Belgian Loaf

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.


Filed under Guest chef, Recipe, Sweet Things

15 responses to “Belgian Loaf

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Belgian Loaf « LondonEats --

  2. Brussels?….sprouts!

    Mmm, this recipe from Sarah sounds and looks very pretty to me–a light cake. I really picture people eating it somewhere full of sunlight and breezes ;]

    You know what I realized when I read that you were in Scotland? It’s hard for me to think in accents. I tried to read your blog in a London-esque accent, but then it reverted into a weird thing until it settled onto my native Canadian accent.

    Anywho, food and friends are great.

    • It might be quite a while before I do something with Brussels sprouts. Maybe at Christmas time, and most likely involving a lot of butter and garlic.

      Cake was good in the end, and it was indeed eaten at a tea party on the top floor of a building with sunlight flooding in. You must be physic!

  3. Update – to be sure that this really is an easy recipe, I had a go at making one myself last night. Really, really simple – omit the egg, just measure with a cup (240ml = 1 cup), and it takes no longer than 10 minutes to make, and smells absolutely delicious. I went with cherries and sultanas in the loaf, looks pretty as well.

  4. Update 2 – made this again at the weekend, and used glacé cherries, sultanas, chopped candied peel and chopped apricots. Very successful, very autumnal.

  5. Laura

    Hi there…
    just came across this as I was googling the origin. I made this this w/e.

    Just an FYI :)….My mother and my Grandmother were both Scottish, born in Glasgow. This was a “war” recipe according to my grandmother. She would make this for the soldiers as there was no butter available during rationing. Traditionally, it is made with margerine, not butter and the only ingredient they really had was raisins or nothing..
    It’s totally easy, yes and really yum!

    • Hi Laura – thanks for your comment. So nice that you also got this as a family recipe!

      The version that my friend Sarah gave me did indeed have margarine (and raisins) in it originally, but we both switched over to using butter and adding some more “exotic” dried fruit. I’m thinking of making it again for a Christmas drinks party by adding a little cinnamon and a pinch of cloves, I think that might work well.

      • Thanks for posting the recipie! My mum used to make it when we lived in
        Barbados, her cousin from Long Island, USA gave her the recipe…we all
        loved it and I make it often..she always added some cinnamon and is soooooo good! Happy baking everyone!

  6. Pingback: Scottish Food: Smiddy Dumpling | LondonEats

  7. Korgan

    Are you sure the temperatures are correct here??
    “Pre-heat the oven to 160°C (230°F) and grease and line a loaf tin.”
    I just baked this at 230°F for an hour and it’s still liquid. I’m pretty sure it should be baked closer to 350°F.

    • Hi Korgan – oh, I am so, so sorry! The 160C is correct, but that is 320F, not 230F…really, really sorry about that, I must have switched the numbers by mistake. Were you able to put up the temperature and save it?

      I’ve changed the recipe to correct the recipe.

  8. Emma

    In Shetland this would be a Hufsie cake.

    What is the reason for using soda as well as baking powder?

    • Hi Emma – the easy answer is…this is the recipe as it came to me! But I think the baking soda will react with acid from the fruit or juice to give a bit more lift to the cake. I’ve seen quite a few batter cake recipes that use baking power or self raising flour and also the baking soda.

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