I was in Brussels at the weekend, and spent a rather pleasant time thanks to not having planned very much at all. On past visits, I have tended to try to meet everyone there that I know, resulting in running from social event to social event, and concluding by the end of the afternoon that I have had far too many cups of coffee in various cafés. This time, quite a few friends were out of town, so it was a very sedate affair. Dinner with friends on Friday, a lazy Saturday finished off by meeting friends for a little baking and dinner, and a lazy Sunday walking in the sunshine (it seemed like 25 degrees! In Brussels! In October!). A great weekend, as it was nice to see people for a decent amount of time and hang out, discussing everything from major changes to the little things in life.
As part of the Saturday afternoon baking session, my friend Sarah was keen to do a guest spot on my blog and to share some of her family recipes. Rather than bombard you, I’ll spread these over the next few days so that they can be enjoyed, and to start with, it’s the amazingly retro Belgian Loaf.
Ah, you’re just back from Brussels. So this must be a Belgian recipe! A logical conclusion, but it has – as far as both Sarah and I am aware – nothing to do with Belgium. She explained to me that the recipe is originally from the Women’s Institute, and was passed to her mother when she got married back in the 1970s, together with a well-meaning suggestion that as a new wife, this was the sort of thing that she should be turning her hand to. It’s actually quite a simple recipe – just cook up sugar, butter and dried fruit, then allow to cool, and mix with flour and bake – and to both Sarah and myself, it brings back the memories of home baking in Scotland that we knew as children. The resulting cake is a sort of light fruit cake, both in colour and flavour. You will also see that you can make this with or without an egg. Sarah made this once without the egg and found that it didn’t seem to make a difference, and has since stopped adding it. If you go with this tweak, it also means you have a recipe that is safe to make with kids who keep putting fingers into the batter and eating it raw.
I do find the name both funny and interesting, and have tried to find out why it is called “Belgian Loaf”. The internet didn’t provide any clues – lots of very similar recipes, but very little commentary on it. Having actually lived in Belgium, and having also tried a fairly wide selection of their baked goods over the years, I never came across anything that seemed remotely like Belgian Loaf. Given that this seems so much more like a familiar British teabread, I can only conclude that the Belgian title has been added to suggest a slightly more exotic origin. Scottish teacakes were plain, so adding a little dried fruit would add that little element of Continental sophistication to merit the name. That’s my theory, but if anyone knows differently, we would love to know more!
For one Belgian loaf:
• 1 cup (200g) sugar
• 1 cup (240ml) milk
• 1 cup (160g) dried fruit (sultanas, glace cherries, cranberries – in any proportions you like)
• 4 oz (100g) butter
• 2 cups (250g) plain flour
• 1 egg, beaten (optional)
• 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
Pre-heat the oven to 160°C (320°F) and grease and line a loaf tin.
Put the sugar, butter, milk and fruit into a saucepan, and slowly bring to the boil, stirring from time to time. Once boiling, remove from the heat and allow to cool until lukewarm.
In a bowl, combine the flour, baking power and baking soda. Add the milk mixture and the egg (if using) and stir until well combined. The mixture will be very runny.
Pour into the loaf tin, and bake for 50-60 minutes until risen, golden and an inserted skewer comes out clean. If the top darkens too quickly, cover loosely with tin foil during baking.
Note: the proportions in Sarah’s recipe were in cups, so I have reproduced them here, with conversions into grammes for those that prefer them.