Monday, January 4, 2010

Age Ole' Anglo-Indian Christmas Traditions Continue ...

For as long as I can remember Christmas has always been a flurry of furious activity. The first of the month is always marked by taking down numerous dusty boxes from the attic filled with decorations.

Although the particles of dust always sneak into my nose and cause me to sneeze uncontrollably, decorating every nook and cranny of the house gives me the utmost pleasure since it sets the holiday tone and mood for the month.

Once the house is decked in festive splendour my mum usually gets in a tizzy rushing around town in search of cake and cookie baking ingredients. India being India, a simple task such as buying brown sugar can prove to be quite a drama. Thus procuring the exact requirements for baking all the Christmas goodies can be a herculean task. This year I accompanied my mum from All Saints to Food World and then to Nilgiris until we had every last item we needed checked off our list. In my opinion Nilgiri had the best quality and was well stocked, at least in comparison with the rest.

My mother being Anglo-Indian, Christmas celebrations have always followed the customary traditions and practices. Keeping abreast with our Anglo-Indian heritage, there are three standard Christmas sweets that are an absolute must, Christmas Plum Cake, Kul-Kuls and Rosa Cookies. Below are pictures of the rosa cookie moulds, the deep frier wok and the completed cookies.

When I was younger coconut sweet was also part of the festive table spread but as the years have gone by its importance seems to have waned, although this year we resurrected the favoured delight.

top above: coconut sweet, and then here: kul kuls

Every year ole faithful Shanti, the same age as my mum (est. 55, hope my mum is not reading this post!) is summoned to help with the making of these Christmas treats, since only Shanti, trained by my grandmother when she was a child knows the exact measurements and method of making the Christmas favourites.

This year I have stepped in taking interest in the preparations, attempting to document some of my grandmothers recipes in the hope of being able to continue our traditions wherever I maybe or whatever may happen (god forbid) to Shanti.

My mother usually makes 5 kg’s of cake, this year we have scaled back (maybe its because of the recession?!) and only made3 kg’s instead. This entails 1 kg flour, 1 kg eggs, 1 kg crushed cashew nuts, and a 2 kg mixture of glace cherries, currants, raisins, plums, tutti-frutti, orange peel soaked in rum and brandy along with copious amounts of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, vanilla essence and almond essence.

In the past my mum has turned to commercial produced ‘burned sugar’ – something I cannot fathom in the least – and what I suspect is responsible for the ugly bitter aftertaste produced from cakes in past years. This year I set to work to create the perfect caramel referring to David Lebowitz handy manual.

I used the dry method and soon realised that this method goes hard very quickly when taken off the stove and does not dissolve into the cake batter, instead forming large sugar crystals when in contact with the cool batter. So instead we went to work making wet caramel using water to temper the caramel and allow it to be more malleable for longer. This way the caramel was incorporated into the cakes without any worries, giving a slighter paler than the usually burnished dark colour but yielding the rich, caramel flavour that is usually missing thanks to the artificially flavoured tubs of burned sugar.

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