A new friend was recently introduced to one of my cakes (raisin and walnut, it was) and complimentary comments mixed with idle conversation somehow led to the suggestion that I make a Christmas cake.
I didn’t take the suggestion very seriously at the time – specially considering that said friend is strictly non-alcoholic and declined to taste any cake that might have even a hint of alcohol… but… a week ago I suddenly thought, why not?
A google search for Christmas cake recipes followed, and I did zero research, just blindly adopted the first recipe that came my way. Since I don’t know a thing about Christmas cakes, it would hardly make any difference to me what different recipes said.
Apparently, the first week of December is too late to start working on a Christmas cake. Actually, I already knew this: one of the fascinating aspects of Christmas cakes, for me, has always been how you make them weeks or months in advance of eating them. Sounds like an exercise in masochism, if you ask me. And, how does the stuff keep, why doesn’t it spoil?
Getting the ingredients for my cake together took about a week. You don’t get some of the stuff here. I couldn’t find assorted mixed peel, glaced cherries, or currants anywhere (and these seemed to constitute about 50% of the mixture, by bulk). I substituted with orange peel (I don’t know if it was supposed to be candied, I used it raw), fresh cherries in syrup (which, in the end, I forgot to add to the cake mix!), and a handful of black Afghan raisins. The recipe also called for golden syrup. I found a can of this (only one) in one shop, but it was quite expensive and all I needed was one tablespoon, so I used maple syrup instead, which, as it happened, we had at home. The recipe wanted ground almonds; I put whole almonds into a plastic bag and smashed them with a rolling pin (excellent for relieving stress, if you happen to have any handy).
I also made other random adjustments to the recipe. Considering the reduced quantities of dried fruit, I scaled down the cake part of the recipe as well. Instead of using four eggs, I used three, and reduced the sugar, butter and flour in approximately the same proportions. The recipe called for double grease proof paper to line the baking tin – I used simple grease proof paper, and even that is hard enough to obtain in Bangalore, as I have discovered over the years. It called for a 2-inch brown-paper cuff, mine was only about an inch or so. (Brown-paper cuff? Even if you are used to baking, you might wonder what that’s about. I did, so I checked with my mother, the source of endless advice when it comes to baking. She said it’s probably to deflect the heat, so that the top doesn’t get too brown/burnt.)
Once I had all the ingredients, and had made an extra trip to the store to get the rum which I thought we had at home but we didn’t, and once I had soaked all the dried fruit in the rum for a couple of nights (but not the cherries, which were fresh and there didn’t need to be soaked, or so I thought), I started to assemble the cake.
It took surprisingly long to grate nutmeg, add cinnamon, use the rolling pin technique on a few cloves, blanch some almonds, do the butter paper and brown paper number on the baking tin, measure and sieve the flour and measure out the brown sugar. By the time I had done all that, I realized that I hadn’t let the butter and eggs come to room temperature, as recommended. I wouldn’t have bothered about the eggs, but the butter has to soften so that you can mix everything into it, so I took it out, covered everything and postponed the whole process by a couple of hours.
Finally, around 1.20, I was ready to start. Fifteen minutes later, it was all done. Yes, 15 minutes. If all the other stuff is ready, that’s as long as it takes to put it all together.
And then, it takes three plus hours to bake. Wow! I’m used to cakes baking in 30-45 minutes. Three hours! And once it’s done, you can’t even turn it out, it has to cool in the tin for one whole day! And then you can turn it out, but you can’t eat it – you have to add rum, and keep adding rum, every few days for several weeks! This better be good, really, really good, or it’s not going to be worth the effort.
And, I still don’t understand how it’s going to keep and not spoil. I suppose I’ll know eventually, after a couple of weeks or so.
I still can’t imagine sitting at home all day with a readymade cake staring at me and not being able to eat it. If I can do this, I can do anything. Wish me luck.