- 175 g plain flour, sifted
- 100 g cold butter
- 100 g granulated sugar
- 1/4 tsp mace
- 1/4 tsp cloves
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- 1/4 tsp cardamom
- 1/2 tsp ground saffron, take several strands of saffron and grind in mortar/pestle with half tsp granulated sugar (it should resemble a slightly yellow-white powder)
- 100 g of mixed fruit, such as dates, cherries, currants, raisins, chopped apricots, and mixed peel, soaked in 3 tbsp dry Spanish sherry Ale froth from a small glass of dark Durham ale (pour the ale into a glass and scoop out the ale froth), such as Evensong (Durham Brewery)
- 3-4 tbsp of dark or ruby ale, such as Durham Brewery’s Evensong or Old Tom
- 12 walnut or pecan halves (optional)
- Put fruit in a bowl and add sherry. Leave to stand whilst mixing the rest of the ingredients.
- Preheat the oven to 200 C (180 C fan).
- Cut the butter into the sifted flour, until the mixture has a crumblike texture. (You can use a food processor for this part, but I found doing it by hand seemed to make the cake taste better; plus that seems more authentic for a historic recipe.) Add sugar, ground saffron, and spices, stir until well combined.
- Spoon in ale froth from glass of ale onto the flour-butter mixture and stir in.
- Add sherried fruit and 3-4 tbsps of the ale from the glass to the mixture, until the dough feels like a soft cookie dough or pastry dough.
- Roll out the cakes to about 2 cm thick. Using a round cutter, cut out a dozen cakes. Alternatively, spoon mixture into mini foil dishes (such as the ones used for mince pies).
- Put the cakes onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment.
- Chill the cakes for 30-40 minutes in the fridge.
- Using a knife, cut a deep cross (+) shape into the dough.
- Sprinkle with a little granulated sugar. If desired, press a walnut or pecan half onto the middle of the cake.
- Bake in oven for 20-22 minutes, until the cakes are golden.
- Leave to cool before serving.
For me, what makes these cakes is the warming, slightly bitter edge of the ale contrasting with the flavoursome aromatics and spice added. You will need a mortar and pestle to make the most of the saffron being used. Don’t be shy about the saffron as it will really enhance the flavours. My Durham spin is the critical ingredient: The ale! The Durham Brewery’s Evensong or Old Tom are fantastic ale options for this recipe, but barring that, a fine ruby ale should suffice. I found adding a pecan to the top of each cake gave it a nice bit of crunch, too, though I realise that’s modernizing the recipe quite a bit and is, thus, optional. The cakes should have a chewy, soft texture. Taste testing reveals that the flavours deepen over time, so should be best about 2 days after baking. Keep in a sealed container in a cool place. (And just a side note: These cakes have been loved by human and dog alike and seem to disappear very soon after baking.)