December 24, 2010

It’s the Season For Some Plum Cake (My Version Of The Kerala Style Christmas Fruit Cake), And A Giveaway!

Let me begin by wishing everyone a fun filled holiday season with family, friends and lots of good food! I was just wondering how to start this post when I realised that many of my posts seem to be about what I don’t like!
I can’t help it if I do not like something and I’m not going to pretend otherwise. I’m not very fussy about food in general, but there are a few foods I really dislike and this post is going to be about one of them – the Kerala Christmas time staple and a favourite with most, the Plum Cake. In the course of the last month or so, I have discovered that there seem to be only two ways to feel about this cake. You either love it or dislike it, but you cannot be indifferent to it!

If you live in Kerala, there is just no escaping this Christmas fruit cake. In fact, it’s not quite Christmas in Kerala without the plum cake. Even you don’t celebrate Christmas like us, friends and neighbours will send you Christmas cake with all their love. All this is a good thing if you love this cake, as what could better than a little cake but even more cake?

Funnily enough, the Kerala Plum Cake has no plums in it and it has always puzzled me why it continues to be called so. After much searching, The Oxford Companion to Food solved the mystery for me. Apparently, in the good old days, the British fruitcake used contain as much as half of its weight in a variety of dried fruit which was referred to as “plumb” or “plum” which is what gives this particular fruit cake its name.

In Kerala, this Christmas cake is a dense deep brown coloured spiced cake that is a choc-a-block full of dried fruit and nuts. The brown colour (and a very nice flavour too) comes from a caramel sauce which is made and added to the cake batter. The fruits, nuts and spices typically used in this cake are those found locally so raisins, dates, candied and coloured peel, green and red coloured tutti frutti, cashewnuts, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg.

Traditionally the dried fruit and nuts are soaked in rum for a month and then used in the cake. This soaking not only adds to the flavour of the cake but also helps preserve it for a long time. Back home in Kerala, about a month before Christmas, all the big bakeries, star restaurants and anybody who can get into the act does the mixing and soaking of dried fruit and nuts in rum. The process has become quite a public event these days with public participation and much fanfare.

Now we come to the part about my not liking this cake. I do not like this cake because it reeks (or should I say stinks) of rum. I also cannot stand the candied peel and the awful red and green stuff that usually dots the inside of the cake. So I have never even dreamt of making my own fruitcake. I mean, what sort of a fruit cake (as in crazy) would I be to want to make one?

My husband, on the other hand, loves the stuff! When we lived in Kerala, it didn’t matter that I never made one because we would have so much fruitcake coming home on Christmas day, he would be eating it right into the New Year. We don’t get that Plum Cake here, but we do get some excellent Christmas cake in Goa which more than made up for the lack of the other kind.

This year, my husband is in a place where he’s unlikely to lay his hands on authentic Christmas cake so I decided to bake a fruit cake and send it to him. That was the start of my search for a Kerala style Plum Cake that doesn’t need alcohol and the awful red/ green stuff parading as candied fruit, if there existed such a thing.

A request on Facebook had Ammini Ramachandran pointing me to her own recipe, and also sent me a friend’s recipe and one to make my own candied peel. I wanted to start with an authentic (it is reasonably so to my mind, looking at the ingredients that go into her cake) plum cake recipe. I say this because I could see that her recipe uses frut, nuts and spices that are normally found in Kerala. Now there must at least a 1000 different “authentic” recipes, as every family who makes these cakes every year would have a recipe they swear by.

I then went ahead and put my spin on Ammini’s recipe. I didn’t have the time to make my own candied peel but had some excellent candied fruit on hand and decided to use them instead. I used unsweetened orange juice instead of rum/ brandy and used Ammini’s method of cooking the fruit and nuts in it instead of the month long soaking usually followed for this cake. I used golden raisins as we don't really likes the black ones which can be tart. The Afghani/ Irani greenish brown varieties are the best and are very sweet.

I also added cardamom to the spice mix which is not usually done. I cut down on the butter a bit because I get my butter in 100gm slabs. I used light brown sugar in my cake and cut down on the quantity a bit because sweetness of the candied fruit and the applesauce.

