Christmas Classics: Dundee Cake

Few cakes have that interesting twist of destiny (read: history) like this Scottish speciality that began its journey as a tea-time cake.


Going local may be a big buzz these days, but back in the day it was an integral part of the culinary matrix. While cooks with royal patronage would be expected to play the food canvas with the best of ingredients that ‘the crown’ could afford, it was an unsaid adherence to prioritise the local produce – even hero them. An excellent example of this unwritten diktat of the food world is the Dundee Cake.

Developed by the local bakers of Dundee, one of the largest townships of the Scottish Empire, the cake doesn’t only showcase the ingenuity of the Scottish-bred cakemakers to bake treats that were fragrant and fabulous, but also the wonders of Spanish almonds and Seville Oranges that in the 17th century was used to make Oxford marmalade.

History has it that the cake was made for Queen Mary of Scots, who didn’t fancy cherries in the fruit cake, and wanted a tea-time treat that reminded her of sweet summers and of power. Remember, it was a time when plums (a collection of stowed away dried fruits and cherries) were the favourite go-to for all forms of fruit cake, especially those made for winters and its festivity. After an initial search of ingredients that could play the part, the bakers finally settled on the breakfast tables to find inspiration – muses that came in form of the Oxford Marmalade made of Seville Oranges, almonds and the raisins for sweetness. The tiara-style cake that came didn’t only remind one of the happy summers of Scotland with the fruitiness of orange but also looked the part with the crown of the cake decorated with perfectly golden almond slivers. Queen Mary was instantly smitten by the fruit cake, which became a main feature of all her teatime party and also travelled to her peer, Queen Elizabeth’s court as part of her entourage.

A refreshing change from the dried fruit-laden fruit cakes, the Queen of England too took an instant liking to the cake, which soon became a part of her teatime ritual, even when Queen Mary was turned in a political pawn and later executed. Many believe that it was in Queen Elizabeth’s bakery that the cake took on a more lavish appearance with slivers of orange, raisins and spices added to it, and even made its debut on the Christmas table of the sugar-loving royal; there is also a school that gives the credit to baker and marmalade expert Janet Keiller of the iconic Keiller brand, to have given the cake its modern version in 1790. It is said that Keiller was the first to introduce the chip method into baking the Dundee Cake. In other words, she took the paste-like marmalade and cut it into fine strips cleverly hiding a part of the orange – mostly rind or the flesh into the sliver. This trick incorporated marmalade, which earlier came as chunks, more evenly into the butter-heavy cake batter.

Janet also changed the raisin for sultanas that had that right amount of sweetness to make the cake a delight instead of overpowering sweet. The result was the Keiller- school Dundee Cake that soon became a breakfast and teatime staple much like their marmalade. And as Christmas table went grandeur, a part of the feast too – of course with variations where people would add spices, currants, glace cherries (a hara-kiri) and black jack, the other word for burnt caramel colouring that would fool people into believing that the cake has been spiced in keeping with the Christmas tradition.

However, if purist are to be believed than the Dundee Cake is perhaps the only cake that does absolutely fine without the mandatory Christmas spice mix of cinnamon and nutmeg. In fact, a true Dundee Cake is one that is moist, light and has this distinct orange aroma and taste followed up with the nuttiness of almonds. Or as Queen Elizabeth had once said, “the perfect fruity-nutty treat to my tea.”

Here is the Dundee Cake recipe by Chef Santosh Rawat - Executive Pastry Chef JW Marriott, Mumbai Sahar


Butter - 225g ||Castor Sugar - 225g ||Egg Whole - 300g ||Refined Flour - 350g ||Baking Powder - 10g ||Salt - 3g ||Almond Powder - 100g ||Raisins - 575g ||Mixed Peel - 100g ||Rum - 30ml ||Caramel Colour - 100g



Take soft butter, beat along with sugar adding eggs one at the time ||Soak Raisins in rum, when the mixture is ||cream properly add all the dry ingredients. ||Put the Mixture in Cake mould and arrange blanched almond on cake in flower shape.||Bake the cake for one 70 min at 190C.