Monday, 9 November 2009

A saga - making the Christmas cake

Suddenly it seemed time to make the Christmas cake. Although it takes quite a long time, it is something I enjoy doing. For some reason (a genetic throwback?) my children do not particularly like Christmas cake, and anyway they all live far far away, so that Christmas together happens only occasionally.

Last year I did not make a cake, reasoning that we ate it far too quickly and that it would only increase our girth. Last week I decided that yes, I would make a cake, justifying this on the sheer pleasure I get from the process. Promptly, I set about buying the ingredients. First I went to the local health food shop, which had almost nothing, but said they would have more arriving in a few days. Then I went to the local organic food shop. This is a very large and extensive shop, which is wildly successful, and also very expensive, so generally I go there only to buy potatoes or such like in an emergency. They had lots of ingredients, which all looked delicious. But the quantities were all wrong. They came in 200 gram packs, not the 125, 250, 375 or 500 grams which as every cook knows, are the measures generally required for cake making.

Somewhat perturbed but undaunted, I next visited the Nut Shop in the city, which is where I always buy my preserved ginger for the Dutch Ginger cake, which even those who generally affect to dislike ginger (Dr P, et al.) fall upon with glad cries and devour eagerly. It is very easy to make and I am happy to share the recipe.

The Nut Shop is generally full of people buying nuts, dried fruits, fudge and chocolates. As I perused their produce, it was borne upon me that the packaging quantities were all in 200 grams, not 250. I therefore felt seriously pissed off. In order to get the required quantities I would have to buy more than I needed or wanted. This seemed to me to be a despicably filthy capitalist trick. Or an international conspiracy. Or both!

So when did this change to standard packaging weight take place? Why did I know nothing about it? It could have happened any time in the last two years, but if so, why were there no outcries or street demonstrations? Why were cooks all over Australia not protesting vociferously. Was it mentioned on Master Chef? Although I have to admit that the commercial TV stations' programs documenting the manifold injustices of the world might have mentioned it, but I never watch them, so I will never know.

So I had to buy more raisins, sultanas and mixed peel than I needed, but the Nut Shop did sell glace fruit, ginger, nuts and cherries by weight. I still had to check out a couple of ingredients at the supermarket, where the quantity situation was the same. It was, however, most aggravating to have had to go all over the place to buy the fruit. OK, so I am retired, but my time is still precious, and it is the principle of the thing! No one should have to adapt a recipe in such a ridiculous way.

My favourite Christmas cake recipe is from Charmaine Solomon's book The Complete Asian Cookbook, and is a Sri Lankan/Dutch recipe, full of glace fruit, lots of spices and essences, honey, and a jar of Chow Chow preserves, which can only be found in Asian food shops, and not always then. It is necessary to plan ahead for this ingredient. It is a jar of various melons and fruits in sweet syrup. Apparently a substitute is melon and ginger jam, but I am nothing if not authentic, and thus Chow Chow preserves it has to be. I have another two jars lurking in the pantry, just in case there is an international Chow Chow preserves shortage. This cake is absolutely splendid. If the Imam fainted over an aubergine dish, he surely would have expired over this cake.

The day before yesterday I chopped up all the fruit. It takes quite a long time, but in its own way is quite a soothing activity, and my mezzaluna makes it quite easy, rocking away at all angles across the fruit on a large chopping board. The mezzaluna does need regular washing, as all the sugar in the fruit makes it very sticky. The mixture then is marinated overnight in brandy.

On Sunday I set about the making of the cake, in a relaxed and leisurely manner. What does take time, I find, is lining the cake tin, and as can be seen, I don't get this quite right. The paper has to be cut to the appropriate size, fitted, fastened and buttered. There was only just enough brown paper left, and today I had to buy some more.

First the batter is mixed. The recipe requires 12 egg yolks and six egg whites. Here is the batter
with the fruit added. It is a stiff mixture so I use my lovely Huon pine spurtle to mix it in thoroughly.
The cake is large, so the average Mixmaster bowl is not quite large enough.

Just for general information, here is the recipe,

and the lined tin.
The six egg whites, stiffly beaten, and then folded into the mixture. Again, the spurtle works well.
But hands are required to get it well mixed.

Here it is in the cake tin, ready to bake.

I cook this cake at 130 degrees C for four and a half hours.

Here is the cooled cake. You can see the little dents in the shape, signifying domestic authenticity, and not some automated factory process.

It is now wrapped up and hidden. Dr P seems not to realise that it is a Christmas cake, and thus not to be hacked into bits for his immediate delectation. In some respects I am happy to take on the role and responsibility of a domestic dictator.

However, there was some fruit left over.... so here is the chopped mixture for a smaller and lighter cake marinating away there. Tomorrow will be another busy day.

Today I did some general food shopping and visited the health food shop there, which had all the fruit in the (formerly) standard quantities. Too late for me and my cakes this year, but I will know where to shop next year.

And there are six surplus egg whites to use up, so it looks as though I will have to cook a large pavlova.


Anonymous said...

Wow, I'm in admiration of the effort this requires, from traipsing about to many shops to separating a dozen eggs! Well done.

I must admit to being completely conditioned to package sizes. Because butter comes in 250g blocks, I am irritated by baking recipes that ask for something other than 125g amounts. Like 75g, or 225g -- what am I supposed to do with the leftover amount? *sigh*

Meggie said...

I am assuming the 'spare' cake will be available for delectation before Xmas? It does sound delicious.

VioletSky said...

I am not a fan of Christmas cake, mostly because of the candied fruit (which I am assuming is what you are calling 'glace fruit'?), although I have had it made with no candied fruit but mostly nuts and spices and that was quite delectible.
I am seriously impressed with the effort you have put into this and that you "get pleasure from the process"!

We have here a shop called The Bulk Barn where you can buy all the necessary ingredients by weight. All manner of baking ingredients with every kind of flour, candies, spices, etc. imaginable and it is way cheaper than the prepackaged stuff, so the turnover is high keeping the food and spices etc fresh.

But, seriously, saffronlie, you don't know what to do with the extra butter??? Let me help you, I'll just bring my fresh baked bread...

Petrina said...

I have made this cake myself - ostensibly to sell at my cupcake stand. Sadly, I deemed it a failure because the fruit in the cake sank to the bottom. I did, however, keep the reject cakes for over a year and offered one of them to Arabic friends for Christmas last year. The rose water, cardamon and semolina flavours were irrestible to them. So I'm going to make it again for them this year. Here's hoping I can find the chow chow preserves - I was not successful last time.