Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Raisin cake

Little did I know as a little girl that this cake was vegan.
Yes, I said it: the "R" word. It's funny how such a seemingly harmless thing as a raisin can inspire really volatile reactions. I've seen people shudder at the mere mention of them, or drop something like it burned them when they found out it had raisins in it. I've also had people proclaim their undying love for raisins. Truth is, in my experience, you either love raisins or you hate them.

If you hate them, this isn't the recipe for you.

If you love raisins, this may become your very favourite cake. It's definitely mine.

When I was growing up, my mother used to make this for me when I was having a bad day. (I'm having an excellent day, but this cake tastes no less delicious for it.) It was  a recipe of my grandmother's, and what my mother called a war cake. That meant it was developed during the war, when eggs, butter, milk, and lots of other things were rationed. Guess what that means? You got it: it's been vegan since the 1940s.

I usually modify recipes to make them vegan, but this one has saved me the trouble. Pectin works as a binder, much like eggs. This recipe works because of the raisins' high pectin content, which you distribute evenly through the cake by boiling the raisins and then using the water as the liquid. It's not only clever and vegan, it's also thrifty.

Boiling the raisins is totally essential. You're pretty much making your own egg substitute.
My grandmother's original copy of this recipe had Spice Cake scrawled across the top as the title, as though raisins weren't the star. In a way, they're not. The spices totally make the rich flavour of this cake, and especially so if your cinnamon is true (see Fun Fact below for details) and your nutmeg is freshly-grated.

Cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and cloves give this cake its rich, spicy flavour.
Fun Fact: Most cinnamon that is commercially available is not actually cinnamon. It's the bark of a related plant (typically referred to as cassia), which is less expensive to produce, but also has a less complex and potent flavour than the real deal. To make sure you're using real cinnamon, source cinnamon labeled true cinnamon, which you will know by its rich, spicy smell that is much nicer than what you'd usually get at your local grocery. (Arayuma has a beautiful true cinnamon that is also Fair Trade.)

This cake is honestly one of the easiest things on Earth to make. You throw it all in a bowl and mix. Seriously. Even if you're a terrible cook, you'd have a hard time messing this up.

Best part of this cake? Not sure if it's the amazing flavour or how ridiculously easy it is to make...
You use a tube pan to bake this one, so it ends up kind of like a dense coffee cake. The center of the tube helps cook it more evenly. With another pan, you might end up with a bunch of raw dough in the middle (I've never dared to try, considering the original wasn't broken and didn't need fixing).

The tube pan is probably part of the success of this cake. It helps it cook more evenly, even if it doesn't have the binding power of eggs.
When it's done, the reddish-brown colour of it is just beautiful. The texture is like a good carrot muffin, only with raisins, and the flavour is out of this world. Be prepared for your house to be filled with the smell of the most amazing spices!
The raisin water makes this cake a beautiful, dark brown, almost as though there were molasses in it.

Raisin cake
Makes 12 generous servings

2 cups raisins
2½ cups cold water
1 cup vegetable shortening
2 cups sugar (turbinado is what I use)
3½ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon ground cloves

Preheat the oven to 350°F and grease a 10" tube pan.

In a medium saucepan, bring the raisins and water to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes, uncovered. Set aside to cool while you measure all other ingredients into the large bowl of the electric mixer. Add raisins with their cooking water, and beat the batter until it is smooth.

Turn batter into prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake for 60-70 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the tallest part of the cake. If you have a two-piece pan like I do, let cool at least 10 minutes before removing the outer ring. Cool completely before cutting and serving or storing. Will keep fresh for several days if kept in an airtight container.


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