The 4 eggs in the original recipe was an issue for me this could mean a possible “eggy” smell or taste in the cake, especially as I wasn't using alcohol which would otherwise mask that. Replacing all the 4 eggs in a recipe is not easy without affecting the texture of the cake. So I decided to replace 2 of the eggs with fresh apple purée and use only the whites of 2 eggs as these were beaten well and then folded into the batter at the end, to provide lightness to a normally dense cake. I also added a 1/2 tsp of baking soda to the recipe.

I got the best fruit cake I have ever eaten (remember, I don’t like fruit cake?). It tasted great, was moist yet lighter than the average more dense fruit cake. It had a nice crumb yet was firm enough to slice easily. This cake is a keeper and is going to be the one I bake every time I need to make a Christmas fruit cake.

Kerala Style Christmas Fruit Cake (Plum Cake)
(Adapted from Ammini Ramachandran)


For the soaked fruit:

1/2 cup golden raisins

1 cup pitted and chopped dates

1/4 cup candied papaya

1/8 cup candied pineapple

1/8 cup candied ginger

1 cup unsalted cashew nuts

1/4 cup unsweetened orange juice

For the caramel sauce:

6 tbs of granulated sugar

3 tbsp water

1 tsp fresh lemon juice

1/4 cup boiling water

2 cups of flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

200gm salted butter (or unsalted butter + 1/2 tsp salt)

1 1/2 cups powdered light brown sugar

1/2 cup unsweetened apple purée (or applesauce)

2 egg whites

1/2 tsp cinnamon powder

1/4 tsp powdered nutmeg

1/4 tsp powdered cloves

1/4 tsp powdered dry ginger

3 pods cardamom, powdered

1 tsp vanilla extract


Prepare the fruit first. Chop the dates and candied fruits and cashewnuts (roughly to the size of the raisins), put them in a saucepan in a saucepan and add the orange juice to this. Cook the fruit, over low heat, until the liquid starts steaming. Stir frequently and let the fruit and nuts cook until all the orange juice has almost been absorbed completely. Take it off the heat and allow it to cool down.

Next, make the caramel sauce. Place the granulated sugar in a pan. Add 3 tbsps water and the tsp of lemon juice. Mix lightly with a spoon. Place the saucepan on high heat and allow the sugar and water to start boiling/ bubbling. Do not stir but you may tilt the pan a bit a couple of times to let the melted sugar spread out. Let the sugar melt and caramelize to a golden brown (do not burn it). Take it off the heat and it will start darkening. Carefully pour the 1/4 cup boiling water (it will spit and splutter) into the caramel and stir with a spoon. Place the caramel sauce back on the stove and just bring it to a boil. Then take it off the heat and keep aside.

Now prepare the cake batter. Put the soft butter in a big bowl and beat, with an electric beater, till fluffy. Add the powdered sugar and beat, on slow speed, till combined. Keep aside about 1/3 cup of the flour aside and sieve together the remaining flour, baking powder and baking soda. Add this to the bowl along with all the powdered spices. Mix well (do not beat too much), using the beater on slow speed, until combined.

Sprinkle the 1/3 cup reserved flour on the cooled fruit and nuts and mix with a spoon so the fruit is well coated with the flour. Add this, the vanilla extract and the warm caramel sauce to the batter and mix with a wooden spoon till combined.

Beat the egg whites to soft peaks, in another clean bowl, and gently fold this into the batter till well incorporated. Pour the batter into two medium greased and lined/ floured loaf or cake tins (I used a 7” round tin and a medium loaf tin. Bake the cakes at 170C (325F) for about 1 to 1 1/4 hours or till a skewer comes out clean, when it is inserted into the centre. Ensure the cake is well baked.

Let the cakes cool in the tins for about 15 minutes, then gently unmould and cool on a rack. You can serve the cake immediately but it does taste even better the next day. Cover the cake with waxed paper and then foil before storing or the cake will dry out.

And The Giveaway!

It is the season for giving and perhaps the perfect time for me to giveaway two more books. Sellers Publishing were kind enough to send me extra copies to giveaway to my readers, along with my review copies.

The first book I’m giving away is “America's Little Italys: Recipes and Traditions” by Sheryll Bellman. Sheryl Bellman is the also the author of Through The Shopping Glass and America’s Great Delis. Passionate about food and food history writing, she has written for many magazines and been featured on NPR. She lives in New York City and attributes her interest in deli culture to growing up in corned beef deprived Arizona!

