A festival-time soda-raised sponge cake originally with fruits mixed-in, later plainer with a chocolate topping. Known as being made with dates and figs, from where the name presumably derives, as the port city of Tunis (the ancient Carthage) was well-known for its export of North African fruits.
Original Receipt from 'Taunton Courier, and Western Advertiser' - Wednesday 28 March 1934
[Part of a list of Easter Festival foods]
A quarter-pound of dates, figs, and prunes, half-a-pound of flour, three ounces Demerara sugar, three ounces of butter, one ounce of shelled walnuts, one level teaspoonful of mixed spice, two eggs, half-a-teaspoonful of bi-carbonate of soda, three ounces golden syrup, milk.
Stone and cut up the dates. Wash and drain the figs and prunes, and cut both into small pieces, rejecting the stalks and stones. Chop the walnuts, whisk up the eggs, add the warmed golden syrup, and whisk together. Beat the butter and sugar to a cream, then gradually stir in the flour with the spice and soda, adding the prepared fruit, nuts, eggs and golden syrup. Mix and beat well, adding milk as required. Turn into a greased cake tin, and hake in a moderate oven.
Later in the 1930's, a similar 'Tunis Cake' is advertised by Garratt's Bakers of Lichfield (Lichfield Mercury - Friday 18 September 1936, p1) likewise with "honey, dates and walnuts" but now additionally "iced on top with chocolate". By the 1970's the chocolate topping seems to have expanded, and the original 'Tunisian' fruits replaced by (typically) three small marzipan shapes on top, most notably in a version produced from 1973 to 1986 by McVities as a Christmas speciality. Since then, thick-chocolate-fondant-topped Tunis Cake, often with almond or lemon flavouring, and with marzipan decorations, has appeared intermittently as a commercial Xmas treat.
However, the earliest known (1907) cake by the 'Tunis' name is simply a soda-raised bun, distinguished only by an egg-wash on top...
Original Receipt from 'Saleable shop goods for counter-tray and window:' by Frederick T Vine (Vine 1907)
No. 106. Tunis Cakes.
1 ½ lbs. flour. ½ lb. sugar.
6 oz. butter. ½ oz. baking-powder (No. 2).
¼ oz. volatile. 2 eggs.
Mode, - Sieve the baking-powder well with the flour; break the volatile down in a mortar with a little milk; cream up the butter and sugar, adding the volatile and eggs in the usual manner. Then mix in the flour with milk to a nice free cake-batter consistency; grease a clean flat tin, and lay the batter out in gieces weighing about 2 ½ ozs. each; wash them carefully over with egg, brush-ing them up to the centre, and bake in a warm oven. Sell at 1d. each.
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