • Put prunes into a bowl and cover them with hot (almost boiling) water
  • In a medium-sized mixing bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and mixed spice. (I just place a large sieve over the top of the mixing bowl.)
  • In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugars, then beat in the molasses, eggs, and brandy.
  • Gradually mix in the dry ingredients.
  • Add the currants and golden raisins then use a pair of kitchen shears to snip the prunes into strips into the mixing bowl. (Discard the prune soaking water. You don't have to worry about drying off the prunes, though.) Fold in the fruit.
  • Line an 8 1/2"x 4 1/2"x 2 1/2" loaf pan with parchment paper. Spoon the batter into the pan.
  • Bake 2 to 2 1/2 hours, or until a cake tester comes out clean. My cake only took 2 hours, so be sure to check.
  • Cool the cake in its pan and then turn out and store (wrapped in the parchment) in an airtight container (I used a gallon-sized plastic bag) with an apple. This will supposedly keep the cake moist. I haven't tried it without the apple.
  • Wait a day or two and then enjoy.

*To make 1/4 cup of mixed spice (from this recipe), combine the following spices (all ground):
2 teaspoons allspice
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons cloves
2 teaspoons nutmeg
2 teaspoons ginger
1 teaspoon cardamom
1 teaspoon coriander

I also like to buy spices from the health-food store because I can buy them in just the quantities I need, so I don't have to worry about them going stale before I get to them and just having to throw the rest out.

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