Wednesday, 12 October 2011

National Cake Week: Wales

This week is National Cake Week, an opportunity as if we needed one to celebrate cake in all its glory. The Newcastle Clandestine Cake Club has picked its monthly theme as cakes that represent a country. I have chosen to make bara brith from Wales.
There are few foods that I would describe as comfort food, as I find all food comforting. However one exception is the "speckled bread" fruit cake from Wales. When I was 18, I went away to a college that has long-standing connections with Wales. I was wide-eyed with shock but trying desperately not to show it; I was always hungry and was usually cold, as I lived in a house with no heating.

On the floor above me lived Angharad, a girl from North Wales who was so talented and beautiful you could envy her but was so utterly lovely that you couldn't.  Angharad used to receive parcels of bara brith from her grandmother in Wales and invite me to share it with her over a cup of tea. She taught me a little bit of Welsh, starting with what she said was the most important sentence in the Welsh language: "Ti isio panad? Do you want a cuppa?"
Angharad, Ship Street 1991. Note the picture of John Thaw on the wall.
It was a handy phrase to remember when we lived together the next year - half of Oxford was entranced by Angharad and lovelorn men used to call round in the hope of seeing her. Like a pair of ugly sisters, Gisa and I used to dispense tea and short shrift while they waited. I don't think we ever wasted good cake on them though.

Angharad and I remain firm friends and she remains ludicrously talented. She's a remarkable linguist, academic, award-winning novelist and mother to two lovely children. I was thrilled when Angharad's novel was translated into English and I could read it. Even though it's a translation, its poetic prose is startling and I am proud to have a friend who can write so well. I wholeheartedly recommend the book - you can buy it on Amazon here and learn more about her family's life on a remote Welsh farm, including her grandmother who parcelled up the bara brith.

Bara brith is delicious - the fruit is boiled in butter and sugar and left overnight, then baked with mixed spice. Angharad kindly sent me the recipe:

12oz sultanas / currants
4oz butter
cup of water
cup of sugar
one teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda

Mix these in a saucepan and bring to boil for 5 mins. Put lid on saucepan, and leave to cool overnight. Next day add:

2 eggs beaten
some mixed spice
cup of plain flour
cup of self-raising flour

Put into greased and lined loaf tin and bake for c.90 mins at 180C.

I've decorated it with a little dragon. Dragons are usually green but in Wales you find the lesser known y draig coch (draco rutilus). The cake is ever so slightly singed on top, after the  dragon got a bit carried away waving the flag for Wales, but I am sure it will be delicious. Thanks to Angharad for the recipe - diolch yn fawr, cariad!

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