Vinegar Cake

Vinegar Cake is a very traditional fruitcake, thick with sultanas, currants and mixed peel. Extremely moist with a tender crumb thanks to the not so secret ingredient of vinegar.

Vinegar Cake

This is the recipe that launched several more of my most recent recipes. It led to my investigation of Homemade Mixed Peel which is turn encouraged me to make Triple Citrus Shrub. So I have a lot to thank this original recipe for.

My Great Auntie Lil was an excellent baker and all-round cook. However, by the time I was old enough she had mostly wound down that side of her life and I only have distinct memories of her Christmas pudding, cakes and mince pies. I was assured though by my mum who would often drift off into a nostalgic haze whenever fruit cakes were mentioned that her Vinegar Cake was legendary. My mum and Nan would salivate openly remembering thick slices of Vinegar Cake smeared with butter and marmite. One day, Nan pressed into my hand a very roughly scribbled note of the recipe which she had begged from her sister and urged me to try it.

Vinegar Cake

I have no idea why it took until January this year, seven years since I was first given the recipe to sample this incredible piece of our family history. I came across my Nan’s note hidden within my cake file which I immediately gathered up and clutched to my chest. My nan passed away three years ago and absolutely nothing can compete with the raging pregnancy hormones currently coursing through my body as I immediately recognised her big swirling looping handwriting which remind me of many a treasured letter, birthday and Christmas card from my darling nan.

Still, battling through my emotions I clutched at the recipe promising Nan I would make her sister’s beloved Vinegar Cake exactly as written and serve it at tea time to my mum who has been frequently coming to help look after Cole during my last trimester.

Vinegar Cake

Well, that promise lasted as long as it took me to waddle to the kitchen as I realised immediately that I couldn’t help but make changes. It is simply not in my nature to stick to a recipe as written. The most obvious change would be that I would have to make the whole thing with gluten-free flours. Although to be fair the recipe merely stipulated ‘12oz flour’ without any indication as to which flour so I think my gluten-free flour can be accepted for lack of more information. Then my snobbery took over and I had to swap in butter for the margarine. Sorry. I also amended the dessert spoon measurement to the more accessible tablespoon measurements then changed it once again to grams, then re-read the recipe and changed all the rest of the weights from ounces to grams. For consistency and I have no idea how to work in ounces.

The vinegar that Auntie Lil originally used wasn’t stated in the recipe. I can only imagine she would have used malt vinegar as growing up I think that was the most universally stocked in domestic larders. I’m sure it would have given a lovely malty taste but it’s not gluten-free so I went with my favourite apple cider vinegar which is subtle and fruity.

Vinegar Cake

The recipe also didn’t say what kind of tin the cake was baked in so at this point I asked mum who was very clear that it was a loaf tin. After first attempting the cake in my 9” x 5” loaf tin the cake came out very flat so it was time for more re-adjusting. I increased all the given ingredients by a third and changed my loaf tin for my narrower 8½“ x 4½“ tin. This produced a lovely sized loaf cake, more in keeping with my mum’s memories.

Vinegar Cake

The next thing to tackle was the mixed peel in the recipe. I was keen to keep it in but as I mentioned back in my Homemade Mixed Peel post I was disappointed by the flavour of the shop-bought mixed peel. So there begun a mini-quest within a quest to create a Homemade Mixed Peel and the difference this made to the flavour of the cake was astounding. If you are also not a fan of shop-bought mixed peel but can’t be bothered to make your own then just leave it out, upping the quantity of currants to make up for the reduced fruit but do include the zest of 1 orange and 1 lemon so you still get a citrus tang. This is how I did it before settling on the Homemade Mixed Peel and that version was really rather good too.

Vinegar Cake

After a few more tests messing around with the quantities of my gluten-free flours I had a final cake, which then wasn’t quite as final as I liked, as although it tasted lovely the cake didn’t look as pretty as it could. So I scattered over a handful of flaked almonds before baking and then once the cake came out of the oven glazed it to make it nice and shiny. Suddenly the cake looked as delicious as it tasted.

