T’is the season to be jolly…With Thanksgiving done and over with, and stepping into December means only one thing, that Christmas is here. I can see Christmas trees put up in malls and our office, Christmas lights are up in our neighborhood, Eggnog is up on the store shelves and peppermint mocha is sold at Seattle’s favorite coffee shop. While all of these are aspects of Christmas, to me it mostly means baking – baking some delicious cakes and cookies to enjoy at home and share with friends and family. This Christmas is extra special, coss it is the first Christmas after the birth of my second son and my parents are here with me to celebrate it, and I am especially thrilled to make the Christmas delicacies this year with my mom in my kitchen.
One of the signature items I make for Christmas is the Fruit cake or the Indian style Plum cake. If you are from India, you are familiar with the caramel colored cake studded with dry fruit and nuts that is sold as a special item during Christmas. Although I have always gone by my mom’s signature recipe of making the caramel and adding it to the batter, I have tweaked it based on recipes I have seen on TV, tasted at friends places etc. over the yearss and this is my latest and best version, so far.
This version, involves making a caramel and soaking the dry fruits in it for about 2 weeks or more along with some rum. The flavors infuse the fruits tremendously and yield an amazingly moist and flavorful cake. You don’t have to worry about consuming alcohol – because the alcohol evaporates during baking, so its not like you will get drunk eating a piece of cake. But, if you are skeptical and don’t want to use alcohol, you can use a rum extract and substitute with more orange juice in place of the rum. I also brushed the cake with rum after baking, and continued this for a week or so. This again can be skipped, but it enables the cake stay moist and also preserve the cake. This process is called ‘feeding the cake’ and was developed in olden days for preservation of holiday goods. The cake I baked stayed good for about 2 months – at room temperature.
For soaking the fruits
1 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped dates
1/2 cup cranberries
1/2 cup chopped apricots
1/2 cup glazed cherries, chopped
1 cup candied peel, mixed
1 tsp caraway seeds
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 cup rum
For making the cake
2 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp cinnamon powder
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
1 cup butter + 6 tbsp + more for greasing the pan
2 3/4 cup powdered sugar
5 eggs(straight out of the refrigerator, see notes below)
1/2 tsp cream of tartar(optional)
3 tbsp powdered sugar
2 tsp vanilla essence
1/4 cup fruit jam/jelly/orange marmalade
Zest of an orange
1 1/2 Cup of chopped nuts(I used 1/4 each of cashews, almonds, walnuts, pistachios, pecans and macadamia nuts)
More butter for greasing the pan
More rum for brushing the cake
Powdered sugar for topping the cake
parchment paper/non stick cooking spray
Soaking the Fruits (atleast 2 weeks up to 2 months in advance)
Place the brown sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Let the sugar caramelize and turn deep golden brown. Be patient with the sugar and stir to enable even caramelizing. Remove the pan from the heat and gently add in the caraway seeds and 1/2 cup of water, stirring to combine. Return the pan to the stove again. Add in the dry fruits and the orange juice and bring the mixture to a boil. When the mixture starts boiling, switch off the stove and add the rum or brandy if using. Boiling the fruit, helps soften them a bit and allows them to soak up the flavors of the caramel and the rum better. I have used 4 cups of dry fruits here – a combination of all the dried fruits I have on hand. You can use whatever you have or whatever you like. Let the fruit mixture cool completely. Cover and store in an airtight glass container, shaking every few days to ensure even absorption. You can also add more rum over the course of time, if the liquid is all absorbed and the mixture tends to become dry.
If you have not soaked the fruits in advance, don’t worry about it, you can still make the cake, and it would still taste good. In that case, let the caramel+fruit+rum mixture cool down completely, before you start making the cake.
Making the cake
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 inch round cake pan + several ramekins or a 10 inch bundt pan with butter or non stick cooking spray and line with parchment paper.
Sift all the dry ingredients together: Flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg.Set aside.
Chop all the nuts: I have used a combination of almonds, cashews, pistachios, walnuts, pecans and macadamia nuts.
Separate the eggs into yolks and egg whites.
Strain the dry fruits, and retain the liquid.
In a medium bowl, cream the butter and the sugar until creamy. Add in the egg yolks, one by one and beat after each addition, scraping down the sides of the pan. Beat in the jam/marmalade/jelly and the vanilla essence. Add the sifted dry ingredient mixture in 3 batches, alternating with any leftover caramel+orange juice+rum liquid that you have retained by straining the soaked fruits, starting and ending with flour. Switch to a rubber spatula at this point and fold in the soaked fruits and chopped nuts.
In another clean bowl, and using clean whisk or electric beater, beat the egg whites along with the 3 tbsp powdered sugar and 1/2 tsp cream of tartar until the egg whites double in volume and firm peaks form. Gently fold 1/3rd of the egg white mixture by folding up and over the cake batter. Repeat with the remaining egg white mixture, folding in batches patiently, taking care not to deflate the egg whites. It is ok if there are small streaks of egg white mixture visible in the batter, and if the batter is not completely homogeneous.
Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake for 50 minutes to an hour, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove the cake out of the oven and while still warm and in the pan, using a pastry brush, brush the top of the cake with rum. The cake will absorb the rum. Let the cake cool down a bit and invert the cake on to a plate. Brush the bottom of the cake with rum. Let the cake cool completely and store in an airtight tin. You can continue brushing the cake with rum to keep it moist.
When ready to cut, you can sprinkle with powdered sugar. I feel it makes it look like snow and always do it with my fruitcakes.
When cutting the cake, do so with a sharp knife that cuts through the pieces of fruit and nut to yield a clean slice.
Merry Christmas to you all..May the baby Jesus bring the joy and peace to your hearts and to your homes!!
Verdict: A slice of this cake truly embodies the smells and tastes of Christmas! It is infused beautifully with the taste of caramel and flavored with spices and with rum and each piece is studded with a mix of fruits and nuts. True Christmas bliss!
- This cake is especially sticky, so if you choose to make this in a bundt pan, spray with non stick cooking spray, or use Baker’s joy spray to ensure the cake comes out without sticking to the pan.If using a round pan, the best way to ensure the cake comes off is to use parchment paper on top of a greased pan and again grease the parchment with butter. Lining the sides with parchment will also help the cake to rise better.
- While making the caramel to soak the fruits, zest the orange first. Place the zest in a piece of plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator. Squeeze the orange and use the juice when soaking the fruits. When making the cake, you will have zest ready to add. Just add the frozen zest into the cake batter.
- The eggs need not be brought to room temperature. Having them cold, helps in two ways – one they separate easily and by the time you make the cake batter, the egg whites would have thawed enough so that you can beat it to stiff peaks.
- It is very important to gently fold the egg whites into the cake batter and not stir it in. The air incorporated into the egg whites in beating will ensure the cake rises, is tender and moist.
- I make one big cake and several small ones in ramekins or my muffin tin, and wrap them to give as Christmas goodies. This has always been a hit with my family and friends.