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.