Dundee Cake is as British as watching rugby on Boxing Day

For the British, Christmas feasting and merriment don't end with the spectacular marzipan-covered Christmas cake, or the steaming plum pudding, or the little hot mince pies of Christmas Day. At the center of the table on Boxing Day, traditionally Dec. 26, is another special cake -- the Dundee. ``It's less rich,'' says Joyce Marsh, a native of Chandlers Ford, Hampshire, in England, who visited San Jose, Calif., recently. ``And it's not real fruity -- more like a pound cake. It's always strewn with almonds.''

In Scotland, the Dundee Cake is very popular and is served at christenings, birthdays, and other celebrations.

No one knows for sure where the name Boxing Day originated, but there are several stories.

``We used to open our presents [boxes] on this day,'' says Eileen Avery, who grew up in England and is now my next-door neighbor in San Jose, Calif.

``It's the day the lord and lady of the manor used to wait on their servants and give them money, food, or gifts in small boxes,'' says Ms. Marsh.

According to another theory, the name originated with the opening of alms boxes in church on Dec. 26, called the day of the Feast of St. Stephen. The collected money was distributed to the poor. The idea, some say, appealed especially to apprentices and assistants, who took boxes around to their employers' customers, asking for tips.

Tradespeople of 19th-century England -- breadmen, milkmen, postmen -- walked the village streets carrying a long pole with a box (no doubt with large slits for generous gifts) attached to each end.

Today, Britons celebrate Boxing Day by watching rugby, visiting relatives, entertaining, or packing the family off to the London theater for pantomimes, fairy tales, or traditional stories with dancers, singers, comedians, acrobats, and ventriloquists. ``It was always a big treat for us as children,'' Mrs. Avery says.

The recipe below comes from Ms. Marsh. Try it on any festive occasion. Traditional Dundee Cake 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons butter at room temperature 2/3 cup castor (regular) sugar 3 eggs 2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted 1 teaspoon baking powder 2 to 2 1/2 tablespoons milk Grated rind of 1 small orange Grated rind of 1 lemon 1 1/4 cups sultanas (golden raisins) 1 1/4 cups currants 1/4 cup candied cherries, halved 1/4 cup mixed candied peel, diced 1/2 cup ground almonds 2 ounces whole blanched almonds

Grease and line with wax paper the base and sides of 8-inch cake pan. Place butter and sugar in mixing bowl and cream until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating each well. In small bowl stir together baking powder and sifted flour. Gradually blend into egg mixture. If mixture seems too dry, add small amount of milk.

Stir in lemon and orange rind. Lightly stir in currants, sultanas, cherries, candied peel, and ground almonds. Turn mixture into the tin, spread to the sides, and slightly hollow out the center. Arrange almond halves (flat side down) in flower patterns lightly on top of smoothed batter.

Bake at 325 degrees F. for about two hours or until skewer inserted in center of cake comes out clean. Cool cake in tin. This cake stores well in an airtight tin and tastes all the better if kept for a few days before cutting.

To add a fancy touch, you may glaze with 2 tablespoons light corn syrup simmered for 1 minute with 2 tablespoons water. Brush on top of cake while hot.

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