Vinegar Cake

I have now made this cake several, and I mean several, times. Since the beginning of January we have had one version or another of Vinegar Cake knocking around the kitchen. You would think I would be a little bored of it by now but actually it’s ideal for keeping in discreetly in your cake tin. I have been eating it for breakfast, slathered with salted butter and peanut butter, with a cup of tea for elevenses, shared with friends who have stopped by and Cole is now obsessed by it so it might have to be a permanent fixture.

The most crucial test though has been mum who has very specific memories of this cake. The final version which came out of the oven eventually got her nod of approval. The best bit about the cake, and what she clearly remembers of the original version from her youth is the delicious dampness of it. It’s true with the amount of liquid in the cake the texture is incredibly moist and this also aids in how well it keeps. It can easily sit in a cake tin wrapped in foil for up to a week. The perfect weekend bake which pays so many dividends during a hectic week.

Vinegar Cake

So, here is to my Nan and to Auntie Lil. May I present the Vinegar Cake which was resplendent at so many teatimes the family shared when my mum and her cousins were growing up. And it’s almost exactly the same as the original. Give or take.

Print Recipe
Vinegar Cake
Vinegar Cake
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Servings
12 slices
Ingredients
  • 200 g sweet rice flour
  • 170 g millet flour
  • 100 g almond flour
  • 120 g unsalted butter room temperature
  • 160 g currants
  • 160 g sultanas
  • 40 g mixed peel
  • 80 g caster sugar
  • ¾ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 300 ml whole milk
  • 60 ml apple cider vinegar
  • 25 g flaked almonds
  • 1 tablespoon apricot jam
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Servings
12 slices
Ingredients
  • 200 g sweet rice flour
  • 170 g millet flour
  • 100 g almond flour
  • 120 g unsalted butter room temperature
  • 160 g currants
  • 160 g sultanas
  • 40 g mixed peel
  • 80 g caster sugar
  • ¾ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 300 ml whole milk
  • 60 ml apple cider vinegar
  • 25 g flaked almonds
  • 1 tablespoon apricot jam
Vinegar Cake
Instructions
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 150°C and line and grease a 2lb loaf tin. The loaf tin I used was 8.5” x 4.5”.
  2. In a large bowl whisk the flours together then rub the butter in the flours until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
  3. Stir in the dried fruit and sugar.
  4. Finally stir the bicarbonate of soda into the milk along with the vinegar then pour into the dry ingredients. Beat together with a wooden spoon until the mixture reaches a drop consistency.
  5. Pour the cake mixture into the loaf tin, sprinkle over the flaked almonds and bake in the oven for one hour.
  6. Remove the cake from the oven, turn out onto a tin and leave to cool on a wire rack.
  7. Melt the apricot jam* in a saucepan until runny then use to glaze the top of the cake.
Recipe Notes

*Instead of apricot jam I actually used the citrus sugar syrup which was left over from making the Homemade Mixed Peel which I didn’t need to heat as it was already very runny. It gave the top of the cake a lovely citrus tang.

SHOP THE RECIPE

The loaf tin I use for this recipe is the MasterClass Non-Stick Box-Sided 2 lb Loaf Tin, 21 x 11 cm (8.5″ x 4.5″) which is a great loaf tin as I love its really straight sides and corners.

The apple cider vinegar I like is Braggs Organic Apple Cider Vinegar, 946ml which I used in this recipe, the Triple Citrus Shrub I posted about last week and every day uses like salad dressings and marinades. It’s very delicious and supposed to be very good for you too.

I have been using almond flour as lot lately, as opposed to ground almonds which keeps cakes beautifully fluffy. Finely ground almond flour isn’t as easy to find though and here in the UK I have to order it from Amazon. It’s not cheap (it’s gluten-free baking what can I tell you!) but a 1kg bag will keep you going for some time. I love RealFoodSource Certified Organic Extra Fine High Protein Almond Flour (1KG) which is ultra fine flour and works brilliantly in my bakes.

For more info on almond flour see my post on nut flours which gives the breakdown of the different between ground almonds, almond meal and almond flour.

