Sunday, December 2, 2007

Fruit Cake- A 'rich' Christmas tradition of Kerala.

Happy, happy Christmas that can win us back to the delusions
of our childhood days, recall to the old man the pleasures of

his youth, and transport the traveler back to his

own fireside and quiet home!

- Charles Dickens

Isn’t it so true..? In my case, it does not matter if it is Christmas or Onam, the festival season just takes me back to those good ole days and the clouds of nostalgia envelope me and eventually I get drowned in the waves of memories of childhood and teenage, those years I spent at home with my family…..and as much as I enjoy holiday spirit here with CJJ, I miss those family get-togethers and knowingly or unknowingly I wish for a holiday season where our house is crowded with our families and friends and our nieces and nephews running around, with lots of love and laughter…..yeah, I miss home!!!

Though growing up in a Hindu household, our parents never deprived us of enjoying the festive spirits in the air, especially during the Christmas season…….for me and my brother, it was that magical time of the year when our father would hang those colourful, glowing stars…..sometimes decorating a small tree in our garden with strands of multi-colored lights and hanging crepe paper streamers and balloons and I still remember the year where we painted a big dried branch of a tree white and placed cotton balls, to recreate the snow flakes on pine trees from our story books…..those days White-Christmas was a just a romantic picture from some unknown fairy land!!! Another cherished memory is crossing those jam-packed roads, tightly holding my father’s hand and hitting the general store for buying the Christmas cards where my father would literally lose his patience over our indecisiveness, then coming back home and writing those cards, showing our best penmanship…..oh, I just wish I could freeze those moments !!! The last two weeks prior to Christmas, we used to have some guests, our family friends and my father’s colleagues, visiting us with trademark of the season, a store bought plum cake in a soft card board box and a bottle of home made wine!!! I remember how me and my brother used to wait impatiently for them to leave and the moment they start the vehicle and leave the front gate, our ever popular 50 meter sprinting would begin to open that box and grab those pretty pink flowers placed on the white royal icing on the plum cake….as we grew old, we realized those sugar flowers were not tasty but it was the rich fruit cake underneath that icing that tasted better :) As much as I loved these fruit cakes, I could not think of celebrating Christmas without making a visit to my grandma’s house where her neighbor P aunty and S chechi used to give us the Chirstmas paltter filled with fruit cakes, cookies, doughnuts and diamond cuts and what not…….I never missed those platters and the stunning cribs, displaying scenes of nativity V chettan used to make, showing his best creativity……it was sheer fun for me watching him and his friends arranging the cribs and decorating the house with lights and glowing stars……..

I am glad and proud that atleast I have these memories to relive on! Even though I am miles away from home now, I am doing the best I can to make some memories here……celebrating Christmas with CJJ in a beautiful country, filled with festive spirits in the air, going to the church on a snowy evening and attending the midnight mass, waiting anxiously so as not to look like a stupid when those sitting next to me, would turn and say “Peace be with you” as I may not have any idea when and where it comes exactly!! For me, the charm of that Christmas eve here is just dream-like, sitting there listening to those soothing Christmas carols and getting lost in “Silent Night……Holy Night” and waking up to enjoy a White-Christmas the next day!! Am sure, 10 or 15 years from now, I will be sitting in some place and rewinding all these memories I make here, NOW!

Well, Christmas is not complete without a glass of sweet wine and piece of fruit cake and talking of fruit cake, here is a recipe that has been my loyal companion ever since I started baking. A cake that is often baked at our place irrespective of the occasion….. our family favourite recipe…. something which I owe to my wonderful friend SM who shared this recipe with me few years back and now it is my turn to share the recipe with you all and spread the joys of baking and Christmas as well :)

Ingredients: (Yields one 8-inch and one 6-inch cake)

For the Batter:
  • 1 ½ cups All-purpose flour/Maida (measure & sift)
  • ¾ cup butter at room temperature ( 1 ½ sticks)
  • 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
  • 3 large egg yolks at room temperature
  • 3 large egg whites at room temperature
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2tbsp wine
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract/essence
For soaking the fruits:
  • 1 cup tutti frutti (candied lemon and orange peels)
  • 1/3 cup raisins
  • 1/3 cup nuts ( mix of almonds and cashew nuts)
  • 1/3 cup dates, chopped
  • 1/3 cup glace cherries, chopped
  • 1 ½ -2 cups rum, or enough to soak all the fruits
For the Caramel:
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tbsp water + ½ cup water
For the spice powders:*
  • 1 tsp Caraway seeds/cake jeera/Sahjeerakam/Shahjeera ( measure and powder)
  • ¼ tsp powdered nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp powdered cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp powdered cloves
  • ¼ tsp powdered cardamom
  • Chop all the fruits into small pieces and soak them in rum or a combination of rum and sweet wine, atleast one day in advance. (Note: Soaking can be done days or weeks or months or even up to an year in advance, it will make the fruits more plump and hydrated. The fruits should be soaked thoroughly in alcohol, as in the picture shown below. Also shake the jar once in a while.)

