A recipe for Almost Brazilian Symphony (aka Not Fruitcake) appeared originally in a 1950 cookbook.
EVERYONE SAYS my Granny Rose baked like an angel. I inherited her three-ring-binder of typewritten recipes (clearly she also was an excellent typist), and over the years I’ve worked my way through it, choosing recipes that I remember or that sound appealing, skipping the more suspicious ones such as a Mexican chicken made with curry, frozen corn and shell noodles. I give my Gran the benefit of the doubt and write off recipes like that one to the times.
Gran often entertained in the afternoon. Her friends would come for tea, which they’d pour from a sterling silver tea set, and drink from bone china with plenty of milk and sugar. There were always delicate cookies and often a light-as-air sponge cake that they’d cut with a special knife that looked like a giant comb.
But Gran was perhaps most famous for her Brazilian Symphony, a loaf so packed with giant Brazil nuts, dates and maraschino cherries that thin slices of it looked like stained glass. She kept the loaves wrapped in waxed paper in a tin on a shelf in the kitchen so that if anyone just dropped by, she could have tea on the table in the time it took to bring the kettle to a boil.
I always thought of that loaf as my Gran’s own special recipe, but I’ve since found it in the International Goodwill Recipe Book, a simple paperback first published in 1950 as a fundraiser in South Africa, and a staple on the kitchen shelves of many housewives there for at least the next 30 years. So it’s not surprising that my Gran, who lived in a small town in the Cape Province of South Africa, was baking it. I just like to think she made it best.
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On the other side of the world and 65 years after it was published, I’m too honest to say this recipe is mine, or even my Gran’s, for that matter. But she tweaked it, and I tweaked it a little more because I don’t like maraschino cherries, and I hope you’ll tweak it and make it yours. The cake is simple and delicious, and the slices are lovely to look at. It’s the perfect dessert for people who don’t eat dessert. It goes beautifully with cheese, and my Gran would tell you that it’s loveliest with a strong cup of sweet, milky black tea.
Almost Brazilian Symphony (AKA Not Fruitcake)
1 pound Brazil nuts
1 pound dates, pitted
7 ounces dried figs
1½ cups cake flour
¾ cup sugar
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Grease a 9-by-5 loaf pan. Line it with parchment paper by cutting two long strips, one the width and one the length of the bottom, and fit them into the pan, leaving overhang on all sides. Set aside.
2. Put the nuts, dates and figs in a large bowl. Sift the dry ingredients over the nuts and fruit, and stir well to coat.
3. Whisk the eggs and vanilla until foamy, and add to the nut mixture. Stir well. It might seem as if there isn’t enough liquid to moisten the dry ingredients, but keep stirring, and it will come together.
4. Transfer the batter to the prepared loaf pan. Use a rubber spatula to scrape the bowl. Press the mixture gently into the pan, and smooth the top as best you can.
5. Bake until firm and golden, about 1 hour and 45 minutes. Let the cake cool in the pan, then use the parchment handles to lift it out. Store tightly wrapped with plastic in the refrigerator for up to six weeks. Use a sharp serrated knife to cut thin (1/8-inch) slices, and serve at room temperature. Best made a day or two before you need it.