As for sweet rice flour I have finally found a brand which is 100% certified gluten-free. I have no idea why it’s so difficult to get in the UK but I use sweet rice flour a lot so this was a real find. The brand is yourhealthstore Premium Gluten Free Sweet Rice Flour (glutinous) 1kg

I also used millet flour in this recipe and my favourite brand is Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Millet Flour 500 g (Pack of 4) which as it states comes in a 4 x 500g pack but I prefer to buy my gluten-free flour in larger quantities like this as it’s just not as easy to get hold of as wheat flour and saves me having to wait when I have a specific baking urge. It also keeps costs down.

The Amazon links above are affiliate links which means if you click through to buy then Amazon gives me a small commission at no cost to you whatsoever. I will only recommend products I use in my kitchen and love. It’s just a way for me to fund my shopping list for the blog so if you do click through then many thanks!!

Homemade Mixed Peel

Homemade Mixed Peel is so much more flavourful than supermarket bought. It isn’t as bitter and has a more fully rounded flavour that captures the essence of citrus season.

Homemade Mixed Peel

Until recently I didn’t use a lot of mixed peel in my baking. Instead if a recipe called for it I simply swapped in the zest of an orange and lemon or perhaps even a tablespoon of marmalade. That’s because mixed peel is one of the ingredients that Luke abhors. He can taste it a mile away so it has been useless to hide it within my fruit cakes as he would simply reject it upon first bite. He also knows which bakery adds mixed peel to their Eccles Cakes, his favourite treat, and takes his custom elsewhere. So mixed peel had been relegated from all baking in our household and substitutions relied upon instead.

Homemade Mixed Peel

What Is Mixed Peel?

Mixed peel is one of those ingredients that is featured in a lot of British baking, from traditional fruit cakes like Dundee Cake or Christmas Cake to tea time fare like the aforementioned Eccles Cakes or Hot Cross Buns. Mixed peel is basically candied lemon and orange peel. Eighteenth century bakers knew that the most intense flavour of any citrus fruit is derived from the peel. So intent on capturing as much flavour as possible in their recipes and mindful of preserving since fresh fruit was scarce, the peel was candied, dried and stored until needed. These traditional recipes are now the backbone of British baking so mixed peel has been handed down to us in our grandmothers’ and great great grandmothers’ recipes often when dried fruit is called for.

Homemade Mixed Peel

Earlier this month I was recipe testing one of my Auntie Lil’s classic cakes, She was a bit of a baker and her Vinegar Cake, which was her traditional everyday fruit cake, was legendary. I have had the recipe tucked into my recipe file for years now and recently I have been attempting to recreate an authentic gluten-free version of her renowned cake. Auntie Lil’s recipe, like a lot of traditional fruit cakes, calls upon mixed peel as an ingredient. Since I wanted a result as near as the cake she baked for her young family I dutifully added mixed peel from the supermarket along with the other dried fruit it asked for. At first bite I couldn’t work out why the cake tasted so horribly bitter, there was almost a sourness that butted up against the soft plump sultanas and raisins which was distinctly and acidically unpleasant. It soon became apparent that in my enforced abstinence from mixed peel I too had developed a dislike for it.

Homemade Mixed Peel

But how could that be? I love citrus, I love the brightness of intense lemon and orange peel. There should be no reason why mixed peel doesn’t appeal to me too. But the supermarket stuff, when tasted by itself is just not that nice. So I set about making my own. And since I now had dominion over the mixed peel I added grapefruit peel as well to add a third dimension of citrus to the proceedings.

Homemade Mixed Peel

Homemade Mixed Peel

Homemade Mixed Peel

Homemade Mixed Peel

Much like my Homemade Glacé Cherries, when you make it yourself there is absolutely no comparison to the shop bought stuff. You could eat Homemade Mixed Peel by the spoonful. In fact since I made so much Cole and I have been dipping our hands into the jar and taking out small sticky handfuls at snack time as a little treat. Making Homemade Mixed Peel is a labour of love and requires about a week of soaking it in a sugar syrup, draining it from the liquid, boiling the sugar syrup down and re-soaking the peel multiple times. Although the really trying time comes after the mixed peel has been drained of the sugar syrup and then needs to dry in a sterile environment for about a week. I dried mine in my switched off oven but since I use my oven almost every day it has required a lot of patience not to bottle the peel earlier just to get it out of the way. I definitely need to invest in a dehydrator for this purpose. When I do I’ll make the recipe again and let you know how it goes.

