This recipe for Rich Christmas Cake is from Nana Ling's newspaper clipping collection and is dated November 1942.
She'd taken this recipe from the pages of her local paper, The Maitland Mercury.
Like many recipes in her collection, this one tells a bigger story. It takes us on a little journey back to a time when Christmas cooking may have been a welcome distraction from a world that was at war.
Christmas 1942 Recipe Competition
As Christmas drew near in 1942, World War II was entering its fourth year. Enemy submarines had come a little too close for comfort to our cities of Sydney and Newcastle mid-year and at the start of the year Darwin had been attacked by air.
I'm sure fear must have lingered heavy in the air as Christmas attempted to weave its usual magic.
However, Christmas was still a time to celebrate – provided the celebrations were in accordance with the "austerity plan."
This recipe is part of a section of recipes that had been sent in by readers entering the paper's weekly recipe competition. The introduction to the recipe competition gives us a taste of Christmas 1942-style. Readers are asked to send in recipes with "economy" as the watchword as "needless extravagance will hinder the war effort."
A Rich Fruit Cake (on a wartime budget)
There were many economical but lovely recipes on this page that Nana Ling tore from the paper nearly 80 years ago. But one in particular was intriguing.
It was described as "cheap but rich" and had one ingredient I'd never heard of before: "browning".
Luckily, the reader who'd sent this one in – Mrs Fielding of East Greta – had included instructions for making browning. It turns out to be a burnt sugar mixture that was quite simple to make. And, yes I think it makes a big contribution to the richness of the cake.
While I say it's simple to make, it is something you need to take care with as you are creating a very hot sugar mix and it will burn quickly (and burn you if you don't take care).
I'm not really sure that this recipe is much cheaper than your average Christmas Cake, though there wasn't any alcohol listed in the ingredients. (Though I've sneakily added it as an option here to feed the cake when it first comes out of the oven).
It also lists "mixed fruit" as an ingredient rather than getting specific with certain amounts of types of dried fruit. So you can just use up whatever you have on hand like I did. Remember, "economy" is the watchword here!
Nana Ling's original recipe (from Mrs Fielding of East Greta)
So, here it is. Another recipe clipping from Nana Ling's collection.
Keep scrolling for the recipe card which contains the tested and tweaked version of this "Cheap but Rich" Christmas Cake.
"Cheap but Rich" Christmas Cake
- 1 cup butter (250 grams)
- 1 cup caster sugar
- 2 ½ cups plain flour (all-purpose flour)
- ¼ cup plain flour
(extra for flouring fruit)
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon mixed spice
- 4 eggs
- 680 grams mixed fruit
- 100 grams glace cherries, halved
- ¼ cup blanched almonds, chopped
- 1 cup browning
- ¼ cup rum, brandy or whisky (optional - not included in original recipe)
- ½ cup caster sugar
- boiling water
- Pre-heat oven to slow (155 degrees celsius, fan-forced).
- Prepare a round cake tin (approx 25cm in diameter) by greasing and double lining with baking paper.
- To make browning, heat the sugar over medium heat until it melts and turns a dark brown colour. Carefully add boiling water (take care as sugar mixture will be extremely hot) and mix together until you have one cup of liquid.
- Cream butter and sugar on med-high speed in a stand mixer.
- Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition.
- Sift flour, baking powder and mixed spice. Fold into mixture gradually and alternately with the browning.
- Add extra flour to fruit, using your hands to mix and coat the fruit in flour.
- Add fruit, cherries and almonds to the mixture and stir to combine.
- Bake in a slow oven for an hour and a half or until a dark golden brown colour and a skewer inserted comes out clean.
- Remove from oven and, if desired, spoon the alcohol over the top of the cake.
- Cover with foil and wrap in a clean tea towel. Allow to cool completely before cutting.