Homemade Christmas Cake Rocks!

December 31, 2008

I didn’t cut the cake at Christmas, because I wanted to give it an extra few days to soak in the rum. Besides, I didn’t think we were celebrating Christmas. As it happened, we went to meet S&S and V&V and after the kids – all four of them – were done posing under V&V’s Christmas cake, we trooped out for dinner. Four kids and six adults made it the largest and most kid-centric outing any of us had ever been on, but on the whole it was quite a success, though a bit tiring.

Anyway, back to the cake. It appeared to have survived the long duration since its birth, with only a few dousings of rum. And when I say a few… Five. Two tablespoons each time. And I didn’t have a skewer, so I used a knitting needle. Number 12, I think, not that that’s relevant. (But then, there’s so little on this blog that is relevant anyway.)

So anyway, the last attempt at making the cake truly inebriated, intoxicated and generally rummy (not to mention inebriating, intoxicating and generally delicious) was yesterday afternoon.

Now I had promised S&S – with whom we will be ushering in the new year – a new year eve cake, and if this cake were to be that cake, I’d have to check beforehand that this cake was edible. Which made yesterday night the time for cutting the cake, something both Amit and I had been eagerly looking forward to.

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And it was good! Ok, I do wish that one variety of dried fruit, perhaps the sultanas, didn’t have so many big, crunchy seeds. But, on the other hand, those were the fruits that were deliciously squishy and delightful to chew.

And there was rum, enough rum. The flavour was rummy, and it left a nice warm feeling in the throat after it had gone down. Yummmmmmmmm…

Next year, I’m going to start shopping in June, bake in October, put more pulpy dried fruit and less seedy ones, and just generally make more.

And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with eating cake that was baked weeks or months ago, if it’s got enough rum in it. Doug, you should try it.

And, if there really was just one fruit cake that gets passed around every year, well, that number just went up to two… but not for long!


Cake on the Brain

December 12, 2008

Now that my Archaeology assignment is out of the door (phew!) I’ve got some time on my hands. And now that the Christmas cake is out of the oven (after 2 hours and 40 minutes) and out of its tin and sitting and looking at me temptingly… I’ve obviously got cake on my mind.

My love affair with cake goes waaaaaaay back. Cake was really the first thing my sister and I learnt to make unsupervised. I think I must have been about 6 the first time we did it, but we’d been helping our mother for a couple of years before that – mainly by licking clean the mixing bowl (something I’m still very good at).

I remember the cake mix curdling once in the early days. My father was around at the time, I don’t know where my mother was, so I asked him in a worried way what I should do. He just added some flour to it and mixed it up and it looked fine. I’ve never been scared of cake mix curdling after that (which is why I blithely ignored the Christmas cake recipe when it suggested mixing the egg in teaspoon-by-teaspoon to prevent the mixture from curdling), but I’ve also never asked my father for help with cake ever after that. It was kind of worrying even having to do that, because cake-making was not supposed to be his thing, that was supposed to be my mother’s area of expertise.

Anyway, cake-making was a significant part of my growing up years. We always baked for birthdays and sometimes for other occasions, and we baked when we were bored and needed some excitement. We tried out dozens of recipes, some new, some well tried and trusted. We made plain cakes and cup cakes and sponge cakes and tiered cakes, and cakes with fillings and icings and frostings and butter creams and piping and chocolate slivers and glaces, and roast almonds. We made tarts and pies and chocolate eclairs, and chocolate logs, and profiteroles, and scones and muffins (and, in those days, I knew the difference between them) and – once – croissants and occasionally breads and…

There must have been more, but memory fails me (plus, I can hardly type now that I’m salivating so much).

When we weren’t baking, my sister and I learnt some of the more mundane cooking… Rice first, then rotis, then dal, which I eventually began to specialise in and built up an impressive range of six different types of, in an effort to beat the sheer boredom of dal. Then we went on to non-veg dishes, which of course culminated in fish fry and mutton curry. Veggies we never wasted much time on, which explains why my idea of cooking veg involves throwing assorted veg into a saucepan with lots of garlic and very little oil and leaving it to steam for a few minutes.

But cakes in particular (and baking, in general) remained my true love. When I got married and encountered the rather minimalist bachelor kitchen that Amit had, the first thing I did was to buy an electric oven. It was three thousand hard-earned rupees in the days when that was 25% of our monthly income, but it was money well-spent.

All the same, baking lost its charm after I moved away from my parental home. Amit has only half a sweet tooth and he is so very health conscious and calorie conscious that it’s practically cruel making him a cake. Worse, it’s cruel to me as well, because baking is a performing art and needs an appreciative and enthusiastic and participative audience to really flourish. In eleven years of marriage, it’s an art that I’ve almost completely lost touch with. And that’s sad. There was a time when I thought that if I ever set up a business, it would be a cake-supply or small cake-shop type of business. In those days, I had the repertoire to make it possible, but not any more.

Maybe, as the kids grow up, the charm, the excitement, the thrill and romance of baking will slowly come alive again and I can one day return to my former expertise at this delicious art.

But for now, there’s that Christmas cake, looking at me and reminding me that all is not lost.


Christmas Cake, Maybe

December 11, 2008

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.


Making Waves (albeit little ones…)

March 10, 2006

Yesterday was a defining moment in my life. (A day is not a moment, of course, but in the grand scheme of things, such matters can be safely ignored.)
Yesterday, I say, was one of those days when life takes a turn, for better or for worse, nobody knows, but all that’s certain is that life has changed, inevitably and indisputably, and things are never going to be the same again.
What – you want to know – happened? I’ll tell you. We got a microwave.
Yes, at the ripe old age of 32, I am finally the proud possessor of this sophisticated piece of technology that can take a cup of water from room temperature to explosion in just 60 seconds flat! (Not to mention what it can do to egg yolks.)
Ok, I haven’t tried out either of those scenarios yet – but it’s early days. Besides, I wouldn’t want to waste my creativity testing out a known bug. I’m determined to create some entirely new, undocumented explosions in my kitchen. Let’s see what happens when you stuff one week old dal into it: I suspect even the microwave might revolt at that (I would).
But meanwhile, great excitement awaits me. Just think, I can now defrost frozen veg and non-veg in a matter of minutes, instead of dumping them in a bucket of water 24 hours in advance. I can heat up leftovers without having to turn on the gas! I can eat sausages without frying!! I can bake cake in 7 minutes. I can even warm up ice cream if I want to.
The flip side is that my trusted old OTG (Over Toaster Grill) has been retired to the floor, with its face to the wall, upstaged by the shiny new stainless steel mikrowelle. Amit wants to get rid of it and I don’t. It has been a loyal friend and has turned out many, many good, underdone, or charred cakes over the years. A constant companion in good times, one might say. Such a noble object should not be reduced to a place on the floor, with its face to the wall!

Oh, and that pun in the heading is intentional. Little waves – getit? And if you were thinking something else, well, you were mistaken, weren’t you?


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