When I was 11 years old, I tasted for the first time an original Christmas cake, as it should be. My friend Annie, asked me if I’d like to come over to her place for Christmas celebrations. ‘IF’, I was incredulous – ‘of course I would’, I hollered. I’ll be honest, the biggest lure was a chance to eat the cake she used to talk about all the time. It was an enigma for me – ‘would it taste different from the ones we bake at home’, I thought…
Everything was festive I remember. Her home was decorated with beautiful candles and (fake) ivy, table was set with gleaming glasses and dishes. All lights except those on the Christmas tree were off and there was a beautiful spread of tea and sandwiches, mince tarts and other savouries, cheese biscuits… a table full of goodies in fact. After toasting with wine (non-alcoholic ginger, wine for us children), everyone had a small slice of the Christmas cake… that Christmas impression will stay with me forever.
And till today, ask me a quick wish anytime and it would be a bite of that special cake I had tasted then. First time is always a first time, isn’t it!
Fast forward to today…
Over the years, I have learnt that in the original (traditional) Christmas cake the ingredients are precise and include dried raisins, currants, plums, dried orange and lemon peel and more such. It actually originated from the plum pudding. The folklore has it that the plum pudding was said to have been doused in spirits and set alight; and from it branched out the Christmas pudding and cake.
Every family usually has its own Christmas cake recipe passed on over generations. But for people like us (yes, me included) there are some good books (and websites) too, which have the recipe listed step by step with choices ranging from quick fix to complex. Take your pick. I have realized that with these instructions if you do not make any substitutions, and follow directions exactly, the results are usually very satisfactory. Or you could simply badger a friend who has a great recipe to share, and then have a go at it.
Most Christmas cake recipes are for 20-23cm round fruitcakes. Any good cook will tell you that the Christmas cake, like good wine, gets better with age. So it is usually made well ahead of time, especially if ‘fed’ with brandy, scotch whiskey or bourbon in many different ways – from the traditional, without icing, to the top of the line fruit, cream, cheese, filled cakes, to most delicious plum puddings and fruitcakes packed with rich moist fruit, the freshest ingredients and the delicate aroma of exotic spices, to the cakes that can make you drunk.
For those who do not like to fuss with the icing techniques, some tips:
- Use natural decorations like holly leaves, small Christmas bobbles; even small pinecones.
- Dispense with the marzipan and royal icing layers all together and cover the cake with fruits and nuts.
- Use plenty of the apricot glaze and apply fruits like coloured cherries, prunes, apricots and nuts such as hazelnuts, walnuts and almonds.
- Pile a good amount of these so that the top of the cake doesn’t show through.
- Wrap the side of the cake with a wide ribbon, tying it into a large bow on one side.
- Wrap a string of silver balls around the base to set off your cake.
Feeding a Christmas cake
This is one tip I have learnt from dependable sources… once the cake has been baked and completely cooled, insert a skewer and make ten or so vertical holes over the surface. Drizzle 2-3 tbsp of the chosen whiskey over the holes and let it absorb into the cake. Repeat this process for several days, depending on how potent you like your cake.
I believe tasting a Christmas cake is a must, either you make it, share it, or buy it. It is one divine pleasure you must not miss out on. Trust me!
Next week read about other Christmas goodies.
Kavita Devgan is a Nutritionist, Weight Management Consultant and Health Writer based in Delhi. She contributes to the column Kavita’s Korner every Wednesday for this blog.
Follow her on Twitter here: @kavitadevgan