Of Cakes And Christmas

Posted: December 6, 2011

Once a silent affair in most parts of India, now Christmas is celebrated joyfully by many – with cakes, carols et al!

By Lavanya Donthamshetty

When I was a little girl growing up in Chennai, I used to be quite fascinated with the plastic stars that were hung outside some homes in the month of margazhi (December). Why did they have it? What did it mean? Why didn’t we have the stars? Were some of the questions I used to plague my family with. I absorbed the barest info about Christmas and the Star of David and just waited for the lone Christian classmate of mine to come to school with some cake.

The past decade when I made England my home, Christmas was one glorious affair. The hoopla around it started sometime in mid-October itself and the almost unbearable excitement that built up has to be seen to be believed. Moving back to Chennai this summer, I was all set for a muted December.

Imagine my surprise last week when newspaper after newspaper carried details of ‘cake-mixing’ ceremonies, wherein ‘celebs’ helped mix together Christmas cake ingredients in one grand ceremony. How far we have come from a lone plastic star marking the biggest holiday in the Christian calendar!

Now there are all sorts of events happening in every part of the country to celebrate Christmas and what’s more, the holiday isn’t just for Christians alone. My neighbour maami (aunty) will be celebrating it, complete with a small Christmas tree and presents for her grandchildren. My daughter’s school is planning a Winter fete, along the lines of what I have seen schools do in England, complete with stalls selling goodies and puppet theatre. There are even Christmas pantomimes! How exciting is that?!

Personally, the biggest part of Christmas is the truly delectable cake. Filled with dried fruits and nuts, topped up with belly warming booze, a good Christmas cake is a true joy. Last year in Britain, superchef Heston Blumenthal broke all records when the cake he made for supermarket chain Waitrose literally flew off the shelves. Google ‘christmas cake recipe’ and you’ll be awarded with more than 5 million links. This year, as I cannot pass off the Marks & Spencer’s cake as my own, like I generally try to do every year, I have decided to try my hand at baking it. A true Christmas cake should be baked sometime in October so you can ‘feed’ it spoonfuls of brandy (or rum, if you prefer) and it can gradually prove over time and thus, improve its taste. But I am told this is not vital and so, am forging on.

A good substitute for Christmas cake, in my case, is Sponge Pudding. Hot, dripping with syrup and with some custard on the side, it is simply heaven on a plate. During the winter nights, this waistline-bursting pudding will warm you from the inside and fill you with a wonderful glow.

Now there are all sorts of events happening in every part of the country to celebrate Christmas and what’s more, the holiday isn’t just for Christians alone.

So tell me, how are you celebrating Christmas this year? Christmas lunch with friends and family, complete with tree, presents and crackers? Going to midnight mass, listening to carols and hymns? Having as many variations of boozy Christmas cake as possible? Or, like most of my family, taking advantage of the extra holiday to get some much-needed sleep?

Whatever your plans are, have a very lovely Christmas. Give a shot to  baking a Christmas cake by trying fellow Women’s Web writer Anne John’s family recipe. A slice of this decadent goodness with a glass of chilled homemade wine, is reason enough to look forward to Christmas every year! Be good and I will catch up with you in 2012!

Easy Christmas Fruit Cake Recipe:

Ingredients:

Raisins              150g

Cherries             100g

Cashewnuts       75g

Mixed peel         25g (crystallized ginger and orange zest works great!)

Sugar                 200g

Plain flour           200g

Butter                200g

Eggs                  6

Baking powder   3/4 tsp

Marmalade          2 tbsps

Cocoa powder     2 tbsps

Rum/orange juice   4 tsps

Caramel syrup       3 tbsps (To make this, add 1/4 cup of sugar to a heavy bottom pan, melt it over a low flame without stirring and then add ¼ cup of hot water. Stir to make slightly thick golden brown syrup.)

Salt                  a pinch

Method:

Chop the fruit fine and marinate them in rum/orange juice overnight (upto 24 hours in the refrigerator). Add marmalade and mix well.

Cream butter and sugar till light and fluffy.

Add the eggs one at a time and beat well after each addition.

Sieve together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt.

Fold the flour, fruit and peel into the egg mixture until combined.

Add the slightly cooled caramel syrup (If left to cool too much it will harden) and fold into the mixture. (This gives the deep brown colour characteristic of Christmas cake)

Pour into a greased and lined tin and bake at 200 degrees C for the first 20 minutes. Then turn down the heat to 175 degrees and bake for a further 30 minutes. The cake should be dark golden brown and firm to the touch. Check with a fine skewer for doneness.

Christmas Wine:

Ingredients:

Grapes 6kg

Sugar 6kg

Yeast 25gms

Method:

Dissolve 1/2 teaspoon sugar in lukewarm water, mix the yeast in and keep aside for 30 minutes. The yeast will bubble.

Clean grapes, remove stems and soft ones. Place the cleaned grapes in a large vessel; pour boiling water over the grapes and wash.

Boil 12 litres of water and cool it.

Crush the grapes, add sugar and mix till it dissolves. Add 12 litres water, add yeast and mix well. Cover with plastic cling film and keep for atleast 21 days undisturbed in a dark place for it to ferment.

Filter and sip away!

(You will get more than 12 litres of wine. So you can spread the cheer by gifting some or reduce the quantities proportionally.)

Photo credit: Uros Kotnik

Mother, writer, foodie, margarita lover, Lavanya is the exception to the rule that women are

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