Vegetables are a must on a diet. I suggest carrot cake, zucchini bread and pumpkin pie.

The other day I had a sugar craving, a cake craving. Not only is this very rare, as gentle readers will agree, but the craving was absolutely specific. No candy, no laddoo, no barfi, no chocolate cake, no cookie. I wanted a moist, beige cake, with the occasional crunch of a smashed walnut, the sudden, intense freshness of orange peel and the burst of a juicy, sweet and sour golden raisin. I wanted what I cannot have: a Williamsburg orange cake. I cannot have it because I am temporarily separated from my oven, and no shop sells it. So that day I thought about it.

People like yellow cakes, chocolate cakes, cakes with hard icing, cakes with creamy icing, and that’s what you can buy. But I like cakes with fruit in them, the top golden brown and beginning to crack; soft and richly moist with fruit, not leaden with butter nor dry and powdery. And I made a list of my favourite cakes. I’d love to call them fruitcakes, because the word has such a delightful meaning in slang, but they’re not.

Fruitcakes (or fruit cakes) are typically made ahead of big celebrations like weddings or Christmas, and the fruit in them, which could be up to half the total weight of the finished cake, is dried: currants, raisins, sultanas and candied peel. My kind, “fruited cake”, for want of a better term, is made with fresh fruit.

In the list of favourites, the first, chronologically, is what used to emerge from my “tuck box” in college: a big rectangle, about an inch thick, of a “cake” which had been cut into squares that my mother called applesauce-spice cookies. These were more like brownies, two-inch square, moist and dark with apple purée and redolent with cloves and cinnamon. She was a legendary baker, but was the only cake I would eat, and to this day, when I smell cinnamon, I long for it. This was my madeleine.

When I got my first oven I bought a Betty Crocker recipe book and after some hesitant exploration arrived at favourites. Children — inevitably, I suppose — largely mirror their mother’s tastes, and some stock recipes were arrived at. Other cakes and cookies were baked occasionally, but Williamsburg orange cake, apple cake and banana-nut bread were regularly produced. The orange cake calls for butter and margarine, although I substitute the margarine with more butter, but the apple and banana cakes are made with regular vegetable oil, so they’re not just delicious, they’re guilt-free. And then I inherited my mother’s cookbook and found the recipe for applesauce cookies, the page with the recipe has dried splashes of the batter, still smelling of her cake. So this time of year is when fruit and nuts are eaten in every way.


(Makes 15 servings)

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups sugar

3/4 cup butter, softened

1 cup orange juice

1/2 cup dahi

1 tbsp grated orange peel

1 1/2 tsp baking soda

1 1/2 tsp vanilla

3 eggs

1 cup golden raisins, cut up

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F). Grease and flour 12-cup bundt cake pan (or two round pans, 9 x 2”). Mix all ingredients except nuts and raisins together in a large bowl. Beat on low speed for 30 seconds, then on high speed for three to four minutes, scraping bowl intermittently. Stir in raisins and walnuts. Pour into pan. Bake for an hour or until toothpick inserted in centre comes out clean (bake smaller pan for 30-35 minutes).


(Makes 35)

2 cups sifted all-purpose flour

2 tsp baking soda

3/4 tsp cinnamon powder

1/4 tsp powdered cloves

1/4 tsp grated nutmeg

1/2 cup soft butter

1 cup sugar

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups boiled apple purée

1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

1 cup golden raisins

Powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F). Lightly grease a 151/2-by-101/2-by-1-inch pan. Sift flour with baking soda, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. In large mixing bowl, at medium speed, cream butter with sugar until fluffy. Add egg and vanilla and beat well. At low speed, beat in flour mixture just until combined. Add apple purée, walnuts and raisins. Stir with a spoon until evenly mixed. Pour into pan and bake 25 minutes or until surface springs back when gently pressed with a fingertip. Cool on wire rack and sprinkle with powdered sugar.


(Serves 15)

2 1/3 cups sifted all-purpose flour

1 2/3 cup sugar

1 1/4 cups mashed bananas (about 3-4)

2/3 cup finely chopped walnuts

2/3 cup butter

2/3 cup buttermilk

3 eggs

1 1/4 tsp baking powder

1 1/4 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F). Grease and flour rectangular pan, 13x9x2 inches (or 2 round pans, 9x1 1/2 inches). Beat all ingredients on low speed, scraping bowl constantly, three minutes. Beat on high speed, scraping bowl occasionally, three minutes. Pour into pan. Bake until wooden toothpick inserted in centre comes out clean, rectangle 45-50 minutes, rounds 35-40 minutes. Cool.

Always use pans that are the size called for in the recipe; shiny metal pans produce better crusts; fill pans only until half full.

Cakes with shortening or butter should be baked in pans that have been greased generously with shortening or butter.

Dust each greased pan with flour, shaking the pan until its bottom and sides are well coated. Shake out excess flour, tapping the rim of the upside-down pan on a hard surface to dislodge sticky lumps.