Once upon a time, in deepest London, I lived with a wicked landlady called Susie. Not really, she was actually a fairy godmother, who rescued me from a disastrous relationship by letting me stay in her spare room. It was so cosy that I refused to move out for several years. Hah!
Sue’s mum, Joyce, very kindly gave me the recipe for her fabulous boiled fruitcake, samples of which used to regularly accompany Sue up the M5 on the back seat of her trusty Volkswagen Golf after weekends with her family in Somerset. That was 1994 and I have been making them ever since, the only changes being that I now make two loaves instead of the original large round cake (one for now, one for the freezer) and I sometimes add a grated apple. Very sadly, Joyce Pictor has passed away, but whenever I make her gorgeous fruitcake, I remember her giving us fruitcake lessons in our tiny kitchen in Harrow, trying to make the cake exactly replicate her own. The reason for my addition of grated apple is that it almost (but not quite) produces the ‘squidge factor’ that Joyce was able to achieve in her non-fan gas oven.
Today, our friends arrived from England, so tradition dictates that goodies needed to be left in their apartment to greet them on arrival. Golden granola for tomorrow’s breakfast (more of which later), a large tub of homemade minestrone and one of Joyce’s fruitcakes fitted the bill perfectly.
The following recipe makes one large round fruitcake or two loaf-shaped cakes.
Joyce Pictor’s boiled fruitcake
500g mixed dried fruit (I used a mix of sultanas, currants, chopped dried apricots, chopped dried figs and glace cherries)
250g sugar (white or brown, or half and half)
250g soft margarine or softened butter at room temperature
3 eggs (room temperature if possible)
375g self-raising flour
A small quantity of milk
1 eating apple, peeled and grated (optional)
A little extra sugar for sprinkling
A deep round 21cm diameter cake tin or two 1kg loaf tins (approx 21 x 12 cm)
Put the fruit into a large saucepan, cover with water and bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and simmer gently for 10 minutes. Strain in a colander or sieve and leave the fruit to cool.
Pre-heat the oven to 180°C (fan).
In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar together with a whisk (a hand-held electric whisk is best for this job, but a balloon whisk is fine as long as the butter is soft). Whisk in the eggs, one at a time, whisking well between each addition. Fold in the flour, making sure it is well incorporated, then stir in the fruit and the apple (if using). The mixture should be moist enough to drop off a spoon – if it is too dry, add a little milk and mix again.
Tip into the prepared tin(s) and smooth the top. Sprinkle over a little extra sugar, to give you a crispy top. Bake for approximately 1 hour for the loaf cakes, or 1.5 hours for the large round cake. To test if the cakes are baked, insert a metal skewer into the centre of the cake – if it comes out clean, the cake is ready. Cool the cakes in the tin for about 20 minutes, then turn out to finish cooling. The cakes freeze well as long as they are well wrapped.