Home bakers see a busy time during Christmas in Kochi.
It is that time of the year when the smell of bakes fills the air, carols are sung and stockings are being hung up!
No Christmas menu is complete without the quintessential fruit cake. Filled with the rich goodness of raisins, apricots, prunes, figs and other dry fruits and nuts, these cakes often mean a bite into nostalgia.
Though a minority, Christians in Kerala are a prominent community. Christianity was introduced in the state after the arrival of St. Thomas, one of the twelve disciples of Jesus in 52 AD. Those who converted under his guidance were known as Syrian Christians or Nasranis. With time, they split into different factions like the Roman Latin Church, Anglican Church and the Protestant denomination.
As Kochi gears up with lighting and other decorations, we speak to some Kochi-based home bakers about the magic called the 'Christmas cake'.
For the love of baking
“To me, a great Christmas cake is 75 per cent fruit and 25 per cent batter," says Bhavana Maliakkal, a part-time baker. Bhavana, who runs Sugar Sifter, a home-run bakery in Kochi, says she soaks dry fruits and nuts in a mixture of rum, orange juice and lime juice for 2 to 3 months.
“I try to keep the order numbers limited and keep the last date of taking an order up to two weeks before Christmas. But, there is a buffer period till December 20 for last minute cakes, as I always soak the dry fruits keeping in mind a buffer,” she quips.
Bhavana sends out 50 to 60 logs of fruit cakes each year, and believes that the secret to a great Christmas cake lies in is great ingredients. The home baker adds dry fruits like apricots, prunes and cranberries for a well-rounded flavour. She also sells holiday-special hampers that includes goodies like chocolates, Christmas-themed cookies and flavoured cupcakes.
Prepped well in advance
“Dry fruits and nuts need to be soaked at least a year in advance,” admits Lakshmi Sreedhar, another baker and entrepreneur. The former banker runs a bakery-cum-café called Bakers Walk at Kaloor, Kochi. Known for baking celebrity wedding cakes in the city, she gets orders close to 10,000 Christmas cakes a year!
Lakshmi starts taking orders 2 to 3 months before Christmas, and avoids taking more orders post December 10. Besides the Christmas cake, Lakshmi also receives orders for festive hampers, fresh cream cakes and cakes in other flavours like banana and carrot.
Her Christmas hamper contains dry fruit brownies, dry fruits chocolates and candy cane cookies. Lakshmi also feels that it is a mixture of powdered spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and fennel that make a difference when it comes to traditional cakes as spices add a touch of warmth.
Packed with love
Yet another home baker, Ancy George who runs a cake baking business called Ala Cakes from Tripunithura, believes in the goodness involved in the process of making the fruit cake. “While getting the dry fruits and nuts ready by soaking it in a mixture of rum and brandy, I ask everyone in my family to stir it once, so that good wishes and blessings are passed on. I also like to have Christmas carols playing in the background when I bake, to add to the ambience.”
Ancy, who sends out up to 100 cakes a year, also makes hampers. A hamper usually contains an assortment of chocolate truffles, a yule log, meringue kisses, a bottle of homemade wine, ginger or almond cookies and a hot chocolate premix.
“The contents are customised as per the customer’s needs,” she adds. Besides the usual fruit cakes, Ancy also receives orders for banana or carrot-dates cake from those who miss the fruit cake as they are usually limited in number.
“I usually don’t take any orders post December 20,” she adds. A good Christmas fruit cake according to her should last for a month without preservatives. Some useful tips Ancy shares when it comes to making the fruit cake is, dust the dry fruits and nuts with flour once strained from the alcohol mixture to prevent it from sinking to the bottom of the pan. Also, mix the batter with a light hand or you might end up with a dense cake.
Where to buy Christmas cakes in Kochi
Cakes My Passion, Kadavanthara and Jeny’s Cake Corner, Kaloor.
Or, you could visit popular bakery chains like French Toast and Pandhal that have outlets across the city.
Price range: Christmas fruit cakes can cost from Rs. 690 to 1000 for 900 gms and Christmas hampers can cost between Rs. 1000 & 3000.