Procuring British food in Switzerland can be quite an undertaking. Over time, my brain has learnt to automatically adapt and substitute ingredients in British recipes with a European counterpart. I’ve also realised that with many things it is easier to make it from scratch (I’m looking at you, Piccalilli ) and it tastes better too!
There are some things though, that can’t be replaced or replicated. Some things that are frankly beyond my skill set. Namely, black treacle and golden syrup – essential ingredients in my Christmas Cake.
I’ve got a saying in my house: If it ain’t Lyle’s, I don’t want it. Not a great saying, I’ll grant you, but it’s served me well.
For the first few years in Zurich, I would pick up a few tins whenever we flew back to the UK. But that’s not ideal. It meant that I had to ration them; that if I had a craving for flapjacks in July I’d have to look longingly at my half-empty tin of golden syrup and tell myself that a sacrifice now will pay dividends in 6 months time.
One day, I was browsing the spines in an English bookshop, mentally adding titles to my Christmas wish-list. I picked up the illustrated edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, and looked around for an available armchair, which was when I saw it. Between the cookbooks and the travel section, a little nook filled with British (and American) foods. It was so random: a few cans of Heinz baked beans, next to Tetley teabags, next to Marshmallow Fluff, next to Rowntree’s jelly cubes, next to, you’ve guessed it – Lyle’s Golden Syrup and Black Treacle. I blinked twice, just to double-check it wasn’t a mirage.
How random, I thought again. And limited, I added darkly, swiping the last two cans of Golden Syrup from the shelf. Nobody must find out about this place. There’s not enough to go around. It’s better for everyone this way. I cradled my haul and smiled maliciously.
Threading my way to the till, I exchanged imperceptible nods with my fellow patrons. We were part of a secret club: a special kind of Book Club. And you know what the first rule of Book Club is? We don’t talk about Book Club.
I emerged from the shop feeling giddy with excitement, grinning from my discovery of a veritable Aladdin’s cave. Until I heard that voice again in the back of my mind: Nobody must find out about this place. I quashed my jubilation, stifled my smile, stamped out my glee. My eyes narrowed when I caught someone watching me. Move along. Move along. Nothing to see here.
RECIPE: Gen’s Christmas Cake
INSPIRED BY: Delia Smith, The Hairy Bikers and Good Housekeeping recipes.
FLAVOUR PROFILE: Rich and boozy, with a gingerbread zing.
GOES GREAT WITH: On it’s own; with a cup of strong black tea (like Assam), and some people swear by accompanying it with cheese. If you’re feeling daring, top a piece with a slice of blue cheese and let me know what you think.
NOTES: My cake doesn’t contain any nuts because my other half doesn’t like them, but that’s no reason why yours shouldn’t. Just replace a portion of the dried fruit with your favourite nuts. Walnuts and chestnuts would work beautifully.
MAKES: 1 x 18cm cake
- 475g (16.8oz) MIXED RAISINS, CURRANTS & SULTANAS
- 20g (0.7oz) DATES, chopped
- 10g (0.4oz) DRIED PINEAPPLE, chopped
- 10g (0.4oz) CANDIED PEEL
- 25g (0.9oz) CARROT, grated
- ½ ORANGE, zested
- ½ LEMON, zested
- 60g (2.1oz) GOLDEN SYRUP
- 25g (0.9oz) BLACK TREACLE
- 65g (2.3oz) BROWN SUGAR
- 140g (4.9oz) FLOUR
- 140g (4.9oz) BUTTER
- 2 EGGS, beaten
- 1 tsp. MIXED SPICE
- 1 tsp. GROUND GINGER
- 1/2 tsp. SALT
- 15g (0.5oz) CRYSTALISED GINGER
- 15g (0.5oz) STEM GINGER
- 3 tbsp. BRANDY Plus extra for feeding.
- The night before, weigh out the RAISINS, SULTANAS, CURRANTS, DATES, DRIED PINEAPPLE and CANDIED PEEL, and place in a large mixing bowl with the BRANDY. Give it a good stir, ensuring that the fruit is evenly covered. Cover bowl with a tea towel and leave overnight for the brandy to absorb.
- Preheat oven to 140c, Gas Mark 1. Line the bottom of an 18cm springform cake tin with greaseproof paper.
- The next day, add the GRATED CARROT, ORANGE ZEST, LEMON ZEST, BLACK TREACLE, GOLDEN SYRUP, CRYSTALISED and STEM GINGER. Stir well.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the BUTTER and SUGAR until it is light and fluffy.
- With the whisk running, slowly add the BEATEN EGGS so that the mixture doesn’t curdle.
- Sift in the FLOUR, MIXED SPICE and GROUND GINGER. Add the SALT. Gently fold it in.
- Add the Dried Fruit Mixture and fold it in.
- Spoon the mixture in to the cake tin.
- Cover loosely with greaseproof paper and bake for 2 hours 15 minutes.
- Pierce the top of the cake with a skewer, and every week, feed it with half a capful of Brandy.
- Keep the cake well wrapped in greaseproof paper. I put mine in a tin (an old Quality Street or Roses tin would be perfect, and a good excuse to eat lots of chocolate!) and store in a cool dark place until Christmas.