March 13, 2012

A Good Sultana Cake

I explored, baked, experimented and swore my way through eleven years of trying to perfect a chocolate cake. Happily, I can report I achieved what is for me the perfect chocolate cake. I could say I went through the same with my search for the perfect sultana cake. But I'd be lying. To be fair, I've had at least a dozen attempts making sultana cakes (unlike about one hundred chocolate cakes) in my quest to find THE one.

When I purchased Merle's Kitchen last week, I didn't get past her very first recipe: Sultana Cake. I watched Merle in the MasterChef episode that showed her to be the CWA baking champ she has well and truly earned.  I remember at the time frantically writing down every word she said about her beautiful Peach Blossom Cake. I recall at the time thinking, this lady knows what she's on about. I didn't hesitate buying her book for a minute when I spotted it on the shelf. 

In fact I think I'll go back and buy several more books. I couldn't think of a nicer gift to give than this book together with one of my preserves or even one of the actual baked cakes inside.  Her book is beautiful. I'm impressed and very envious. My kids took a glance and immediately glanced back at me. Well Ma, hope you manage to put together a book like this before you're 78 - or words similar to that is what they tell me.  Gee, hope your right kids. 

I've been so tired and negligent in my domestic home duties with all the campaigning lately; I decided to relax a little and make a cake. I grabbed Merle's book, checked my cupboard to find enough sultanas and the deal was sealed.  Let's have another crack at the sultana cake.

Sultana Cake
(recipe taken from Merle's Kitchen)

400gm sultanas
1/2 cup brandy
1 cup water
2 tsp cornflour
250gm butter, at room temperature, chopped
1 cup white sugar
3 eggs
2 cups plain flour
1 tsp baking powder

  1. Preheat oven to moderately slow (140deg C). Grease a 22cm round cake tin, and line the base with baking paper.
  2. Combine the sultanas, brandy and half the water in a saucepan. Bring to the boil over medium-ow heat and simmer until the liquid has absorbed into the fruit. 
  3. Stir the cornflour and remaining water together until smooth and add to the pan. Stir for 2-3 minutes, until it comes to the boil and thickens. Remove from the heat, cover the surface with cling film and leave to cool until just lukewarm.
  4. Use electric beaters to cream the butter and sugar until white and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Fold in the sifted flour and baking powder,then the sultana mixture. Spoon into the tin, and smooth the surface. Bake for 2 hours, on the second bottom shelf of your oven, until firm to a gentle touch in the centre. Cool in the tin for 15 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely. 

My Suggestions: 
  • Due to the longer baking time, line the sides of the tin with baking paper too. 
  • I only mixed a little water with the cornflour -just enough to be able to pour into the boiled sultanas.
  • I placed the boiled sultanas on a plate & evenly levelled them to cool faster.  Sit on a rack. I refuse to place cling film directly over any hot food.  
  • I added 1/4 cup of milk when the flour needed to be folded through. 
  • I used castor sugar
  • I beat the butter first before adding sugar; also added a tsp of vanilla.
  • I preheated my oven to 120deg C. Baked it for 2 hours 20 mins. 

My search is over. I'm delighted with this cake. I'm looking forward to entering this cake into our local show this year. I'm confident this recipe will bag me a ribbon. Thumbs up from me.
My dear son saw me taking a photo of the cake this morning and I gave him a piece. He said it looks very unspectacular and that was a shame because it tasted far better than it looked. Not sure I agree with him. I understand where he's coming from, but I'm really getting over the schmancy fancy look of things, and humble simplicity is what I find more appealing these days.  It's true country fare, the old-fashioned way, buttery, rich and sustaining. I love it; thanks Merle. I'm in a quandary. I have no idea which recipe to try next. That'll be a while though, because a little piece of good sultana cake will keep me going for the better part of two weeks. And yes, I think it will definitely keep well for that time.  It's official - I can now tick another box - recipe for a good sultana cake. Thank goodness. 

