"Wish You All Merry Christmas and Happy New Year"In the Sixties, I grew up in the cosmopolitan surrounding of Ballal Bagh Mangaluru, where we had friends from all communities meeting and playing together. However, at home, we had restrictions, were discouraged by our parents about walking into any Christian friend's home during Christmas, giving reasons that it is not good manners to attend Christmas parties uninvited. Yes. We never used to be invited by our Christian friends for Christmas because we were vegetarians and were living in a house owned by the Dharmasthala Heggades!
However I used to buy basic sponge cup cakes at a Christian's shop near our home whenever I felt like eating cake. That was made by Vas Bakery and was ultimate according to my experience. Later on, we moved to our own house and then slowly some Christian friends started to invite me for Christmas and offer cake, kuswar and juice. I used to wonder what that brown slice of cake was made of. It had French Polish like aroma and bits of dry fruits and nuts within. I was very fond of Christmas Fruit Cake, which they simply called as 'Christmas Cake'. That was light brown in colour and not very rich. Some of the best cakes were made by M D'Souza And Sons, Vas Bakery, City Bakery, Famous Bakery, Ganesh Bakery and Pinto Bakery.
In the Eighties, I moved to Bengaluru when I was working for a Bank. Then my brother Kamalakanth used to get Rich Plum Cake from Nilgiri's on Brigade Road. I too was regularly buying that whenever I went that side on weekends. Rich Plum Cake at Nilgiri's has loads of prunes, dry fruits and nuts within and is very moist and heavy. The name Rich Plum Cake suits Nilgiri's cake well. They still make awesome cakes, and Nilgiri's is undoubtedly my most favourite hangout for cakes and bakes. VB Bakery in South Bengaluru also has very good cakes and pastries.
Meanwhile in Mangaluru, as the city expanded geographically and people from all parts of India settled down for education and job, bakers came of age and started making exotic cakes. Moti Mahal and Manjarun started making birthday cakes and a variety of other cakes to order and also opened sales counters. We have seen many small and big bakers invading Mangaluru with exotic cakes. Hassan Iyengar Bakery opened on KS Rao Road sometime in the late Eighties and they had very good cakes. Focam Bakery and Bon Bon started supplying cakes to local Bakery outlets and their products are also good. Then we had Nilgiri's in Balmatta which closed down few years ago and now there is a big departmental store with bakery run by Mohtisham Group in Empire Mall under franchise from Nilgiri's. Crumbz by Food Pearls and Bon Bon's own outlet sell very good cakes. Every shopping mall has good bakeries within. Just Bake has outlets in prime locations and Cochin Bakery has many branches too. Monginis' Smokie and many more in the list. Dinoo's is one of the best bakers in Mangaluru making perfect cakes. Getting good cakes today in Mangaluru is not at all a problem when every major street has more than one good bakery!
Yet, making cakes at home has its own beauty. Taste of home made cake is anytime better because we add pure ingredients and avoid adding margarine. Margarine is bad for health, as it is made from refined vegetable oils with hydrogenation process. Using pure butter or ghee, we can make healthier and more aromatic cakes at home. Besides, when we share the cake with nears and dears, their happy faces and gratification speak volumes! Cake classes are run by youngsters and the middle aged, Shashi Shetty a veteran culinary expert used to run such classes in the Eighties in Kantharaj Shetty Lane Mannagudda, as far as I remember. Meena has attended baking classes by Mariam Mohiudeen and Meena bakes many cakes as a pastime. However, she hadn't ventured into making Christmas Fruit Cake or Rich Plum Cake any time. I decided to make it this time, as my zeal for baking is increasing day by day!
I must confess that am just a toddler in baking cakes, having baked very few cakes over the last month or two. I have an idea about rich plum cake, the ingredients and the method by reading recipes on books and magazines, but I wanted a demo of how to make it perfectly. So I browsed through online recipes, and found Joy Of Baking the best website with perfect recipes. Meena also follows Joy of Baking mostly and her cakes have been quite outstanding. The recipe I followed is this, but I made few changes here and there. Soaking dry fruits in alcohol for at least 2 days gives the cake a better taste and flavour than just pouring it into the cake batter. Adding spice powders like cinnamon, dry ginger and nutmeg enhance the flavour and give the cake a spicy touch. Adding fruit crush like the one I have added, enhances the taste and adds a fruity flavour. I avoided adding lemon zest and orange zest, but I added caramel, which is readily available. I also added dark brown sugar instead of light brown sugar. Thus the colour of the cake became as dark as the Rich Plum Cake made by Nilgiri's. Dry fruits used are mostly sourced from local stores like Nilgiri's and Phalguni's, but we procured almonds and walnuts freshly from Kashmir, through Kashmir Box. They have very good Kashmiri dry fruits and nuts at reasonable prices. I baked these cakes with double the quantity of ingredients mentioned and the total weight was over 4 Kilos.
