Sunday, 12 September 2010

History corner – Buttermilk currant cake

This recipe comes courtesy of “The Currant Recipe Book”, published in 1945 by the wonderfully named Central Currant Office (London).
This makes me hope that there were regional Currant Offices scattered far and wide. There is little (practically none) online information about this organisation and I have so many unanswered questions: Was the Central Currant Office arch enemy of the Central Sultana Office and the Central Raisin Office? What happened to the CCO? Who is promoting currants now? Have currant sales fallen since there is no London office marketing them?

How can you fail to love a book where the introduction is titled “In praise of currants” and written by someone called Sir W. Arbuthnot Lane, President of the New Health Society? (His
Wikipedia write up is fascinating, showing him to be an admirably free thinker and some 40 years ahead of his time with his views on diet and digestive health). He notes that, because of the roughage they supply, currants are a “useful ‘regulating’ food”…..I think we all know what that means!

The CCO should actually have been named the Currant Propaganda Office for there are assertions made throughout the booklet; they form the headers and footers for each page and are presented as unquestionable facts.
While some are probably true or harmless enough, it does make you realise how unregulated food health claims were until fairly recently. Here are some of my favourites:

  • Eat more currants and forget “nerves”
  • Eat currants and work better
  • Currant bread tempts the appetite
  • Currants bring good health
  • Currants keep you fit
  • Children love currants – because they need them
  • Spare the currants and you spoil the cake
  • Currants make food tempting
  • You never get tired of currant bread
  • Currants give radiant vitality

My chosen recipe appears under the banner “currants correct acidity”.
At this point I was under such pro-currant enchantment that I’d have believed anything. This cake has lots of buttermilk, more buttermilk than I’ve ever seen in a recipe, but no eggs. It means that the cake is pale and you should test it’s ‘done-ness’ with a skewer rather than relying on it being golden.

The resulting cake was fruity with a hint of spice; it tasted very much like a good rock bun but with a light, soft, spongy texture.
Very pleasant indeed and a lovely tea time cake. It wasn’t as heavy as a full-on fruit cake, such as a Christmas cake, but had more oomph to it than a sponge. As to whether it improves ‘regulation’....I’ll keep you posted!


340g (3/4lb) plain flour
115g (1/4lb) unsalted butter
115g (1/4lb) caster sugar
170g (6oz) currants
Pinch of spice – I took this to mean mixed spice.
I added a teaspoon.
¾ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
¾ teaspoon cream of tartar
440ml (3 gills) buttermilk

Optional (not in original recipe): 2 tablespoons Demerara to sprinkle on top of cake


Preheat the oven to 170˚C/Fan oven 150˚C/325˚F/Gas Mark 3. The recipe says that the cake should be baked in a “steady oven” and I have interpreted it to mean these temperatures, based on other curranty/raisin cakes I’ve baked.

Line a 23cm round springform tin with baking paper. I played safe with tin size – you could get away with a 20cm tin but make sure that the baking paper comes up a good 2cm above the height of the tin.

Sieve the flour into a bowl and rub in the butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. If you prefer, you can do this in a food processor.

Stir in the sugar, currants, spice and cream of tartar.

Dissolve the bicarbonate of soda in a little of the buttermilk then add to the mix, stirring well.

Stir in the remaining buttermilk.

Turn the mixture into the prepared tin and level the surface.

If using, sprinkle the Demerara over the top of the batter.

Bake for approximately 1 hour 10 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.

Stand the cake, in its tin, on a wire rack until the tin is cool enough to safely handle and remove.

Leave the cake to cool completely on the wire rack.

Bask in the glory of the wonderful thing you have made.



Katie said...

Interesting looking cake. I'm surprised people had access to buttermilk back then. Love your history posts - keep them coming

Suelle said...

Maybe currants needed promoting because they are generally less popular than the larger juicier sultanas and raisins! Lovely looking cake!

Scarlett said...

I loved this-just wondered where you managed to find such a great book too?!

Ocean Breezes and Country Sneezes said...

Hello, I've just found your blog and I like what I see, more importantly I'd like to taste it! LOL!!! If only we could send the smell through the screen ... I love the old cookbook, love collecting them, reading them and baking from them. I haven't done much baking this summer because it was so hot where I live, but I'm looking forward to making a few things. I'm new to blogging, and when you have a moment please stop by, visit and "Follow" my blog if you like what you see. I enjoyed my visit today!

The Caked Crusader said...

Hi Scarlett

This book came from Ebay (of all places!)

C said...

I love the fact that a currant promotion office ever existed. I think I might doubt such a thing if you didn't have photographic evidence! It's perhaps a good job that evidence is required for health claims now!

Really lovely looking cake and obviously one to remember next time I'm out of eggs (but then I'm not likely to have buttermilk either.....)

Choclette said...

Oh where do you find your fabulous books - fantastic. Interesting because I think currants have fallen from favour. They used to be cheaper than raisins so that's what we used as dry fruit when I was a child. Now I never use them - must go and make some squashed flies!

Your cake looks delicious eggs notwithstanding.

Cakelaw said...

I love your history corner posts - and this looks like an amazing cake.

Margaret said...

History Corner is something I always look forward to.
The currant cake is surprising, who would have thought that buttermilk would be one of the ingredients.

Sam said...

What a great book! The cake looks really interesting and really tasty!

Nora said...

That book is genius! My favourite claim is: Children love currants – because they need them. What!?
Anyway, this cake looks lovely. Something a bit different, too.

freerangegirl said...

Hi there I found you through choclog blog, really enjoying your writing- I love the idea that I can eat currants and forget nerves! Fabulous. Thanks for sharing.

Maria♥ said...

Love a bit of history! Cake looks very delish.


Anamika:The Sugarcrafter said...

Wow..thanks for sharing the delight.

Kitty M said...

Oooh I love your blog and so pleased to find another cake lover! This post has made me giggle do you know as much as I love cake I hate currants so I miss out big time at Christmas - I wont eat mince pies or pud! I would never have got a job in the currant promotion office :-) x

Rosie Redhair said...

I love your blog and have several of your cakes.

I have made the currant cake twice. Each time it has come out very heavy with no crumb. What am I doing wrong? It has a nice flavour so I would like to perfect it. Thanks

The Caked Crusader said...

Hi Rosie

I can only think that you're over mixing it after adding the buttermilk.

Hope this helps

Happy baking

Anonymous said...

My father, who was a baker, told me that the CCO had some connection with the pre-War Greek government, who awarded prizes for the use of currants raisins, sultanas, etc. My grandfather received several awards from them in the 20s & 30s: I still have the cups, medals & certificates. Unfortunately, though, my grandfather sold the gold medals when he was hard up a long time ago. I will be passing all this stuff on to a local museum soon.