Lewis Carroll’s famous classics Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking-Glass: And What She Saw There are filled with references to magical food. There is the Queen of Hearts’s famous jam tart, Bread-and-Butterfly pudding, and the Looking-Glass cake that Alice serves to the Lion and the Unicorn.
In Through the Looking Glass, the Lion and the Unicorn take a break from fighting and settle down for a snack. The White King calls out, “Ten minutes allowed for refreshments!” and immediately trays of white and brown bread are produced. The Unicorn turns to the White King and demands, “Come, fetch out the plum-cake, old man! None of your brown bread for me!”
When the cake is produced, Alice tries to cut it up, but it remains stubbornly whole. The Unicorn tells Alice that she does not know how to manage Looking-Glass cakes and instructs her to “carry it round first, and cut it up afterwards,” after which it magically divides itself into pieces!
Plum cake in the 19th century had no plums (a Looking-Glass cake indeed) and was really a fancy fruit cake, usually served at weddings and special holidays like Christmas. For this plum cake, the recipe was adapted from the recipe found in the enchanting out-of-print gem The Alice in Wonderland Cookbook: A Culinary Diversion. While this is a classic recipe for old English plum cake, it now features more of the fruits and nuts that unicorns are reputed to love. These include apples and hazelnuts, the fruit of trees under which the unicorn is said to be found!
Makes one 8-inch round cake
½ lb. soft unsalted butter
½ lb. superfine sugar
3 large eggs
2¼ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ cup dried apple slices
½ cup currants (or substitute golden raisins) ½ cup mixed candied citrus peel
6 tablespoons raisins
4 tablespoons whole or halved hazelnuts 4 tablespoons walnut pieces
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice
⅓ cup brandy
Preheat the oven to 300ºF. Line a round 8-inch cake pan with parchment paper and set aside.
In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy.
In a small bowl, beat together the eggs. Gradually whisk them into the creamed butter-sugar mixture.
In a medium bowl, sift together the flour and baking powder. Mix into the wet ingredients by degrees until dry and wet ingredients are incorporated.
Fold in the fruit, nuts, and spices. Add the brandy.
Transfer the batter to the prepared cake pan. Bake in the oven for 1 hour at 300˚F. Reduce heat to 250ºF and bake another two hours (or until a toothpick inserted into the center emerges clean).
Remove cake from oven and let cool in the pan on a wire rack.
When cool, turn out the cake, cut into slices, and pass around.