I’ve always been a fan of the stay-cation. Maybe it’s all the Famous Five books I read as a child, or simply my love of my local downland landscapes and magical wealden woods, but there’s few things that get me more excited than packing a picnic of tasty goodies and heading out for a walk and a view.
With high summer and a strange half-lockdown time upon us, it’s the perfect year to rediscover, or embrace our love of simple pleasures and the great outdoors. If you can get out and about, or even if you are setting up camp in the garden, there’s sure to soon be rumbling tums and enquiries about anything to eat!
A long time favourite in my parents household, and subsequently my own is our Overnight Tea-Soaked Fruit Cake! A fool-proof-prepare-in-advance-lasts-for-ages-fairly-inexpensive-crowd-pleaser recipe that we turn to time and again for every occasion from a weekend picnic to family birthdays, even our christmas cake!
(*This recipe contains sugar and eggs. I’ve never tried adapting it for sugar-free or vegan diets but I’d love to hear your results if you do!)
300ml/half-pint Hot Strong Tea*
375g/12oz Dried Fruit (with or without peel – I prefer without!) – you can use all those left over handfuls in the bottom of packets in the cupboard!
250g/8oz Dark Brown Sugar
300g/10oz Self Raising Flour
1 Egg, beaten
Good teaspoon Ground Mixed Spice, if you have it!
A smear of butter to grease tin/baking parchment
7 inch, deep round tin, or 2lb loaf tin
*you can substitute some of the liquid for alcohol for a subtly richer cake
for special occasions (maybe not suitable for children!),
dark beer/stout works well, or a shlosh of whisky or brandy.
My next experiment is to use herbal tea such as apple and cinnamon,
or ginger, for a spiced twist!
Mix the dried fruit and sugar, and pour over the hot tea (or tea and alcohol mix – half tea, half Guiness works well!) so the fruit is covered. Stir well so the sugar dissolves and no longer feels very gritty on the bottom of the bowl. Cover the bowl with a clean tea-towel and leave for several hours, ideally overnight.
Next morning, grease/line your tin, and preheat oven to 150C (300F/Gas mark 2)
Stir up the fruit/sugar/tea mixture and you’ll find the fruit has plumped up and absorbed plenty of liquid and flavour. Take a good sniff, it smells amazing!
Now add in the flour, mixed spice if using, and the beaten egg. Stir everything together, mixing it well until brown, gloopy and no flour is showing, being sure to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl to get all the ingredients incorporated.
Pour into your tin, place carefully in the centre of the oven, and cook for 1&1/2 to 1&3/4 hours. Once cooked the cake should feel firm, a skewer poked in should come out clean, and the cake should’ve stopped ‘singing’.
Wrap well (greaseproof paper, then foil works well) and store in an airtight tin; this cake will keep well and can be made up to a week in advance, we think it is often better a few days after baking! The cake can even be frozen either as a whole, or in slices with a piece of greaseproof paper between them, and defrosted at a later date.
Cut thick slices and pack in an airtight box in your picnic bag!
A piece of this cake is excellent with a wedge of hard cheese – I like a strong Cheddar, whilst my Mum is a fan of Wensleydale with hers. Otherwise, simply spread a slice with butter and enjoy with a mug of tea – yum!
Of course, if you do head out for a picnic or to enjoy a day in the countryside, please remember to follow the Countryside Code! Be considerate to others, take your litter home, and don’t light fires. Thank you!