Friday, December 26, 2014

Christmas Fruit Cake

Christmas is the time of gifts, family, laughter, holidays, baking and fond memories.

I remember as a child, celebrating it with family members at my maternal grandparents home. My grandmother used to make many Christmas sweets and savories. But cakes, the fruit cakes we always bought from the local bakery, and we bought dozens & dozens of them. The bakeries work tirelessly in the nights baking Fruit cakes and other pastries which will get sold out in a jiffy. It's called Plum cake rather than fruit cake and it's baked with green, red & yellow tutti frutti (candied raw papaya). I love the smell of baking pastries.
What is Christmas without a Plum cake, so we thought. Grandma carefully places the whole one pound fruit cake on a platter and decorates it around with her homemade sweets & savories. Once its ready, she calls us little elves, the grand-kids, to deliver to our neighbors. We visit many neighbors and they give us some treats. Our platters never returned empty, but with our neighbors homemade delicacies. It was the most exciting time for us kids.

I can recall, every Christian home we visited, had Plum cakes served on the table.

Christmas is grand in our own traditional ways. The Church carolers visit parishioners at midnight singing carols like thunder, the whole house reverberate in their music and the hearts pound with every drum beat of the musicians. The musicians accompany their guitar, keyboard, drums, bongos, a beaded instrument that looks like African cabasa and tambourine. I wonder did they sing so loud to keep us awake or to keep them awake throughout the night. But we enjoyed those carols and they had to eat the Plum cake & tea served for them at every house through the weeks. I'm sure, they would get sick of the cake by Christmas.

Another fond childhood memory is enjoying Christmas holidays in my hometown, Kerala. When we are there, we must visit all our relatives. If we miss even one family, we have offended them. So our entire trip goes visiting our relatives, at some homes we stayed and some we dropped-in by the day, for lunch or for dinner. And wherever we go, if its during Christmas time, we get to taste different varieties of Plum cake. Served with tea for adults, and with orange juice for kids.

I enjoyed the myriad flavors of the Plum cake at each house and the tradition of sharing these cakes with our neighbors.

As I look back, I feel there is more joy in giving. And if its something that is made by you, it fills your heart.

I wanted to share this Christmas joy and make memories in my own simple way for me and my daughter. Through baking. I hope my daughter would enjoy distributing the Christmas platter to our friends and neighbors, like I did.

Here's the recipe for the traditional Plum cake (Fruit cake), although with a mixture of various candied/dried fruits and nuts which makes it more rich.

This recipe makes a 4 pound cake.


Dry Fruits for marinade:
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 1.5 cups dried raisins
  • 1/2 cup dried apricot
  • 1/4 cup dates
  • 1/4 cup dried pineapple, mango or apple
  • Peel of one orange
  • Grated rind of one lemon
  • 1 cup chopped mixed nuts (almonds,cashew,walnut,brazil nuts,hazelnuts,pecans)
  • 1.5 cups dark rum (I used Bacardi smooth spiced rum)
Other ingredients:
  • 3 cups(1.5 pounds) butter at room temperature
  • 3 cups dark brown sugar
  • 6 eggs at room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup 100% orange juice
Dry ingredients:
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1.5 tsp salt

For the spice powders (grind them all together):
  • Caraway seeds: 1 tsp
  • Cinnamon : 1 inch stick
  • Powdered Nutmeg : 1/2 a piece
  • Ginger powder: 1/4 tsp
  • Cloves: 1
  • 1/4 cup dark rum to drizzle over cake

Fruit marination:
1. Chop the fruits and nuts.
2. Put them in an airtight container and pour the rum over them. The fruits should be well soaked in rum, add more rum if required.
3. Prepare this marinade a week in advance or overnight at room temperature. Do shake the jar once in a while. I prepared this marinade 48 hours ahead of baking.)

Mixing & Baking:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F/180 degree C.
2. Sift the dry ingredients, mix spice powders and keep aside.
3. Separate egg yolks from the whites. In a separate bowl, whisk egg yolks with vanilla.
4. Whisk egg whites till it forms peaks.
5. Cream butter and sugar together until well combined and fluffy.
5. Add the egg yolk mixture little by little into the butter cream alternating with a tbsp of the sieved flour and combine till smooth.
6. Add Orange juice and the remaining flour in small quantities and fold in .
7.Gently fold in the egg whites to the cake batter till well combined.
8. After mixing well, drain the soaked fruits. Dredge half of the soaked fruits in 1/4 cup flour and set aside; add the rest of the fruits to the batter and gently fold them into the batter.
9. Grease the cake tins and line with parchment paper. Pour batter up till half of the prepared cake tins. Just before leveling the top add the fruits tossed in flour and then level the top with a spatula, making sure that the fruits are coated well with the batter. 
12. Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour or until a tooth pick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
13. Remove from the oven and cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes.
14. Prick little holes on top of the cake with fork and then sprinkle two or three tablespoons of Rum over the cake, let it sink in for couple of more minutes and unmold them

Tips & Notes:
1. The cake stays longer without spoiling when dry vessels and spoons are used to mix the batter. The container used for soaking the fruits should be completely dry and free of any dampness.
2. The Fruit marinade can be made 2-3 months ahead too. Do shake the jar once in a while. Longer the fruits steep, better the flavor. 
3. You can substitute rum/wine with apple juice or pineapple juice.
4. Beating egg whites separately makes a big difference.
5. Dredging the fruits in flour prevents them from sinking to the bottom of the cake.
6. Adding orange peels to cake batter enhances the flavor a lot.
7. Place the cake on top of plastic wraps or parchment paper. Sprinkle top and sides of cake with rum. Wrap the cake well. Place it in an airtight tin or aluminum foil and age for atleast one week for better taste.

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