Tuesday 2 December 2014

Cake Mixing & a Brief History of Christmas Cake

Last Friday I attended the annual cake mixing ceremony on the Cafe Uno lawns at Shangri-La's - Eros Hotel. The cake mixing ceremony marks the beginning of the X'Mas festive season, where chopped dried fruit, nuts and spices are mixed together with a heady combination of booze. This mixture is then stored in an airtight container for about a month, allowing the fruit to soak up the alcohol, and then used to make Christmas fruit cake and Christmas pudding.

Executive Chef Martin Braecker, Executive Sous Chef Ravi Kumar 
and Farhat Jamal

Sangeeta and Kavita Bahuguna of Dine Out Club, 
who are also part of the TWCI

Some delicious Fig and goats cheese canapes

Smoked Salmon canapes... sooo good :)

It was a lovely afternoon, made even nicer with some wonderful company and delicious canapes and wine. Looking on while all the mixing was taking place, I started to think about how the tradition of Christmas fruit cake came to be. Avininder Singh whom I was there with as part of The Writers Collective India, seemed to read my mind and he mentioned the same thing to me. So I started doing a little research. And it was really quite interesting.

The TWCI team- Avininder Singh, Sangeeta & Kavita Bahuguna, 
Vicky Vickhram, Ravinder Pratap Singh. 
Also in this pic- Anjori Kumar, Jiggi Verma, Tania Bagai, 
Anupriya Bishnoi, Maneesh Srivastava

The Story of Christmas Fruit Cake 
Even from its humble beginnings, the fruit caked was a symbol of celebration, probably because of the decadence associated with dried fruit and spices. As a result it was traditionally served during Christmas, Easter or wedding celebrations. Fruit cake, in some form, can be traced back to ancient Roman times where pomegranate seeds and pine nuts were mixed into a barley mash

The modern fruit cake, as we know it today, can trace its roots back to sometime in the middle ages, when honey, dried fruit and spices were made into a sort of fruit bread in some places and a boiled plum cake in others.

From what I've read, the practice of making Christmas fruit cake comes from two customs that sort of merged during the Victorian era- the Plum Porridge and the Plum Cake. The Plum Porridge, which dates back to ancient Roman times, was in a way the precursor to the Christmas pudding. As the story goes, it was customary to observe a day of fasting on Christmas Eve and the fast was broken with this porridge. Overtime dried fruits, honey and spices were added as a mark of celebration. And eventually this porridge started being boiled after it was wrapped in a cloth... these boiled balls of oatmeal, honey, dried fruit and spices were the first Christmas puddings!

Around the 16th century butter started to be added and oatmeal was replaced with wheat flour. Eggs were also added to hold the mixture together and the Christmas cake was born!

For me Christmas has always been about family traditions- carrying on old ones and making a few new ones of our own. Making sweets with these old family recipes, recipes that have been handed down over generations, makes me feel connected with my history and fills me with such a sense of pride and nostalgia. Like I’m part of something bigger. I know it sounds a bit stupid, and the hubby will read this and roll his eyes, but it is how it is :)

We also had a little cake mixing ceremony of our own:) As per our family tradition, the fruit has been soaked and is waiting for one week before Christmas, which is when it will be added to the cake mix and baked. I won’t be sharing the fruit cake recipe... that’s a closely guarded secret :) Every home seems to have a slightly different recipe, a slightly different proportion of fruit, spices, alcohol, soaking periods... did you know some people soak the fruit for a whole year! The most amusing thing, and what I love most is that everyone thinks that theirs is the best :)   

[All images by Shalini Pereira. Please do not use without prior written permission] 


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