Whenever he visits home from Barbados, my brother Radhakanth brings me 'Barbados Great Cake by A Mill Yard', one of the best in the world. It is made from finest Mount Gay Rum. To make cake as fine as that one, we need to spend a fortune over finest rum and soak raisins for at least one year in rum! I have never fancied spending huge money on alcohol for making cakes! I deem our local brand Khodays good enough for making rum based cakes. You can also use any other alcohol like brandy or sherry, but Khodays rum is inexpensive and has its own unique aroma good enough for making this awesome soft, moist, rich Christmas Fruit Cake.
Unsalted Butter - 200 Gm
Dark brown sugar - 200 Gm
Eggs - 3
Alcohol (Grand Marnier, brandy, sherry, rum, etc.) - 90 Ml
Caramel(Or caramalise 2 Tbsp sugar with little water) - 1/4 Cup
Orange Juice - 1/2 Cup
Almonds, Walnuts, Cashew Nuts, Pecans, or Hazelnuts - 100 Gm coarsely chopped
Assortment of dried and candied fruit (Apricots, Figs, Prunes, Raisins, Sultanas, Dates, Black Currants, dried Cranberries, dried Cherries, mixed Candied peel and/or cherries) - 1 Kg deseeded and chopped into bite sized pieces
Mixed Berries Crush(Strawberries, Blue Berries, Black Berries) - 1/4 Cup
Refined Flour(Maida) - 2 Cups
Finely Ground Almonds(optional) - 3/4 Cup
Baking Powder - 1 Tsp
Salt - 1/2 Tsp
Grated Nutmeg - 1/4 Tsp
Cinnamon Powder - 1/2 Tsp
Dry Ginger Powder - 1/2 Tsp
Be sure that you use all the ingredients at room temperature.
Mix in 45 Ml alcohol(I used rum) with the chopped dry fruits and candied peel in an air tight jar and allow to soak for at least 2 days at room temperature.
You may soak the fruits in alcohol for upto one year, but keep adding alcohol once in two weeks.
Preheat oven to 160° C.
Grease an 8" nonstick square or round baking pan.
Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper.
Also preferably line the sides of the pan with a strip of parchment paper that extends about 2 inches (5 cm) above the rim of the pan.
Add 1/2 cup of the flour mixture and mix into the alcohol soaked dry fruits.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, ground almonds, grated nutmeg, cinnamon powder, dry ginger powder, salt, and baking powder.
Beat the butter until creamy with a hand mixer in a wide bowl.
Add the brown sugar, caramel and beat until light and fluffy.
Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Scrape down the sides and bottom of your bowl as needed.
Add another 30 Ml alcohol(I used rum), orange juice and blend well.
Fold in the chopped nuts and berries crush.
Next fold in all the dried and candied fruits.
Then fold in the flour mixture 1/2 cup at a time.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and, if desired, decorate the top of the cake with blanched almonds.
Cover the pan with aluminum foil if you want the cake not to get too browned on top.
Place the pan inside the preheated oven and bake for 30 mins.
Remove the foil and continue to bake for another 30 mins.
Insert a bamboo skewer into the center of the cake.
If it comes out clean with few moist crumbs sticking to it, your cake is ready.
If the cake is still wet, reduce the oven temperature to 150° C and continue to bake for further 20 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out with just a few moist crumbs.
Remove the cake from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool completely.
Then, with a skewer, poke holes in the top surface of the cake and brush with remaining alcohol (brandy, Grand Marnier, sherry, rum or whiskey).
Slice and serve with choice of juice or hot beverage.
Serves about 16 people.
Wrap the cake thoroughly in plastic wrap and aluminum foil and place in a cake tin or plastic bag.
Store in a cool dry place or store the cake in the refrigerator.
Brush the cake periodically (once or twice a week for about two to three weeks) with alcohol.
This cake will keep several weeks or it can be frozen.