Christmas is long over but as long as the bitter cold days persist, the plum cake will always occupy a special place in my heart. Though baked specially to celebrate the Lord’s birth, one doesn’t need an excuse to indulge in this ripe cake. However, I would always eagerly await Christmas as our neighbours who were our old family friends would distribute plum cakes during the festival, which my aunt would herself bake. She would start baking a few days in advance, to have a stack full just in time for Christmas. Her cakes became so famous that she even took commercial orders for it during the season. I would often charm her to give me one extra cake to satiate my taste buds. Much later, I coaxed her to give me her special recipe of the Christmas plum cake which I am going to share here, after her permission, of course. Not that she is alive now, but she appeared in my dreams one day and asked me to share this recipe.
HISTORY OF PLUM CAKE
Earlier people used to eat porridge on Christmas eve. It was meant to line the stomach after a day’s fasting, which was observed for Christmas Eve, or the ‘Vigil’ as it was earlier called. Since people are always innovating, spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and dried fruits like raisins, almonds, walnuts, honey etc. were added to the recipes to make it even special for Christmas. Gradually it turned into a pudding as it became so stiff with additions of dried fruits and others that people would have to tie it up in a cloth and put in boiling water for many hours which transformed it into a pudding. Somewhere in mid-16th century, oat meal in the pudding was replaced with flour and eggs, which made this a boiled plum cake. However, both pudding and boiled plum cake existed side by side depending upon which ingredients the housewives would use. The Christmas cake is always rich in dried fruits and spices. These represented the exotic spices of the East, and the gifts of the Wise Men. These spices were first imported to Europe and Britain, particularly by the Crusaders coming back from the wars in the Holy Land in the 12th century.
ARRIVAL OF THE CHRISTMAS CAKE
Earlier, all the celebrations and baking were centered for the 12th night, a day to mark the arrival of the Magi or the three kings of Bethlehem, which was later banned by Queen Victoria of England since this was becoming a night of indulgence and mischief. The confectioners who made the cakes for the 12th night were left with boxes full of figurines and models of ‘Twelfth Cake’, and also lost revenue by the banning of the feast. So they began to bake decorated fruitcakes which they sold for Christmas parties and not for the 5th January, i.e. the 12th night. And it was thus that we developed the Christmas cake.
IT TAKES THE CAKE IN THE HARSH WINTER- THE NEW INDIAN EXPRESS RECIPE
- 1 cup Brown sugar
- 1 cup Butter at room temperature
- 1/2 cup Cognac
- 1/2 cup Orange Juice
- 2 whole Eggs, Beaten
- 2/3 cup Molasses
- Pinch Salt
- 1 tsp Baking soda
- 2.5 tsp Baking powder
- 3.5 cup Maida(All Purpose Flour)
- 1 cup Raisins, finely chopped
- 1 cup Dates, chopped
- 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
- 3 tbsp candied lemon citron, finely chopped
- 1 tsp Cinnamon powder
- 1/4 tsp Clove powder
- 1/4 tsp Nutmeg powder
- Boiling water
- For the Nutmeg Sauce
- 2/3 cup Brown sugar
- 1.5 tsp cornstarch
- Pinch of salt
- 1 tsp Brandy
- 1 cup Boiling Water
- 1.25 tbsp Butter
- 1/2 tsp Nutmeg powder
- For The Nutmeg Sauce: In a Large saucepan over medium-high heat, combine all the ingredients and cook for three-four minutes.
- For the Cake: In a large bowl, combine sugar, butter, cognac, orange juice, eggs, molasses, salt, baking soda, baking powder and flour. Add raisins, dates, nuts, candied orange or lemon citron, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg sauce.
- Grease cake pans with butter, pour the mixture and cover the top with aluminium foil. Fill water in a large pot and place and place a rack in the pot. Put the mold on the rack in the pot. Boil and reduce heat. Cover the pot and cook for four hours or till the fork comes clean out of the pudding.
- Remove fro heat and cool. Store in refrigerator covered, until time to serve.
- To serve, steam for one hour, before serving, to heat thoroughly. Unmold and serve hot with nutmeg.