By Eleri Larkum
On the third day of Hanucah, my True Love baked for me:
A PLUM CAKE, RICH, FOR HANUCAH.
When Liz sent me this recipe, from her grandmother’s 1916 cookbook, Dainty Dinners and Dishes for Jewish Families by May Henry and Kate Halford, I must say I was intrigued – primarily by the commas. There’s something quite catchy about a title with so much punctuation in it.
But there was something else about this recipe, something, rather uncannily familiar. Now, I’m quite a level-headed creature, certainly not prone to excessive flights of fancy, but as I looked through this recipe, I could almost begin to believe in past life regression. I mean, I could swear that I have made this cake before, in a former life.
It’s a straightforward fruit cake [I wonder when we stopped calling fruit cake plum cakes?]. Butter, sugar, flour, eggs, fruit and an indeterminate amount of mixed spice. I mixed it up, wrapped it in its three layers of brown paper as requested, and baked for 3 hours or so, in a “slow oven”.
As I got it out, those feelings of deja vu began again…
I struggled on. Almond Icing next – well, that’s certainly nothing I’ve ever made before.
Hmmm, or is it?!
And here, I have to admit, I was slightly pushed for time, so I substituted modern marzipan, for authentically early 20th Century, Jewish, Almond Icing. I’d recommend you do the same, it should taste similar. I also glazed the cake in warmed jam, although it didn’t say so in the original recipe – I’m not sure why I did this, an instinct, perhaps, or promptings from that former life? It looks good for the photos, anyway.
(I marzipanned the sides too, but forgot to photo).
And then came the decoration. There was a picture provided in my original brief, and I studied it at length. But I’m still puzzled as to what those clusters on top of the cake are meant to be. Perhaps they are the hills to which the Maccabees took, or perhaps not.
In the end, I plumped for roses, as feeling a little more 1916 to me.
I coloured the Royal icing (so named after King David, I presume) pink and green, as suggested in the book, and I did “press the sugar through an icing bag,” though not through any “fancy tubes”, as those were on the other side of the kitchen, and I was at that point, wishing I had been more faithful to the whole historical experience, and hired myself a kitchen of servants (I’ve seen Downton Abbey).
I can’t yet tell you what it tastes like, as I’m saving it for the 10th night of Hanukkah, which this year falls on December 25th, I believe.
I’ll let you know.
See also Eleri’s Happy First Day of Hanukkah
For more on Dainty Dinners and Dishes for Jewish Families, you may also enjoy this Wimshul Cooks article: Matzah Pudding: A Victorian Odyssey