Monday, December 30, 2013

Mix the Cake with Whoops of Jolly!

Mix the Cake with Whoops of Jolly!

Fa La La La La and more La La La La La’s!

Christmas cake

Gyan C. A. Fernando
With illustrations by N Senthilkumaran

Sri Lankans are well known to have a sweet tooth, or rather whole sets of sweet teeth, and so it didn’t come as too much of a surprise to me to be offered all sorts of sweets on my return to the Old Republic.
Having lived too long elsewhere in the world I had lost my sweet tooth. The array of biscuits, puddings and cakes that confronted me, followed by the cups of tea with three sugars in them, set my teeth on edge!
What really intrigued me was that, although we were nowhere near Christmas, it was still May; there was plenty of Marzipan cemented Christmas cake floating about.
My three sisters are well-known experts on the subject of Xmas cake and even my loud-mouthed but lovely niece Samanmalee (“Sam”, 30+), whose culinary skills in the Rice ‘n’ Curry department are below par, can beat up some awfully sickly sweet Christmas cakes, the sort that gives you tooth decay at a range of fifty metres!
What chuffs me is that the majority of Sri Lankans are not Christians but Christmas cake does bring us all together. Isn’t that heart-warming? What harmony! Everybody gets together for the sake of Christmas! For the sake of Christmas cake!
No doubt Dentists love this state of affairs.

The “Mixing of the Cake” Ceremony
Strictly speaking, Christmas cake making is a family affair, but the posh hotels of Colombo, who recognise something profitable when they see one, have now cashed in on it and have brought in a Traditional Sri Lankan Christmas Cake Mixing Ceremony for the gullible tourists.
Let’s Mix it Together!  Oh what fun! Oh what fun it is to fall into a Christmas cake mix?
Oh look Mummy! Granny just dropped her dentures into the cake! Isn’t it funny Mummy?

As far as the real, traditional, family orientated Christmas Cake Mixing goes, it is a long drawn out affair for which advanced Military like planning is required.  Old recipes have to be dug out and dusted and strategies worked out, long forgotten bowls need to be located and special mixing spoons with Holly motifs have to be unearthed.
You just can’t mix a Christmas cake with any old spoon! Totally unethical!
 It takes many months of preparation and that is largely to do with finding and stockpiling the ingredients. Women have been known to fight it out in the checkouts of local Food Cities just for 250 grams of sultanas! Just last year the Police had to be called in when two women started pulling each other’s hair over the last pack of glace cherries in a well-known supermarket in Kandy!
I do my bit of stockpiling. Stockpiling brandy is an important part of the whole business, which aspect is not always appreciated nor even recognised by the family.

Go Away, Uncle!
On the appointed day of The Mixing there is frenzied activity in the household. Tensions surface. Dogs cringe and howl and cats hiss and scratch.
Instructions like “Blend the sugar with…” and “Soak the whatever in whatever” and even shouts of “Go away, Uncle!” are shouted across the table.
Sam, my niece, has special preparations of her own for the day. She has to get into a short and skimpy, bright red, Santa Claus like dress for this occasion, mostly to show off her legs which, admittedly, are nice but have nothing to do with Christmas. They just might distract the naughty little helper Elves from eating too many sultanas!
She also grabs the biggest mixing spoon available, the reason for which should be obvious in a minute.
. My own efforts to play a major role in the Mixing of the Cake Ceremony in our households have always been thwarted by the womenfolk in my life. First it was the Missus, who BTW is now the ex. For years she would hide the bottle of brandy beforehand and would use brandy essence instead; a gross travesty.
In this respect, nothing much seems to have changed in my life. Last year my lovely and mild-mannered sister Babs, firmly banned me from the kitchen but she did allow me the concession of carrying the bottle of brandy with me into exile.
Sam’s methods of separating me from the brandy are generally less subtle. Last year she hit me with the mixing spoon! The big one. The one with the Holly on it.

Brandy, More of it!
What most womenfolk don’t understand is that the basic recipe consists of brandy, brandy, brandy and some raisins, sultanas, currants, cherries, candied peel and more brandy. In that order!
 It is a good idea to keep on adding more brandy from time to time.
If my memory serves right, I think you need to throw a couple of eggs into it as well but I need to check that with my sisters first. The main thing is the brandy.
It goes without saying that the brandy needs to be tasted before it is added to the mixture. I would go as far as to say that the sampling of the brandy should be a continuous process, a sort of quality control.
 As for the minor ingredients, almost anything, with the exception of Durian fruit, can be thrown into it.
Even after the cake has been baked, more brandy needs to be added. This is known as “feeding the cake”.
With regard to the main ingredient, brandy, almost any type of strong alcohol can be substituted for it. I have no doubt that Siberians add vodka and Jamaicans rum.
For example, many years ago I used to live in the Scottish town of Dundee. Like all Scotsmen they worship whisky. Their Christmas cake, predictably, contains large quantities of whisky and so is known as Whisky Dundee.

The Exploding Cake of Dundee
One year, it must have been 1988 if my memory serves me right; there was an explosion in a bakery near Dundee. No one was hurt but scattered Christmas cake was found in the neighbouring gardens like Manna that had dropped from heaven.
Christmas cakeIt later transpired that, in an attempt to make the “Mother of All Christmas Cakes” the bakery workers, together with distillery workers from a nearby distillery, had added injudicious amounts of raw, straight-from-the-still type whisky! The neighbourhood smelt of Christmas cake and whisky for days and days!
As you can see, Christmas cake making is good fun. More than anything it is Biblical.
Come next Christmas, I hope to get into the Christmas cake business myself.
First I plan to keep the womenfolk out of it and invite a few of my mates to take part.
 Foreigners are welcome, but no Sri Lankan women please!
I might even apply for a Government grant or a bank loan or two for my enterprise.
In the meantime, if you have any spare bottles of brandy, do send them to me. Every little bit helps!

First published in the Sunday Times of Sri Lanka on the 29th of December 2013
Copyright: Gyan C A Fernando 2013

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