Mulled wine is typically packed with spices and served hot. Photo: Dreamstime
I grew up in a small, primarily Hindu neighbourhood in Delhi. And since this was sometime around early and mid-80s,
there wasn’t much media exposure to talk about. As a result, my first brush with Christmas was when I attended a party at Chitti aunty’s house. Chitty aunty was the principal of my mum’s school, and had moved to Delhi from Kerala. It was here that I got the taste of my first-ever plum cake! For a long time to come, my memories of X-Mas were only of the party, and then about 15 years ago, I moved to Bangalore and suddenly everything changed.
Bangalore is at its best during Christmas. The busy Brigade Road is decked up like a bride, and every small shop sells X-Mas trees and decorations by the dozen, and almost all the supermarkets have plum cakes on their shelves. The dark brown, slightly boozy plum cake you pick up from Thomas Bakery might not be the best, but holds a special corner in my heart since I would literally eat it by the dozen in my early years in the city. The good thing about being in Bangalore at this time of the year does not end with its abundant plum cakes, but many such delicious goodies. The homemade wines in flavours like ginger, plum and grape, ginger being my favourite. Another interesting specialty is the mulled wine, which is served at almost every restaurant and home you visit in Bangalore.
And, who can ever say no to the brandy chocolate balls? A very potent chocolate ganache rolled into balls, these are essentially our local truffles and are so addictive. But, if chocolate is not your thing (yes, there are people like that. It never fails to amaze me!), there are always rose cookies and guava cheese. Rose cookies are not really cookies, but are deep-fried sweet murukku, and are so delightful that you will even forget you were fooled by calling them cookies. Now guava cheese is not cheese either, but honestly we don't like to fool you because we just got carried away by the British and our desire to name our foods closer to theirs. Plus, a lot of these foods traditionally belong to the Anglo-Indian community, which somehow explains the names. So guava cheese is a cross between guava jelly and candy, and people who like it are known to eat it by the kilo. I order from an aunty who lives closeby religiously every year.
Now, tell me, with foods like this who wouldn't want Christmas to last forever? I will tell you the answer. My not-to-be found waistline! :)
I am leaving you all with a mulled wine recipe by a friend's mom; be merry and eat hearty. A very merry X-Mas!
Recipe for Mulled Wine
1 bottle red wine
100 gm castor sugar
3 whole cloves
1 stick cinnamon
1 fresh bay leaves
1/4 tsp whole nutmeg, for grating or nutmeg powder
1 pod vanilla, halved lengthways
1 star anise
1. Peel the orange and lemon using a peeler. Put the sugar in a large saucepan over a medium heat, add the peels and squeeze in the orange juice.
2. Now add the cloves, cinnamon stick, bay leaves and about 10 to 12 gratings of nutmeg.
3. Throw in your halved vanilla pod (or use vanilla essence) and stir in just enough red wine to cover the sugar. Let this simmer until the sugar has completely dissolved into the red wine and then bring it to boil. Keep on a rolling boil for about 4 to 5 minutes, or until you've got a beautiful thick syrup.
4. The reason doing this first is to create a wonderful flavour base by getting the sugar and spices to infuse, and blend well with the wine. It's important to make a syrup base first because it needs to be quite hot, and if you do this with all of the wine in there, you'll burn off the alcohol.
5. When your syrup is ready, turn the heat down to low and add your star anise and the rest of the wine. Gently heat the wine and after around 5 minutes, when it is warm and delicious, ladle it into glasses and serve.