Let Them Eat Cake – fast food from the days of the train

family-fruit-cake2I can’t be the only one to remember when British Rail used to sell rectangles of fruit cake wrapped in cellophane off the trolley to be accompanied by a stiff cup of builder’s tea? There was something about it’s yellow cloyingness stuffed with bright red glacé cherries and sultanas that was highly more-ish. Sadly, the slices of cake disappeared with the privatisation of the railways in 1993.

When trying to recreate it, I  turned for help to the spattered pages of my Hamlyn’s All Colour Cookery Book, given to me by my  mother-in-law in 1969. As wonderful a woman that she was, cooking wasn’t one of her skills, but I do remember returning late at night, to the smell of warm spices and a ‘tray bake’ fruit cake, cooling on the wire rack in her kitchen.

No Fuss Fruit Cake – Preparation Time – 1.5 hours approx.

142 grams plain flour
142 grams self-raising flour
1 teaspoon mixed spice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
227 grams butter
227 grams soft brown sugar
Grated rind of one orange
4 eggs
100 ml milk
1 teaspoon saffron strands
454 grams mixed dried fruit – currants/raisins/sultanas
227 grams glacé cherries – halved, washed and drained
113 grams halved skinless almonds
1 tablespoon black treacle


Heat oven to 150F/300C.

I use an old stand food mixer, but I was taught by my grandmother to cream cake mix by hand. If you do this, it becomes much easier if the butter is allowed to soften a bit before trying to cream.

Warm the milk and add the saffron strands, leave to steep and cool. Grease a small roasting tin (29cm x 11.5cm) and line the bottom with greaseproof paper. Sieve the flours together, add in the spices, stir and then mix in the glacé cherries (this will help them to not stick together and appear in clumps in the cake).

Cream together the butter, sugar, and orange rind in the mixer until pale and creamy. Beat the eggs one at a time and then add in a thin stream to the mixer, set to a medium-to-fast speed. The idea is not to have the mixture curdle, and you can add a spoon or two of the flour if you see this happening, but don’t get to precious about it. It will all come out alright in the end.  

Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold in the rest of the flour and dried fruit and nuts with a large metal spoon. Fold well as you don’t want to leave pockets of flour. You can do this using the mixer on its slowest speed if you don’t mind the fruit getting broken up, but on the whole I prefer to do it by hand as I like large chunks of glacé cherries. Last of all stir in the black treacle and the saffron milk.

Turn the mixture into the prepared tin and bake in the oven for approximately 1hr. Then test with a skewer (or a strand of dried spaghetti if you don’t have one). The cake is done when the skewer/spaghetti comes out clean. If the skewer comes out with cake mix still sticking to it, cover with a piece of greaseproof to prevent the top  browning too much and put back in for another approximately ten to fifteen minutes.

“Such a good idea to use spaghetti – never heard of that one.” Fiona

Remove the cake from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for 10 mins. Turn upside down onto a wire cooling rack and remove greaseproof paper, leaving it to cool completely.

Cooks Notes: “The thought is, that this cake makes for better eating if it has been cooled and stored, well wrapped in foil for a week.  I hate to say it, but this is true. The cake takes on a more cloying satisfying texture if left. I usually cut the cake in half, wrap and store one half for a week, but let the awaiting ‘gannets’ descend and eat the rest when still warm from the oven. Who can resist?” Judi


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