Come in closer because I don't want Merle to hear. The sultana cake in her book looks grand; but I think mine looks better. Shhhhh.  


  1. Did it win, did it win? I love sultana cake and never make it... actually I really need to I think. If it won a ribbon I'll make it Mariana.
    I'm still trying to find the perfect chocolate cake. Too heavy, too light, too time consuming...etc,etc

    1. Hello dear Brydie. I haven't entered it yet - this was an experiment to see if it was worth entering. The answer is a definite 'yes', however we'll see how I go with time as the Show approaches. Life is very unpredicatible round here lately. I really should post about my ever reliable chocolate cake, shouldn't I. Hope all is well with you dear lady and the little one. Cheers Mariana xx

  2. Thank so much for sharing this recipe, I think it was fate that I stumbled upon it, it was only days earlier I was reading about a "postie challenge" and then had forgotten about it, then decided to make a sultana cake and searched for a really good recipe and found this one and thought I would try it and while I was making it checked out the rest of your blog and found with delight that you had been on a postie challenge, so as I waited very patiently for the cake to cook I read about you and your family's adventure, wow I so would love to do that! And yes those little bikes are tough - my hubby is a postie and I also work for Aussie Post!
    How did the cake turn out??? Well I make it exactly how you did, except I ran out of caster sugar and used a quarter cup of raw sugar, but it turned out exactly like yours just a little darker. Hubby comes home and says "Sultana cake isn't my favorite", well I said it might be now, and when asking him how it was, he said it wasn't too bad which means he liked it and he has been coming back for more!!! Men! Anyhow thanks again for a great recipe, it is a lovely cake and your blog is great reading. Oh I put a photo of the cake as my profile :)

  3. Oh wow. So pleased to hear the cake received a thumbs up Paula. I had a look at your photo and it looks simply grand! Better than mine actually - hehe. Thanks for dropping back to let me know; it's nice to hear the recipe helped you to achieve a good sultana cake result. Don't worry; my husband is the same; very understated in dishing out his compliments!

    Very nice to hear you enjoyed the postie challenges. After reading your comment I see you're someone who well understands the charm and the toughness of these little postie bikes. Aren't they just the bees knees. And yeah, quite the adventure too. Boy it's some time ago now; maybe time for another adventure I reckon! Nice to meet you Paula. Be sure to drop in again sometime. Mariana.

  4. This looks like a wondeful cake. I have been asked to make a celebration sultana cake for a golden wedding. Can I ask for advice please. I need to ice it but have been asked not to put marzipan on it. Was thinking about apricot jam to seal, royal icing then perhaps a 2nd layer of royal icing or fondant. What do you think. I need to make one to feed 40 + (i am considering making a 2nd chocolate cake for those who aren't into sultana cake). It just needs to be traditional for a traditional couple. Many thanks, Claire

    1. Hi Claire; sorry for not answering sooner but I'm out on the Big Property and our internet is rather unreliable out here unfortunately.

      I'm not a cake decorator Claire so I'm not really sure what to tell you. I've used store bought fondant and placed it straight over the top of christmas cake without the marzipan layer and it seemed fine. Make sure you use bits of the icing first to fill any bumps in the top of the cake trying to make it as smooth as possible before covering. Or do what I do with a mud cake and turn it upside down - it provides a very even surface and makes life easier.

      About the serves; not sure if you’ll get forty smallish pieces from a cake that’s been baked in a 19cm square tin; how big a serve are you after? Definitely make the sultana cake in a square tin; you will get more even serves. Round cakes are trickier to get similar sized pieces unless you go for a wedge, but you won’t get forty pieces from a round cake this size. A second chocolate cake sounds like a great idea and will relieve you worrying about enough pieces for all. Good Luck.

