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The Christmas Cake can just be a posher, boozier version of the everyday cake

Nothing can match a mother’s discerning taste buds, especially for dark, moist, spicy, fruity and boozy Christmas cakes

Christmas, Christmas celebrations, Christmas recipes, Christmas cakes, delicious Christmas cake, eye 2021, sunday eye, indian express newsThe citrusy tang and the bitter edge of the marmalade, the gentle heat of the cloves and ginger, the fruit steeped in the neon-orange dodgy whisky — all comes together brilliantly in the Christmas Cake. (Photo: Getty/Thinkstock)

In the dark ages, when we were children, with no Netflix or indoor plumbing, Christmas hadn’t yet become the December ki Diwali that it is today. However, a steady diet of Enid Blyton, trilling Christmas carols non-stop at school and the optimism for which I am world-famous, meant that one Christmas Eve, I hung some stockings on my headboard hoping for presents from Santa. On Christmas morning, I woke excitedly to my mother boxing my ears — “Is a bed, that too, right next to your pillow, any place for dirty socks?” she yelled. In her view, Goddess Saraswati (who lived in bed headboards and every book and piece of paper) would pakka fail me in my exams since I’d sullied her living space with filthy, stinky socks.

We had better luck with other Christmassy things. The nuns at school taught us to make pomanders — oranges studded with cloves till no peel was visible — to be used as natural aromatic ornaments for the Christmas tree and then to be hung in cupboards, suffusing them with their citrusy spicy aroma. Ma was not at all impressed by how many cloves it took to stud an orange. She thought it was a giant waste of money, but, eventually, became a convert to the results. But, the one Christmas tradition she adopted enthusiastically, and without reservation, was the making and eating of Christmas cake.

We all loved plum cake — the fact that it was soaked in alcohol and, sometimes, flambéed extravagantly — the blue flame licking at the edges of the cake, as we watched gobsmacked — meant it was always a spectacle not just a treat. And the inherent booziness and sophistication made it doubly attractive to us children — we used to reel about after consuming it, pretending to be drunk. Ma loved it so much that she invented a recipe for a cake we could eat every day, not just at Christmas — her rum-and-raisin-cake recipe won her a Sumeet mixie. And so, for me, a Christmas cake will always be dearly beloved — but simply a posher boozier version of her everyday “mixie cake”.

As we grew older, we tried to introduce her to other Christmas cake/bread versions — the panettones and stollens of the world, but Ma was having none of it. “Bekaar!” was her single-word pronouncement on the wonderful stollen my friend would get me every Christmas from Germany. “When I want bread, I will eat bread, when I want Christmas cake, it better be cake!” were her fighting words.

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Last year, everything was bittersweet, including Christmas. Ma was battling stage IV colon cancer; it was going to be her last. But we managed to arrange a Christmas cake taste-off for her to judge. So, there was a petha-rich plum cake from Bushy’s in Allahabad, Moddy’s damp, dark version from the Nilgiris, the excellent Theobroma one and my sister’s homemade version. She loved them all with some reservations (“Lovely, but not enough brandy flavour”, “Excellent taste, but the cake could be moister”, etc.) — but of course, top honours went to my sister’s plum cake. Moist, spicy, fruity, boozy, dark — it was everything Mummy loved.

This year, for my Christmas cake, I wanted to use this whisky I’d been gifted, Fireball Cinnamon Whisky, which looked lethal enough to be perfect in a plum cake. When I realised I didn’t have enough of the fruit I needed, I decided to improvise by adding a fat wodge of marmalade in with the fruit and steeping it in Fireball. This marmalade, which an aunt makes from her homegrown mandarins, is something that I always use as a marinade for roast chicken — that’s often been a part of Christmases past — to help caramelise and crisp the skin to the perfect burnished crackle.

Christmas, Christmas celebrations, Christmas recipes, Christmas cakes, delicious Christmas cake, eye 2021, sunday eye, indian express news A hand-me-down citrusy-spicy Christmas Cake with a dash of whisky and wodge of marmalade, whose flavour matures over time. (Credit: Vatsala Mamgain)

In the cake, too, it was divine. The citrusy tang and the bitter edge of the marmalade, the gentle heat of the cloves and ginger, the fruit steeped in the neon-orange dodgy whisky — it all came together brilliantly. Mummy, who epitomised culinary inventiveness, hated waste and enjoyed the citrusy spicy aroma of the pomanders we made many Christmases ago, would have loved this cake, too.
So, wherever you are, Happy Christmas-Cake-eating, Ma.

And season’s greetings to you all.

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CHRISTMAS CAKE
(adapted from Nigella Lawson’s Traditional Christmas Cake recipe)

INGREDIENTS
200 gm each  raisins, currants, dates, apricots, candied orange peel
200 gm marmalade
150 gm chopped walnuts
400 ml whisky (the dodgier the better)
300 gm butter
180 gm brown sugar
2 tsp lemon zest
5 eggs
2 tbsp treacle
300 gm plain flour
150 gm ground almonds
1 tsp each clove, cinnamon, ginger, all ground

Christmas, Christmas celebrations, Christmas recipes, Christmas cakes, delicious Christmas cake, eye 2021, sunday eye, indian express news Remember to keep ‘feeding’ the cake with alcohol every week till ready to eat. The darker and boozier the Christmas Cake, the greater the spirits it lifts. (Credit: Vatsala Mamgain)

METHOD
Steep, at least overnight, all the fruit and marmalade in the whisky. Preheat the oven to 150 degrees Celsius. Cream butter and sugar, add in eggs one by one. Add the treacle. Then, sift the dry ingredients together, and mix the soaked fruit alternately with the dry ingredients into the creamed mixture, combining thoroughly. Fold in the chopped nuts. Put batter into a lined tin and bake for two/three hours till a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean-ish. When cake is done, add 2-3 tbsp whisky, wrap immediately in double foil and keep in tin. Feed the cake every week with a few teaspoons of whisky till ready to eat. The flavour matures over time, but keep the cake in a cool dark spot.

Vatsala Mamgain is a glutton, cook, runner, tree lover, shopper and reader

First published on: 24-12-2021 at 06:22:25 pm
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