I made these crossword cakes for the launch of my two Dummies books on cryptic crosswords, back in 2012. I thought you might be interested in the recipe, which is a family favourite, and the method.
The recipe is my great-aunt’s fruit cake. It’s a boiled fruit cake, which means the dried fruit is boiled before baking, which makes it all soft and tender and nommy. Even people who don’t like fruit cake like this one!
It is also a very easy and inexpensive cake to make (always a plus)! Keep in mind that the whole decorating process takes over a week (as the marzipan layer needs to dry first), so this isn’t a project to undertake in a rush at the last minute.
Aunty Joyce’s Fruit Cake
- 500g sultanas
- 120g dried orange peel (or you can substitute another dried fruit if you’re not a fan of peel. NB if adding glacé fruit, stir it in at the very end, not during the cooking-the-fruit stage)
- 250 g butter, chopped
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup plain flour
- 1 cup self-raising flour
- 3 eggs
- 60–90 ml brandy
- a large saucepan — all batter mixing is done in the saucepan, so make sure it really is large!
- a knife for cutting the butter
- a mixing spoon
- measuring cups
- deep cake pan
- skewer of some sort for testing doneness
- wire cake cooling rack
1. Put the sultanas and peel (or chopped dried apricots, or currants, or whatever) into a large saucepan. Pour in enough water to cover the fruit. Bring to the boil, then simmer until all the liquid is absorbed, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat.
2. Preheat the oven to 175ºC (NOT fan forced) or 165ºC fan-forced.
3. Stir in the chopped butter and sugar, mix until the sugar is dissolved and the butter is melted.
4. Mix in the flours, eggs, and brandy.
5. Grease and line a deep cake tin. If you’re using a silicone pan, you don’t need to line it, just greasing will do. Pour in the batter.
6. Bake! My cakes usually take 70 minutes, but test yours at one hour. Allow to cool in the tin for a bit, then on a wire rack. At this point you can just either wrap it in foil, to ice another day or proceed to icing right away.
The Crossword Decoration
I got the basic idea and method for how to do this from the Cake or death? website (see the cryptic crossword cake close up, and Janet’s decoration technique). This is her cryptic crossword cake, which I love. Look, an icing pencil! She’s gone as far as adding custom cryptic clues, a step I haven’t done (this time!) … the by Araucakia line is hilarious (a take on Araucaria, a famous UK cryptic setter). I also highly approve of her Eddie Izzard Cake or death? connection!
You will need:
- apricot jam
- marzipan or almond cake paste (~600g)
- fondant icing (~600g)
- icing sugar (for dusting)
- black paste food colouring
- black edible ink pen — I used the Jet Black Edible Food Pen
- rolling pin
- pastry brush
- tiny paintbrush
- clean ruler
- print out of an enlarged crossword
1. You need a basic marzipan and fondant icing coating on the cake. There are many online tutorials and videos on how to do this; I found these two useful:
Basically, you coat the cake with a thin layer of strained, warm apricot jam (as glue). Then you roll out the marzipan layer and cover the cake with it. Then the cake needs to dry for several days. Finally, you roll out the fondant icing, brush the cake with apricot jam ‘glue’ again, and cover the cake with the fondant.
Once the fondant icing has dried for a bit (at least 4–5 hours), then follow the rest of the steps:
2. Using the back of a knife, or a very clean ruler edge, lightly press a regular grid design into the top of the cake. You don’t want the lines to press down too far into the icing. I measured a 1.5 cm grid onto the cake using a ruler and back of a knife to mark the starting positions for the lines.
3. Mix up the black paste food colouring in a little bowl, with a few drops of water, to get a nice painting consistency. Practice on some scraps of icing first.
4. Paint in the indented lines (or use the pen, but I found the brush worked better), to draw the grid. Avoid leaning your hand on the cake, if you can help it (yeah, just ignore me in that photo). Rest your elbow on the bench, and hold the wrist of your painting hand with your other hand.
5. Colour in the squares that should be black, using your printed-out crossword as a guide. You can use kitchen paper or cotton buds dipped in clean water to carefully wipe away any mistakes. Work slowly and carefully! This part takes quite a while, I did it over several days. Good to do while watching NCIS.
6. Leave to dry overnight.
7. Using the edible ink pen, write in the tiny grid numbers to correspond with the crossword design you’re using.
8. Ta dah — you’re done! Sit back and bask in the glow of your cleverness. Then nom it. Don’t forget to share (a bit). If you really want to go to town, you can fill in some of the grid with appropriate words for the cakey occasion.