Christmas was a big deal for the Raj. However, making a traditional Christmas cake or pudding was problematic as many of the usual ingredients were hard to source. Compromises were needed.
This cake is my grandmother’s compromise. It features dried tropical fruits and is, surprisingly, gluten-free. Having no wheat-based products is important to us as we have some gluten-intolerant family members. But, gluten-free or not, this is a cake you would make for its own sake.
The one major cheat in this recipe is the use of almond meal. The original recipe requires you to use whole almonds, then grind them to a powder. I have never been able to get the right consistency and it is very time-consuming. This, of course, was not a problem for my grandmother in India, as she had people to do such things for her.
When she returned to England it was a different matter. She updated the notes to replace the hand-ground almonds with almond meal.
One doesn’t usually associate baking with Indian food, which is quite a misconception. Bakers thrive in India, particularly around Goa, where the Portuguese introduced all manner of baked goods. One such baked delight is bebinca, an Indian take on a Portuguese layer cake.
The use of brandy deserves a comment. The favourite tipple of the Raj in those days was probably gin. Wine, as in claret, was quaffed in tankards in the messes, rum was louche because sailors drank it and beer was for the other ranks and the younger bureaucrats. Sherry was for the wives and misses. But, every household would have had some brandy. Brandy was the refined option for such a recipe. Most of the alcohol in this recipe boils off through the cooking process, but if alcohol is a problem, use some apple juice instead.
If you are worried about the Indian influence, you may substitute the cardamom and rose water with a teaspoon of vanilla essence.
To make this cake you need to start more than a month in advance.
You need to find a selection of good quality dried tropical fruit to make this cake. I have found that health food shops are the best place to go. I use mango, papaya, pineapple, cranberries, figs and sour cherries. The secret is for this to look like a normal fruitcake, but to have the exotic fruit taste to provide the surprise.
And, yes, I know macadamias don’t come from India, but I couldn’t resist adding them. You could use chiroli nuts instead, as my grandmother required.
The only mistake you can make with this recipe is to overcook the cake. Be very careful towards the end of the cooking and make sure it is only just cooked. Too long and you will end up with a dry, crumbly cake, with burnt edges. A slightly underdone cake is better than an overdone one. A perfectly cooked cake is best, though.
Note that the image for this recipe shows the cake before decoration, which may well be how you choose to present it. The final decoration steps can be omitted if you want a simpler Christmas cake.
for the fruit mix
- 1 lime
- 2 oranges
- 1 kg dried tropical fruit
- 100 ml brandy
- 1 red apple - peeled, cored and grated
for the cake
- 250 g almond meal
- ½ cup coconut flour
- ½ tbsp baking powder
- ¼ tsp salt
- 180 g unsalted butter
- 180 g jaggery
- 6 eggs - large, free range
- 1 tsp rosewater
- 6 green cardamom pods - seeds removed from husks and coarsely ground
- 50 g raw cashews - chopped
- 50 g macadamia nuts - chopped
- 50 g raw cashews - whole
- 50 g macadamia nuts - whole
- 1 cup jaggery - crumbled
- ½ orange - finely sliced
- 1 lime - finely sliced
- 2 tbsp mango jam
- 1 tbsp brandy
- Use a grater to get the rind from the lime and one of the oranges. Set aside.
- Juice both the oranges and the lime. Set aside.
- Finely dice the dried fruit into 5mm pieces.
- Combine chopped dried fruits, rind, juices, brandy and grated apple in a bowl. Mix well, cover and refrigerate for three weeks. Stir every day.
for the cake
- Remove fruit from the refrigerator and allow it to come to room temperature.
- Pre-heat oven in conventional mode, not fan-assisted, to 130C. Line base and sides of a springform 22cm round cake tin with two layers of brown paper, and 2 layers of baking paper, bringing the paper 5cm above the top of the pan.
- Sift the almond meal, coconut flour, baking powder and salt into a mixing bowl. Mix well.
- Beat butter and jaggery in another bowl until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until just combined. Do not overbeat mixture or it will start to become a meringue, which is not desirable.
- Add rosewater, cardamom seeds, chopped cashews and macadamias to the fruit mixture and mix well.
- Add almond meal and coconut flour mix to fruit mixture and mix well.
- Add the egg and jaggery mix and combine well. Do this by hand using a folding technique, rather than stirring until you have a consistent, very thick homogenous batter, with no clumps of fruit or almond meal.
- Spread mixture evenly into the prepared cake tin and decorate the top with whole macadamias and cashews, pressing lightly into mixture until half submerged.
- Cover the top of the mixture with a layer of baking paper, cut to the cake tin diameter,
- Bake for 2 ¾ hours or until just cooked when tested – use a skewer and check that it comes out clean.
- Remove from oven and place the tin on a rack. Cover tightly with foil and allow to cool completely. Once cool, which will take several hours, remove from the cake tin. Carefully remove the paper. Place cake in a close-fitting, airtight cake tin, and store in a cool place. Refrigeration is not required, but will not hurt the cake.
- Allow cake to come to room temperature if it has been refrigerated.
- Heat 1 cup of water with the jaggery powder and bring to a simmer. Add the orange and lime slices, then poach for about 15 minutes or until soft. Remove carefully from the syrup and decorate the top of the cake with this glazed fruit.
- In a small pan, gently heat brandy and mango jam, until the mixture is runny.
- Brush the top and sides of the cake and glazed fruit with the jam and brandy mixture.
- Allow to cool and serve.
- For the dried fruit, we use mango, papaya, pineapple, cranberries, figs and sour cherries.
- For the glazed fruit, you might go to a health food shop and get some glazed limes and pineapple, rather than make your own.
- You might consider making small individual cakes. We have a square muffin baking tin that is just ideal, although we then need to bake in two batches. These small cakes are ideal as gifts and for impressing your work-mates. You will need to reduce the cake cooking time, depending on the size of the individual cakes. We have found 1¾ hours is about right. If doing this you will need to grease the tins with butter.
- Covering the top of the mixture with baking paper will stop the top of the cake from browning excessively.
- Mango jam is available from good Indian grocers. Aside from its use here you just may become addicted to it. Last night’s leftover roti with mango jam is a delight.
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