    2. Mariana

      Thanks for the reply & advice. I'm a little out of my depth here. I will have to scale up recipe I think, we are up to 51 already with more replies outstanding, I may do 3 cakes like a wedding cake 2 x sultana & 1 x chocolate. My MIL says I can make now & ice but I'm worried it will dry out (10 days till required) & no marizipan still a requirement. I really appreciate your advice. Claire

    3. HI Claire;I'm feeling a little out my depth too. I'm a big believer in the weather playing a large role in the outcome of our baked goodies. I live in a climate which is quite humid. We've endured a lot of rain the last couple of months and the air is very moist. Also the amount of butter in the cake should make it last for an extended length of time compared to a regular cake. For me, I think the cake would be fine in ten days time give a couple a things.

      1. Once baked, brush the top of the hot cake with some brandy.
      2. Sit on a rack, but do not take out of the tin. Allow to cool in the tin. Do not cover the tin with a tea towel.
      3. When totally cooled; wrap tightly and cover till required or turn out and decorate as desired. Pretty much like you would with a fruit or a mud cake.

      Remember the environment you live in makes a big difference to the outcome of the cake. I'm going on what I'd do here rather than having it done it - so please keep that in mind - check out other sources on the net and seek other advice to help inform you.

    4. Hi Mariana

      Have been so busy cake still not made so it will be fresh on Sat. Thanks again for help & reassurance. I live in Scotland so I'm sure the cake will be fine with humidity. I'll let you know how it turns out. Claire :-)

    5. Sorry just one more question, when you pour it in the tin how far up should it go, or rathe how far from the top should it be. I'm scaling up to 6 egg (knowing there will be extra for a loaf tin) but unsure about how high it goes. Not really much of a bake. Claire ps if you have any idea of timings I would appreciate that.

    6. I've made mud cakes with the batter once poured in, virtually coming to the top of the baking tin. In order to get around it spilling over; I place a double lining of baking paper around the outside of the baking tin and tie firmly with twine right under the top edge of the cake tin. I've never had a problem with it yet, and mud cake is a very heavy batter so it's a great way of achieving a tall cake. I can't imagine a sultana cake would be any different, so if you're worried - line the outside of the tin - as tightly and as securely as you can. Should be fine.

    7. PS Claire: every oven is different; when I made this cake the first time I baked it at 120degree Celicus. My new oven seems to require warmer temp I've noticed in my cake baking. So I've had to turn it up another ten or twenty degrees compared to my older oven. Which in the case of this sultana cake, would align with Merle's instructions to bake at 140degrees. I'd probably still be cautious and perhaps go with 130degrees. I'm afraid it's one of those things where you really need to know your oven and adjust accordingly. As for baking time, you're not going to hurt the cake or sink it after two hours baking, so test till done after this time if you're worried.

    8. Hi

      Just wanted to stop by and give you a heartfelt thank you for your blog and for sharing this recipe. The cake was judged to be a great success (not bigging myself up here you understand I only followed the instructions). With the older crowd at the party I changed the brandy for marsala (less alcohol motive and i had it). Doubled up the quantities of the recipe, two layers of royal icing (stuck with apricot jam) and wow I did it. Thank you so much for you help and support. Claire x

    9. It sounds like your sultana cake was a triumphant success. Congrats Claire on a job well done. Following instructions is one thing; achieving the desired result is quite another. I hope your efforts were well rewarded and appreciated. Thanks ever so much for letting me know. Mariana x

  5. Hello,
    I am so pleased I found your blog again. I followed it a few years ago and I think you had a break from blogging and now I have rediscovered you. I am very pleased as I so enjoyed your writings.
    Anyway I have been in search of a very very good sultana cake tired of the dry things I have been trialling...and you popped up. I want a sultana cake that stays moist rather than lovely when just made, and then becomes as dry as the Nullarbor. Could this be it? Does it stay moist and the sultanas stay in the cake when sliced rather than fall out on the plate. Please let me know if it is reliable and not a one hit wonder.
    Looking forward to catching up on your blog.
    Angela from Brisbane

    1. Hi Angela. Well this cake may be a two hit wonder because I've only made it twice; as far as I recall. It was surprisingly good and didn't turn into the Nullarbor in the following days.

