Dundee Cake

Dundee Cake


This recipe is fabulous (she says modestly) – and this recommendation is coming from an until-recently Dundee-Cake-Disliker (DCD for short). The crust is crisp but delicately thin, the insides delicately moist and buttery, rich with the sweetness of sultanas and the tang of candied orange peel.

The modern Dundee Cake has an iconic appearance, in that the carefully laid-out pattern of whole, blanched almonds immediately distinguishes it from other fruit cakes. For many years I’ve been a DCD, based on the Dundee Cakes I’d been served as a child: dry, crumbly, tasteless, overly-fruited  masses with burnt nuts on the top and, horror of horrors, glacé cherries *shudders* studding their depths.

After a bit of digging around in the cake history books, it turns out that the Dundee Cake known today is quite a few steps removed from the original. So I had high hopes that with a little experimentation I could, as with other recipes I’ve managed to rehabilitate from childhood dislikes, bring Dundee Cake back to its former glory and once again make it a teatime favourite.

Dundee Cake was first made by the Dundee-based Keiller company, as an off-season sideline to their marmalade business, as a way of using up excess peel generated by the marmalade manufacturing process. By gentleman’s agreement, no other bakers in the city made the cake. Keiller’s were also responsible for popularising their creation under the name Dundee Cake, described by Alan Davidson in the Oxford Companion to Food as light, buttery delicacy stuffed with sultanas, almonds and candied orange peel.

Quite when the cake was first made is a bit of a mystery, but it is mentioned in stories and novels of the mid-nineteenth century. An 1853 edition of The Lancet carries an advertisement for a Regent Street caterer, which includes Dundee Cake in its list of available cakes. This recipe is based on Madam Marie de Joncourt’s 1882 recipe, but tweaked to conform to the description of the original delicate and rich cake: more butter, almonds, sultanas and peel, no currants, no almonds on top. I’ve left off the distinguishing almonds, because they’re not mentioned in the original recipe, but you can make your own decision on that.

Dundee Cake

180g butter – softened
112g caster sugar
4 eggs
1tsp vanilla extract
180g flour
150g sultanas
2 tsp baking powder
1/3 grated nutmeg
100g ground almonds
125g candied peel, cut into thin, 2cm slivers

  • Preheat the oven to 170C, 150C Fan.
  • Grease a 20cm, deep (at least 10cm) loose-bottomed cake tin.
    • Line the base with a circle of parchment.
    • Tear off a long strip of parchment, long enough to wrap around the whole tin.
    • Fold the strip of parchment in half lengthwise.
    • Unfold, then fold in each long edge towards the centre fold.
    • Fold both halves together, making for four layers of parchment.
    • Line the tin with this 4-ply strip of parchment. Any fruit-filled cake needs protecting from the high temperatures that baking in a tin will generate.
    • Grease the parchment on the sides and base of the tin.
  • Put the softened butter into a bowl and whisk until light and creamy.
  • Add the sugar and whisk until pale and fluffy.
  • Whisk in the eggs one at a time. Whisk for a good 3-4 minutes before adding the next egg.
  • Stir in the vanilla.
  • Gently stir the remaining ingredients together, then fold into the wet ingredients. Don’t over-mix, or you run the risk of deflating all the air you’ve just whisked into it.
  • Spread the mixture into the tin and level the top.
  • Bake for one hour, gently turning the tin around 180 degrees after 40 minutes. Check for done-ness by inserting a wooden toothpick deep into the centre of the cake. If no liquid batter is clinging to it when removed, the cake is done.
  • Cool for 10 minutes in the tin, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.
  • Store, wrapped in foil, in an airtight tin.

9 Comments on “Dundee Cake”

  1. jmcvl says:

    mmmmmm this looks delicious! another cake I have never attempted. My list is rapidly growing xx great post

  2. Richard says:

    I await each of your posts with bated breathe and you never disappoint Mary-Anne. I’m time poor (not particularly cash rich either – but hey ho!) so don’t get time to make a lot of the recipes – although the youngest of my brood will love this cake. The enjoyment for me is in the reading. Your style is unique and witty and you always entertain me.

    Thank you for brightening up my day, which currently comprises skulking in a computer server room dodging the icy blasts of the air conditioning!


    • MAB says:

      Wotchers, Richard! Thank you so much for the kind words – I do hope you manage to find the time to bake this cake, it’s really worth it, and and keeps very well! 😀 M-A

  3. Catriona says:

    My family and I bow in your general direction! I’m Dundonian and have, like yourself, been generally a DCD with only one exception. My great Aunt Bette made the most gorgous Dundee cake every year for Hogmanay but refused to give out her recipe or even let us into the kitchen to nick ingredients whilst she was making it. After she died everyone in the family capable of wielding a wooden spoon attempted to make her Dundee cake but we’ve never managed it. It may seem somewhat silly but the lack of cake at the subsequent family gatherings really hit it home that she’d passed (rather than nipped into the garden with the cooking sherry).
    I clocked this recipe when you first put it up but have only just had the chance to try it and it is near enough exactly like Aunt Bette’s. All I had to do was add a touch of orange and there it was. Thank you so much for this, should you ever find yourself in Dundee for Hogmanay do feel free to search us out, we shall be scoffing cake and raising a glass to you and Aunt Bette.

    • MAB says:

      Wotchers Catriona! So glad the cake has brought back good memories. Be careful with your invites, I might just take you up on it! 😉 Out of curiosity, did you add MORE orange or was the addition of the peel enough? M-A xx

      • Catriona says:

        Hey, just the fresh grated peel of one orange did the trick! it’s one of the few things we knew for certain Aunt Bette did as we bairns always got to fight to the death over who got a piece of the orange 🙂

  4. Charles says:

    I’ve really gone off fruit cakes. As a Brit now living in France my eyes have been opened to a world of celebration cakes that don’t revolve around dried fruits… Why do Brits celebrate every occasion with those 4 kilo bricks of fruit?

    I must say that Dundee cake isn’t my favourite cake, although this one does look much lighter and less fruit-heavy than the offerings I was served as a kid.

    Incidentally, I’ve never been a huge fan of glacé cherries either, but I found a variety in France which are candied morello cherries. They have an incredibly rich cherry flavour, instead of just tasting of sugar!

    • MAB says:

      Wotchers Charles! Do try the cake, it’s quite deliciously light and delicate. I’m very envious of candied morello cherries – I must try and find some this summer to candy for myself *adds to the ToDo list* 😉 M-A

  5. Nicki S says:

    Thanks for this recipe. Made it this week and it went down a treat. Think I’ll be trying the fresh orange peel addition as well, as that sounds worth a try! This is one that is going to be made A LOT 🙂

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