Homemade Mixed Peel

Suffice to say that when it came time to recipe testing Auntie Lil’s Vinegar Cake with the Homemade Mixed Peel the results were pretty on the money. Gone was the nasty bitterness, instead the lovely fragrance of sharp citrus permeated the cake and sat comfortably alongside the rest of the ingredients. The recipe has been a triumph and I’ll be sharing it soon, so stay tuned. And as for Luke, he has conceded that if I were to start using Homemade Mixed Peel in my baking then that wouldn’t be such a bad thing. Thumbs up indeed.

Homemade Mixed Peel

In the meantime if you are making this Homemade Mixed Peel you will find you have two delicious extra kitchen ingredients leftover from the recipe. You will have copious amounts of citrus flesh from the beginning step once you have peeled the fruit, and also the most beautiful citrus sugar syrup from the end step once you have drained the peel away from its soaking syrup. Do not throw either away. I’ll be posting a recipe for my Triple Citrus Shrub in the next few days to use up that citrus flesh and I’m working on a compendium of recipes to make the most of that delicious citrus sugar syrup which I’ll be sharing soon.

Homemade Mixed Peel

Print Recipe
Homemade Mixed Peel
Homemade Mixed Peel is so much more flavourful than supermarket bought. It isn’t as bitter and has a more fully rounded flavour that captures the essence of citrus season.
Homemade Mixed Peel
Prep Time 1.5 hours
Cook Time 20 minutes
Passive Time 14 days
Servings
800g
Ingredients
  • 4 organic oranges unwaxed if available
  • 4 organic lemons unwaxed if available
  • 1 organic grapefruit unwaxed if available
  • 2300 ml cold water
  • 1350 g granulated sugar
Prep Time 1.5 hours
Cook Time 20 minutes
Passive Time 14 days
Servings
800g
Ingredients
  • 4 organic oranges unwaxed if available
  • 4 organic lemons unwaxed if available
  • 1 organic grapefruit unwaxed if available
  • 2300 ml cold water
  • 1350 g granulated sugar
Homemade Mixed Peel
Instructions
Day 1
  1. If your fruit is waxed then you will need to wash off the wax from the skin of the fruit first by giving it a light scrub. Cut the oranges, lemons and grapefruit into quarters then with very sharp knife remove the skin from the pith and the flesh.
  2. Cut the peel lengthways again. You might need to cut the lemon peel once, the orange peel twice more and the grapefruit peel three times more to get even sized pieces. Then cut widthways into short thin strips.
  3. Weigh the peel, you should have around 450g.
  4. Place the peel into a stainless steel saucepan with the cold water then bring to the boil. Turn the heat low and simmer for 1 hour.
  5. Remove from the heat and set a sieve over a large bowl. Pour the contents of the saucepan through the sieve, set aside the peel for one moment and weigh out the cooking water.
  6. Pour 1140ml of the cooking water back into the saucepan with 900g of the sugar. If you don’t have enough cooking water then just top up with tap water. Bring the sugar and water to a gentle boil and simmer for 10 minutes until the sugar has dissolved.
  7. Pour the sugar syrup over the peel, cover and leave the peel to soak for 24 hours.
Day 2
  1. Strain the syrup into a large saucepan and return the peel to the bowl.
  2. Add the remaining 450g of sugar to the saucepan. Bring to a boil, then turn down to simmer for a couple of minutes making sure the sugar has completely dissolved.
  3. Pour the syrup back over the peel, cover and leave for another 24 hours.
Day 3
  1. Pour the peel and syrup into a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down to simmer for 30 minutes.
  2. Pour everything back into the bowl, cover and leave the peel to soak for four final days.
Day 7
  1. Drain the fruit, place on a fine wire rack and leave in a sterile dry place until no longer sticky, such as a turned-off oven. Although leave a note on the oven that it is not to be used. The mixed peel can take as long as seven days to completely dry. The best way to store the mixed peel afterwards is in sterilised glass jars and should keep for at least a couple of months.
Recipe Notes

Recipe adapted from the Reader's Digest 'The Cook's Scrapbook' Ed. John Palmer

Have you tried Homemade Glacé Cherries yet?

Homemade Glacé Cherries