      My best suggestion is to keep your oven low, line the tin with double baking paper; don't overmix the flour; but no flour spots please. If you take a look at the first pic I recall loving the fact that it was well baked all the way through, but the top and the sides of the cake didn't have a dark edge.

      So unless it was a complete fluke or two flukes I think it's well worth giving it a go if you're on the search for a good sultana cake. Take some time and read some of the above comments from people who have made this cake. Twas very nice of them to leave positive feedback indicating they were pleased with the results. Good luck. Mariana

  6. Thanks so much. I will finish off eating the last sultana cake I made and certainly give this one a try. I will let you now how it goes.
    Kindest regards.

  7. Thank you Mariana and thank you Merle. My aunt used to make the most delicious light sultana cake and I've been looking for a recipe for ages. I made this yesterday as a first ever attempt at a sultana cake and despite my tweaking it turned out just perfectly. It was moist and with the fruit evenly distributed and super tasty. I ran out of sultanas so substituted mixed dried fruit and didn't have brandy so used some rose wine I had in the fridge (I live in the country so it's not easy to pop down to the shops). Also, I used a square tin. Everything worked perfectly, even the wine, which sounds weird but it's all liquid and alcohol, right? This is now my go-to sultana cake. Fantastic!

    1. Wow - what a fabulous effort - and great outcome too by the sounds of it. I haven't made this cake for ages and you've made me think about baking it again. Some wild and woolly tweaks there - but what the heck - they worked and that's marvellous.

      I understand about not being able to pop down to the shops like city folk. You really need to be resourceful - and sounds like you certainly are. Thanks for the feedback. Mariana x

  8. Hello again,
    I apologise for not letting you know sooner but I made the sultana cake....not once... but 3 times now!! it is a really lovely cake, and I have been asked for the recipe as well. Thank you so much for a winner of a recipe. Do you happen to have any other certainties like this one?
    Kindest Regards,

    1. Thanks Angela for the glowing Sultana Cake report. I haven't made it for yonks and have quite forgotten about it; so a nice timely reminder that it's a goodie worth remembering.

      What can I say about 'other certainties' - My Forever Chocolate Cake is a beauty and everyone in my family loves it - turns out a surprising number of bloggers who've tried it have given it a huge thumbs up too. Just look under the page Cakes & Sweets.

  9. What can I substitute the brandy with? We are an alcohol free home!

  10. Hi Mariana, I stumbled across your blog in my search for the perfect sultana cake. My 7 year old food critic gave it a double thumbs up (he couldn't speak because his mouth was full throughout the judging process!). My hubbie & 2 other children also asked for seconds, so it's a winner! Thanks so much for your fabulously delicious recipe! Just one tiny thing, the cake was rather crumbly when cutting (which meant I ate waaaaay too many 'crumbs'), but I did forget to add the 1/4 cup milk you suggest, so maybe that explains slight crumbliness? I am going to try your chocolate cake next. You are so incredibly inspiring and I immensely enjoyed reading through your blog. Tonia

    1. Hi Tonia - wow - any blogger would love to receive a comment like yours. Thank you -I must admit the blog is in real wind-down mode; I don't post anywhere near as much these days, but it's nice to hear some of the old fav recipes are still making a bit of a mark.

      Yes, do add the milk next time. I haven't made this cake for yonks but I recall at the time, it seemed too stiff for my liking.

      Hope you like the chockie cake, there shouldn't be any 'crumbliness' with that recipe - it's so lovely and moist - hope you like it. Mariana x

  11. Your cake looks amazing. Do you have any tips on how to increase the ingredients to make a 10 in square tinned sultana cake

  12. I made your great sultana cake, except the sultana's headed to the bottom , can you help.? I did add the milk and cooked it at 130%.


  13. May I know why we need to add cornflour to the boiled sultana?

  14. Hello help I have the same problem as someone else.My fruit falls to the bottom.