It’s that time of the year again. Trees are being put up around the world, decorations are being pulled out from dusty boxes and shoppers are rushing to the malls to get their gifts together, all in time for Christmas!
After four years spent in England where the streets come alive with the sizzling sounds of German sausages grilling in the markets and the lilting sounds of the completely uncoordinated litanies of groups of people merry on mulled wine, my first Christmas back in India was definitely going to be different.
Before going to England, the one thing that I always looked forward to during Christmas, was the plum cake/ fruit cake that would be found in pretty much every bakery you could think of. I suppose I always had a soft spot for the rich sponge cake, laden with fruits and nuts, soaked in rum.
My grandfather would buy me some of these decadent cakes, wrapped up in a slightly greasy baking paper, and I can still remember the utter joy on his face, seeing me stuff my face full of the decadent cake. So for my grandfather and for all lovers of this deliciously potent tradition of Christmas, I decided to find out a great recipe for all the cooks on Cucumbertown and also delve into the history of said cake.
The Humble Beginnings of the Christmas Cake
The one thing that has fascinated me, is why a cake that has absolutely no plums, is called a plum cake? So here’s the story of how the plum cake acquired its deceptive name.
What is now known as a Christmas Cake, Plum Cake or Christmas Pudding is an English tradition that began as plum porridge. People ate the porridge on Christmas Eve, using it to line their stomachs after a day of fasting. Eventually the plum fruit itself was replaced by dried plums, or prunes, which were popular in pies in medieval times. By the sixteenth and seventeenth century, they began to be replaced by raisins. The dishes made with them, however, retained the term plum, and despite the marked absence of the rotund, fleshy fruit, the cake is still called a plum cake.
There, that’s one mystery solved! Now for the more enticing part of this journey of discovery. The actual recipe itself! Now there are four varieties of the plum cake that we are going to showcase for you. The traditional, the cheat’s favourite, the rum-a-phobic version and the virgin Plum cake!
Traditional Plum Cake
There are several variations of the Plum Cake or Christmas Pudding, the recipe having evolved significantly since the 15th century. According to the F H Jacka Bakers in Plymouth, England, reputed to be the oldest surviving commercial bakery in England, the original recipe of the Christmas Cake, contained mainly plum and oatmeal.
In the 16th century, oatmeal was removed from the original recipe, and butter, wheat flour and eggs were added. These ingredients helped hold the mixture together and created a boiled plum cake. Richer families that had ovens began making fruit cakes using seasonal dried fruit and spices. The spices represented the exotic eastern spices brought by the Wise Men. This cake became known as “Christmas cake.”
So even though we would like to believe that the rich, rum soaked cake that we enjoy is the traditional recipe of the plum cake, reality is that the cake has undergone a lot of changes throughout its tenure in history.
In India, the when the British came, they brought not only religion, but also the Christmas Pudding or the Plum Cake. And we fell in love!
For me, my aunt’s stories about a bakery way ahead of its times, that my grandparents used to frequent, became the epitome of plum cake perfection. So I decided to ask the Rozario Bakery in Thrissur, which claims to have been around since 1865, the recipe for their delectable Christmas Cake, which they market as the ‘Rich Plum Cake”.
Guess what! Rozario bakery sells around 300 cakes per week in the weeks leading up to Christmas!
Now they make these cakes well before christmas. Their advice is to make the cake in November, keeping the cake upside down in an airtight container. A small amount of brandy, or rum is poured into holes in the cake every week until Christmas. This process is called “feeding” the cake.
Here is the recipe!
The Cheat’s Favourite
Now as delicious as the traditional recipe sounds, it also means having to wait for ages before you can take a bite of the intoxicating creation.
So for the impatient people out there and for the ones like me who are far too lazy to start with the process two months before Christmas, here is a recipe that you can whip up on the day!
Special thanks to Ct user Veena Jan, for the yummy recipe!
The Rum-a-phobic’s Delight
I can’t think of anyone not liking rum. But some people don’t want to use it, or may want to try a substitute for whatever reason. Here is a version with cognac or whisky instead of rum.
This one works well with Rum too. Sounds heady, doesn’t it. And this one can be adapted for the cheats or you can soak the fruits for up to one week. Kudos to Priya S Matthew for the innovative idea.
The Virgin Plum Cake
This one is for the people that like to scour the mock-tail menu on weekend parties. The non-alcoholic version. It may sound like a sober alternative to the traditional recipe, but it still packs a punch! Special thanks to Ct user Nimmy Raghu for the non-alcoholic version of the plum cake. I’m sure the baking aficionados in the Middle-east are rejoicing!
Now that the cake is sorted, maybe we can get to the business of the wine?
Now for the Christmas Yule log or as the French would say, Le Buche De Noel (imagine this said with an affected French accent)!Stay tuned for that recipe.