  • Prepare Caramel by heating and melting sugar along with 1 tbsp water, until they turn dark brown. Keep swirling the pan but do not stir. When sugar is completely melted and bubbles start coming up and if it has reached the colour you want, turn off the stove and place the pan in your sink and pour ½ cup cold water to the caramel and let it come to room temperature (Note: Hot caramel can create serious burns, so make sure that you play safe and kids are not around while preparing it. Also while pouring cold water to the caramel, stand at a safe distance as it will splash in the beginning which may lead to serious burns. Caramel should be completely cold before adding it to the batter, else it will spoil the entire batch. You can prepare the caramel in advance and refrigerate it as well.)
  • Preheat the oven at 350F (180C). Prepare one 8-inch cake pan and a 6-inch pan by lining the bottoms with parchment paper, butter the paper and grease the sides and sprinkle lightly with flour.
  • Sift the flour and baking powder together.
  • In another small mixing bowl, add the egg whites and beat on medium speed until foamy, and the whites begin to look shiny and smooth and form soft peaks, when you stop the mixer and lift the whip. Note: It is important that the egg whites are beaten in a clean and dry bowl without any trace of grease/fat/water; otherwise the whites will not expand to its full volume.
  • Mix egg yolks and vanilla extract and beat well for a minute, in low-medium speed.
  • Mix butter and sugar until they are creamy and combined well. Add the beaten mixture of egg yolks and vanilla to this butter and sugar mixture, followed by wine, spice powders and caramel (1/2 cup) and beat thoroughly till everything is creamy and combined. At this stage, add the flour in small quantities and scrape down the bowl once or twice. At the end, stop the hand mixer and using a rubber spatula, fold the thoroughly beaten egg whites very gently, (Do not beat) until no white streaks are visible.
  • Finally, drain the soaked fruits and keep half a cup of soaked fruits aside; add the rest of the fruits to the batter and gently fold them into the batter. Toss the ½ cup fruits, kept aside earlier, in 1 tbsp flour.
  • Pour the batter into prepared baking pans and just before smoothening the tops, add the fruits tossed in flour and then level the top with an offset spatula, making sure that the fruits are coated with batter as well. (Note: Tossing the fruits in flour is to make sure that they spread evenly in the cake and not crowd at the bottom of the cake. You will find this contradicting in my pictures as I forgot to toss them in flour :D But do not add more than the prescribed amount as too much makes the fruits harder. )
  • Bake for around 1 hour; baking time differs depending on the pan size and the oven and hence, towards the end, if a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean without any crumbles, it shows that cake is ready.
  • Let the cakes cool in the pans for 15 minutes and later invert them onto a wire rack and let it cool completely for about 45 minutes or until they reach the room temperature. DO NOT CUT the cake at this point. Resist your temptations and double wrap the cakes using clear plastic-wraps and leave it on the kitchen counter for 4 days. On the 5th day, you can cut the cake using a serrated knife and serve with sweet red wine. This cake can be saved in the refrigerator for several weeks. (Note: It is very important that the cake should rest for 5 days for all the flavor and sweetness to set in. If you cut any day before that, you will find that the texture is not right and not all that sweet and tasty.)
Note *: I use the ready made spice powders from McCormick. If it is not available in your pantry, powder 3 cardamom, 2 small pieces of cinnamon, and 2 cloves and a small piece of nutmeg along with caraway seeds/cake jeera.

Back home in Kerala, this fruit cake is served with a glass of sweet red wine. I have already blogged the recipes for beetroot wine and pineapple wine; those interested may check out the recipes.

UPDATE: Based on few of the comments I received asking for brands of rum and wine I used, here is a small note that might help you. You can use any brand of rum for this recipe; the brand does not make any difference; I used BACARDI Gold which is available in liquor stores and some supermarkets here in US; stay away from flavored liquor. For the wine part, I used my home made wine but you can use any wine of your choice. For the soaking part, fruits can be soaked fully in rum or a combination of rum and wine, thats purely a personal choice. Hope it helps!

UPDATED ON 24th Nov, 2008: Last year, I had received lot of queries asking for the availability of tutti-frutti in US and I thought of making a small note here that it has started appearing in the baking aisles of the supermarkets and shops like, Walmart has set up an aisle specially for baking goods for the holiday season. Look for a brand called, SUN-RIPE fruit mix which is mix of candied orange and lemon peels, cherries et al. Kindly go through the recipe in detail as well as the updates and the answers I have given in the comment section of the this post as I find it repetitive to answer the same question again and again, which I have cleared for the previous readers. Still, if you have queries, please feel free to drop a line in the comment section, I am more than happy to help you :)

This rich fruit cake which is an integral part of the Christmas traditions in Kerala goes to Meeta's Traditional Feasts.

May you have the gladness of Christmas which is hope;
The spirit of Christmas which is peace;
The heart of Christmas which is love.
- Ada V. Hendricks

Related Posts:

Beetroot Wine - Sweet wine Pineapple wine Grape wine


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