Christmas is nearly here ! Like every year, we will be in Chennai for Christmas and before we leave our tree is all set up :). This year most of the decoration was done by D and S and a friend of D's who had come to play and this was the most interesting game I could think up! The lights are from The Hundred Hands collective that I had been to last month.
My co-sister makes the most amazing Christmas Fruit cakes, and for the last couple of years I have been wanting to try it out. But everytime I thought of the list of things to get ready for it I just couldn't bring up the enthusiasm and kept putting it off. This year though, I have generally been on a baking high, and thanks to some FB groups like Foodies in Bangalore, could also get information on where to find various items. So after looking up zillions of recipes and settling on the most approachable two from Archana's Kitchen and Kerala Plum Cake and lots of Q&A sessions with Anu chechi (Thanks a ton!!) Tadaaaaaaah !!
Here's the final recipe I used which has aspects from both the above, and the fundaas I used for my changes in italics :). I baked a second one so that I could tweak it a little bit more so what you're seeing is my second and hopefully better version!
1 cup raisins/sultanas 100 - 120 gm glazed cherries Candied peel (from one large orange) - you can add candied ginger also if you can procure 130 ml brandy 1/4 cup fresh orange juice (juice from 1 orange) 2 cups flour 1 teaspoon vanilla essence 1 teaspoon baking powder 1/4 tsp each cinnamon and nutmeg powder (you can also add clove and ginger) 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature 1 cup demerara sugar 1/4 cup and 1/3 cup white sugar to make caramel (1st for soaking and 2nd while making the cake) a pinch of salt 3 eggs
The original recipes call for a lot more types of dried fruits, but both for trying to simplify, and a laziness of trying to find everything I decided to stick with raisins and cherries. Eliminated the nuts as noone at home likes nutty cakes much. :).
Step 0: You can buy the candied peel if you know a good source. I didn't find it in time so made my own :). Heaved a big sigh of relief that my homemade peel added no touch of bitterness to the cake. Made a second cake and this time my peel was totally soooper :). The secret is to boil it in water and rinse it out a couple of times before simmering it in a sugar water solution, so the bitterness gets washed out.
Step 1: Chop up the raisins and cherries(make sure these are de-seeded) so they are all about the same size - I made the cherries about 1/8th each - the premise is that you should be able to cut up the cake without large sized fruit pieces getting in the way :).Pour in the brandy and leave to soak for a couple of days. Also pour in the orange juice into this mixture at the same time or a little later. The second time I made it, I reduced the brandy(from 150 to 100ml) and added caramel made from 1/4 cup sugar(how to is in Step 4) as this is supposed to take out the "brandy" taste a bit.
Edit: 100 ml was too less :(. Until I try this again, I would suggest 130 ml, and leave out the caramel.
This can be just an overnight soak, but since I heard that the tradition is to leave it for a month (!) I thought I would add an extra day atleast :). This needs to be mixed up once in a while otherwise the top layer may become dry and only the bottom part get soaked in the liquid.
Step 2: Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees centigrade. Prepare a springform 9 inch pan and keep ready.
Step 3: Sieve the flour along with the baking powder, salt, spice mix and keep aside.
Step 4: To make caramel out of the sugar, heat in a thick bottomed vessel until it starts turning a nice brown colour. Then keep shaking vessel(no spoon) to stir it around a bit until the colour becomes a nice daaark brown. Take off the heat, and start adding water(equal amount as the sugar) a little at a time, putting back on heat to mix up the water and make the final caramel sauce/liquid. This is what gives the dark brown rich colour to the cake, especially in case your brown or demerara sugar is not so dark. Leave it to cool before mixing into batter.
Step 5: Cream the butter and sugar together, and then add the eggs one by one, mixing well after each.
One recipe called for 5 eggs, another for 2. I have a fear of cakes becoming too "eggy" so I settled for 3 and this worked out pretty ok.
Step 6: Add the flour mix little at a time and mix well.
Step 7: Filter the soaked dry fruits, add 2-3 table-spoons of flour and mix it up with this. This step is important so that the fruits don't settle down to the bottom of the cake (I was so thrilled that this worked as expected :) !).
Step 8: Stir the dry fruits into the flour mixture until mixed well.
Step 9: Pour into pan and bake for about 1 hr 10 minutes. Insert a toothpick into the centre to check. Leave to cool and then cut.
OptionalStep 10: The cake can also be periodically soaked with more brandy to increase the "richness" hic :) ! For the record I am not doing this, atleast unless I find it's gone dry within a couple of days ;).
I found that this cake does taste better with time, as suggested by the veterans. Initially I felt the raisins tasted a bit "brandied" but this sort of settled down and probably got absorbed by other parts of the cake, and I am liking it much better after 2 days!