Fanny’s Whist Cake – A simple and delicious treat!

“Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there.” 
~  Ray Bradbury

On Wednesday we mustered and did cattle work here at the farm. It’s always incumbent upon me to provide cake for smoko when the workers break for a cup of tea, and I have a host of favourite recipes to choose from. But our friend and her little boy were visiting later in the day. Eli loves cake, but mum was hoping it might be low sugar, so I decided to go through my old recipe folders and there I found a recipe I’d never made, one that was copied from my Nana Cody. My beloved Nana passed away in 2012, but she’s still a strong presence in my life – especially in the kitchen! Nana was always good for recipes and simple life wisdoms. This particular recipe was called Fanny’s Whist Cake. It was lower in sugar than most other recipes and seemed worth making. Well, I thought, why not?

The name of the cake was quite curious. First I googled Whist Cake but there is no such thing. There is a card game called Whist though – it’s a simple trick taking game that was a popular parlour game in the eighteenth and nineteenth century.

Perhaps it was a cake that Fanny liked to bake and take to her Whist games? Seems logical to me.

But who was Fanny? If she had been a friend of Nana’s I didn’t recall her ever being mentioned. I rang my sister, who is the family’s genealogy sleuth. Fanny Wheaton, Simone declared. She was Nana’s (our Dad’s mum, Joyce Cody, nee Heppell) grandmother. So that makes Fanny Wheaton my second great-grandmother. Here’s a photo of Fanny, circa 1915, courtesy of Jon Heppell who uploaded it to Ancestry.com. She’s the lady in black in the middle of the picture, holding the baby. Nana’s parents are Doris Minta Parish & her husband Frederick William Heppell, Fanny’s son (back row, right). Isn’t it wonderful to think that I am now baking her recipe, one that she was making over one hundred years ago!

So, is a cake made to a recipe that’s easily over 100 years old any good? My word it is! It’s a light and buttery cake, made interesting with the addition of dried fruit and a simple cinnamon-spiced crumb topping. It is quite firm to slice. We found it excellent served plain with a cup of tea, and our young friend Eli found it even better served with lashings of vanilla ice-cream.

I don’t think it will have very good keeping qualities so I advise that it is best served on the day it is made. We did eat the last of it the following day and found it a little drier, but still acceptable and very good buttered!

I hope you enjoy Fanny’s Whist Cake as much as we did. I’ll certainly be making it again.

Ingredients

Cake:

  • 1/2 cup butter (115g or 1 stick)
  • 3/4 cup sugar ( 170g)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 cups self-raising flour (300g)
  • 1/2 cup sultanas (golden raisins – 88g)
  • 1/4 cup sliced glace cherries (40g)
  • good pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup warmed milk (58ml)

Topping:

  • 2 tablespoons cold butter, chopped (30g)
  • 2 tablespoons soft brown sugar (30g)
  • 2 heaped tablespoons plain flour (20g)
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon powder ( 12g)

Method:

  1. Heat the oven to moderately slow (160 degrees Celsius or 325 Fahrenheit)
  2. Grease and paper line a 20cm round baking tin
  3. Make the crumble first by rubbing the butter, sugar flour and spice together with your fingertips until it looks like fine breadcrumbs. Note: Make sure the butter is cold!
  4. Warm milk (Warm, not boiling!)
  5. Cream butter and sugar until soft and fluffy – sugar is dissolved
  6. Add eggs one at a time, beating slowly after each to combine
  7. Add pinch of salt
  8. Alternate the flour and milk in small amounts, gently folding in to the mixture.
  9. Add the dried fruit and fold through.
  10. Spoon mixture into prepared pan.
  11. sprinkle the topping evenly over the batter
  12. Bake for 50 to 55 minutes or until top is golden and cake springs back when lightly pressed in centre.
  13. Cool.
  14. Best served on same day.