Bakers battle over the future of Dundee Cake

FORGET the Great British Bake Off – a competition of far greater culinary significance has emerged as rival bakers clash over the future of the Dundee Cake.

Dundee baker Martin Goodfellow with a specimen of the celebrated cake. Picture: Alan Richardson
Dundee baker Martin Goodfellow with a specimen of the celebrated cake. Picture: Alan Richardson

A Scottish Government attempt to give Dundee Cake protected status has provoked a furious row over the precise definition of the famously delicious fruit, marmalade and almond confection.

Scotland’s food secretary Richard Lochhead has applied for Dundee Cake to be legally protected against imitation in the EU by obtaining much coveted Protected Geographical Indicator (PGI) status.

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Should the bid for PGI status succeed, it would mean that only cake made to the agreed recipe and, baked and decorated in the Dundee area, would be eligible to call itself Dundee Cake.

But the move to give Dundee Cake the same protection as Arbroath Smokies, Aberdeen Angus beef and Stornoway black pudding has led to objections from bakers from outwith the Dundee area.

Among those who have registered a complaint is Shortbread House in Edinburgh, a bakery that wants to have its Dundee Cake and eat it.

Anthony Laing, managing director of Shortbread House, has written to the Scottish Government to complain that the Dundee Cake definition is too restrictive.

In his letter Laing, whose company supplies Dundee cakes to Fortnum and Mason, argues that he would lose business if his firm was not allowed to use the name.

“Dundee Cake is traditionally quite distinct from other fruit cakes,” Laing wrote. “The recipe is generally drier than many other popular fruit cakes and this is something that people have come to recognise. Without being able to call it Dundee Cake, this would require a difficult transition to a new name that conveyed the same concept and this could take years, if not decades, to achieve. It would affect our business very seriously with a significant loss of sales in the short to medium term if we were no longer able to use the name Dundee Cake.”

He added: “I would argue strongly that the name has become a generic one that does not imply the cakes are made in Dundee.”

Shortbread House was supported by the British Retail Consortium, the trade association for the UK retail industry.

“We do not believe that the vast majority of customers associate the name Dundee Cake specifically with the location but rather with the flavour profile (sultanas and citrus) and the decoration,” the BRC told ministers.

“Several of our members have been selling Dundee Cake produced by suppliers outside Dundee for more than ten years. In fact we are concerned that there is not sufficient manufacturing capacity in Dundee to meet the entire country’s requirements.”

But the Dundee Cake manufacturers from outside Dundee are being met with fierce opposition from bakers in the city where the cake originated in the 1700s.

First baked by the Keiller family, the recipe includes a “jam” of candied Seville orange peel marmalade mixed with Spanish almonds, Spanish sultanas and Spanish sherry alongside flour, sugar, Scottish butter, and Scottish free-range eggs.

The early version of the cake was developed in the late 1700s under the roof of Janet Keiller’s shop. Her innovation of a new type of Seville orange marmalade launched the family into large-scale commercial production.

Fisher and Donaldson, a Dundee-based baker, has written to the Scottish Government to say the area proposed for Dundee Cake protection is “too large”. Fisher and Donaldson points out that the protected area includes Carnoustie “which still to this day does not form part of Dundee”.

Ben Milne of Fisher and Donaldson included a 1912 map of the Dundee area in his submission to the government, which showed that the cake pre-dates the village of Lochee being incorporated into the city.

Milne did not suggest that Lochee should be excluded but did say the catchment area should be limited to the area within the Kingsway bypass, although it could be widened to include Broughty Ferry “at a push”.

Fisher and Donaldson was also dismayed that the recipe proposed for special status was too restrictive and did not reflect the diverse nature of cakes baked in Dundee.

“Whilst I agree that there should be rules as to what can and cannot be in a Dundee Cake, the recipe proposed does not allow for any evolution or innovation which would truly be a shame,” wrote Milne.

“For example, the addition of malt whisky to create a world class blend of two of our most famous exports would not be allowed under the proposed recipe. The Keillers used ingredients that were available to them at the time, and as such we would be correct to think that were they still producing in Dundee city today, they would almost certainly have moved with the times and embraced the advances of our age.

“I would expect at the very least, they would be using ingredients such as glycerine to improve the overall moisture, or baking powder to increase the lightness.”

Milne added: “The bakers of Dundee are skilled craftsmen, who each have their own methods and variations of recipes, handed down from generation to generation, and to limit them to one method or recipe is to stamp out hundreds of years of their heritage and reputations.”