As the nation is currently homeschooling, I’ve been remembering more of my childhood, when I was homeschooled for several years. I loved being taught at home, but this didn’t stop me from avidly reading boarding school stories. My passion for school story fiction began with Enid Blyton’s Naughtiest Girl in the School, Malory Towers and St Clare’s series, and from those I graduated to the Chalet School, Dimsie and Abbey Girl books.
I was, even then, particularly fascinated by the descriptions of food, and my eyes widened over paragraphs devoted to lavish midnight feasts and tuck boxes bulging with treats. How I wanted my own tuck box! My Mum would good-humouredly help me to make some of the food that my favourite writers described in such mouth-watering detail: sausage rolls, pork pies, cherry cake, and she came up trumps with a ‘tuck box cake,’ creating a doorstopper of a fruit cake that tasted delicious and would have been the crowning glory of any midnight feast.
This recipe makes use of a jar of mincemeat, which generally lurks at the back of cupboards this time of year, and baking this cake is a great way to use it up. I love to share this old fashioned plum cake at afternoon tea with friends, and it’s a great keeper to pop into a tin and take with you if you’re off on a self-catering adventure. For these lockdown days, why not picnic in your own back garden, or living-room? It’s a great cake to make after watching the new BBC Malory Towers series.
My mum’s recipe for this cake was adapted from Delia Smith’s recipe, Last-Minute Christmas Mincemeat Cake.
Tuck Box Fruit Cake Recipe
(All ingredients should be at room temperature)
1 jar (approx 450g) good quality mincemeat
175g plain flour [if you don’t have the ground almonds (see below) make this 225g plain flour instead]
50g ground almonds
3 level tsps baking powder
150g soft butter or margarine
150g dark brown soft sugar
6 Tbsps orange liqueur (e.g. Grand Marnier) or Brandy or Rum or orange juice to soak* 175g mixed dried fruit (I use a mix of raisins, sultanas, currants – depending on what’s in the cupboard).
50g flaked almonds (substitute walnuts or pecans if preferred)
25g mixed candied peel, finely chopped
1/2 tsp almond essence
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
3 large eggs
Topping: 2 Tbsps Demerara sugar (optional, but adds a nice crunch)
*Ideally start the soaking the night before or a couple of hours earlier. If, however, you’ve forgotten this step (I often do!). You can mix the dried fruit with the liqueur and heat for 40 – 60 seconds in microwave. Then leave to cool as you prepare the tin and assemble other ingredients.
Pre-heat to oven to 325F, 170C, Gas Mark 3. Grease one 8″ round cake tin and line the base and sides with greaseproof paper.
Sieve the flour and baking powder into a large bowl. Add all the other ingredients (except for the Demerara sugar), breaking in the 3 eggs. Beat everything together using either an electric hand whisk or a wooden spoon until well combined. Spoon into prepared tin. Scatter top with Demerara sugar, and bake for approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes, or until the centre springs back when lightly touched.
Cool in the tin for 30 minutes before turning it out onto a wire rack, then turn carefully so top side is up.
Keeps very well in a tin, and will last well for a week.
If you make any of my recipes, then do share them with me on Instagram at @mirandasnotebook. I’d love to see!