Hello, we’re back for the 12 Days of Festive Baking, 2019 edition! It’s time for another selection of seasonal delights from around the world.
I’ve decided to start with something at the easier end of the spectrum. I’d love to say that this is all down to me experiencing some sort of epiphany and embracing a new ethos of cooking and living simply and in the moment. In reality, I’ve had an extremely busy November and have just survived hosting a Christmas party for ten 4-year-olds, and I thought I would take the chance to avoid making things more complex than they need to be for the next couple of days. So, ladies and gentlemen, here is a festive loaf cake all the way from Iceland – the jólakaka.
Bizarrely, as I write this it is colder in London than it is in the Icelandic capital. 0°C degrees here, and a positively tropical 7°C degrees in Reykjavík. We’re in the middle of a cold snap, so it feels very much like the festive season has started properly. Personally I love it!
And so to our cake. The jólakaka is an Icelandic classic, and the name literally means Christmas cake, although it is apparently eaten all year round. While it has raisins in it like a British Christmas cake, any similarities pretty much end there. It is similar to a pound cake and in my case I’ve flavoured it with cardamom and vanilla. I’ve found some variation in recipes, some with just vanilla, some with lemon zest, others with just cardamom, so it seems there is not one right way to do it, apart from (I would imagine) the way someone’s grandmother on the far side of Iceland near the Eyjafjallajökull volcano makes it. I’m also pretty sure that none of these things are native to Iceland? Flavours aside, raisins seem pretty ubiquitous, so I would add those, but I have also some people using dark chocolate chips too, so if you want to do that, throw in a handful. And if you’re planning to put this anywhere near small children, I would skip dried fruit altogether and embrace chocolate and vanilla and accept your lot. So in short, use this recipe as just a guide, change it as you want, and to each their own!
The texture is fairly dense and the cake is on the “dry” side. It reminded me of a madeira cake. I mean that in the sense that it is firm and has a close crumb and it is definitely not moist and soft like a banana loaf. This is a robust cake, as you’ve expect from the land of ice and massive volcanos. It’s the sort of thing I would like to eat with tea or coffee, and I did find that it was better the day after baking, so I recommend baking it, letting it cool slightly, then wrapping it in cling film. This will keep moisture in the cake, and I think lets any spices develop their flavour a little.
I’d love to be able to say that I have stories about the history of this cake, but I’ve not been able to find out much at all about it. If you do know anything about its origins, then do share! The nearest I got was finding a fun fact – the Icelandic word for baking powder is the cute-sounding lyftiduft which I am guessing is pronounced “looft-ee-dooft” and translates literally as air powder. And if you’re wondering…yes, our house was completely turned upside-down after the party, and we’re still clearing up. That’s the price of creating those precious memories!
To make a Jólakaka (makes 1 loaf cake)
• 150g butter
• 150g caster sugar
• 2 large eggs
• 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
• 1 teaspoon lemon juice
• pinch of salt
• 250g plain flour
• 2 teaspoons baking powder
• 150ml whole milk
• 100g raisins
1. Preheat the oven to 170°C (340°F). Line a loaf tin with greaseproof paper.
2. Put the butter and sugar in a large bowl, and beat until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each, until well combined. Stir in the lemon juice, cardamom, vanilla and salt and mix.
3. Fold in the flour and baking powder, then add the milk and mix to a smooth batter. You might find you don’t need all the milk.
4. Finally, fold in the raisins (or chocolate chips if you’re being rock’n’roll).
5. Gently pour the batter into the baking tin. Smooth the top and bake for around 45 minutes until done – an inserted skewer should come out clean. If the top of the cake looks like it is browning too quickly, cover the top loosely with tin foil.
6. When the cake is done, remove from the oven and leave to sit for 10 minutes before removing the cake from the tin. When cake is lukewarm, wrap in cling film, then allow to cool completely overnight.