America’s Little Italys is not just another cookbook with Italian food recipes but much more than that. It is based on the Italian-American immigrant experience, their food cultural history and the founding of Little Italys as their neighbourhoods are referred to, in various parts of the US. The book makes for good reading with nostalgic write-ups, beautiful black and white photographs full of old world charm as well as Italian family restaurant recipes. The book invites you to a celebration of the Italian immigrant past in the US through the stories of the beginnings and evolution of many modern-day Italian restaurants across 14 major cities in the US. Some of the cities covered are New York City (including Brooklyn and The Bronx), Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis, San Francisco, San Diego and New Orleans.

Also included are over recipes from over 80 modern-day Italian restaurants, which have been handed down the generations and many of which are their signature dishes. The book also has lots of interesting historical information which tells us that the first Espresso machine was made in France and the first industrial pasta machine in the US was built by a Frenchman in Brooklyn. He apparently dried his strands of spaghetti in the sunshine on his roof!

I cooked the Mona Lisa Pasta Primavera (from the Mona Lisa Italian Restaurant and Deli, San Diego) and the Chicago Style Pizza (from Tony Nitti’s Bar-B-Que, Chicago) and have to say they were very good. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to take any pictures to tempt you with.
You can see the book in a little detail here.

The other book I’m giving away is “500 Cheeses: The only cheese compendium you’ll ever need” by Roberta Muir, which is a guide to cheeses from around the world. Roberta Muir has an educational background in gastronomy, is a trained cheese judge, a food writer, a restaurant reviewer and manages the Sydney Seafood School.

500 Cheeses is a part of the 500 Series of books from Sellers Publishing. As is the case with the other books in this series, it is a well organised and presented book with beautiful pictures and also has a page on how to use the book. This book de-mystifies the world of cheese and begins with an introduction to cheeses, then goes on to explain how cheese is made with advice on how to select store and serve cheese.

The book is further divided in to chapters on Fresh Cheeses, Stretched-Curd Cheeses, Bloomy Rind Cheeses, Washed Rind Cheeses, Semi-Soft Cheeses, Blue-Veined Cheeses and Semi-Hard & Hard Cheeses. Each entry begins with a flag of the country from which it comes, and then includes description its history, characteristic appearance, texture and flavour. There is also some information on its available sizes, affinage and tasting notes as well as food and beverage pairing.

I would have liked it even better if there were a couple of recipes using the cheeses in the book, but I guess that is asking too much for a book of this size. This is definitely a book you want on your cookbook shelf if you love cheese.
You can see this book in some detail here.

I will be giving away a copy of the above books to two randomly selected lucky readers. If you would like to try your luck at winning one of these books, all you have to do is to leave a comment at this post telling me what your favourite Italian food and/ or cheese is. Yes, that’s all you have to do.
I love Italian food and its not easy to choose a favourite but I do like Tiramisu (this version of it) and Aglio e Olio (Pasta with garlic and olive oil). My favourite cheese has to be Paneer (Indian fresh milk cheese) and Cheddar comes a close second.

I will keep this giveaway open till the 7th of January, 2011 as I know many of you would be busy with the festive season and not be able to get here to leave a comment till later. This giveaway is open to everyone who cares to leave a comment here (Bloggers and non-bloggers are welcome, both Indian and international) as I will ship the books anywhere in the world.



Akila said...

Wow what a fantastic cake... love it dear...

Priti said...

Cake looks just so perfect...well I like pasta with tomato sauce the best...a pizza doesn't hurt either ;) and I use most is Mozilla cheese

Priya said...

Wow Aparna, wat a fantastic and irresistible plum cake, soo tempting..

WOnderful giveaway, wish i could become a happy owner of them,Am a great of Italian dishes and cheese for the sure.. Merry Christmas wishes to u and ur family..

Sanjeeta kk said...

Love this Kerala version of plum cake. Even I Googled to find out why it is called so. Like the quick method of boiling the fruit mix with the juices, instead of soaking overnight or more. (Just check the FB message for some doubt)

Happy holidays to you and your family.

Sayantani said...

yes Christmas is never complete without a good fruit cake. tyour version looks really great. love the pictures.

Pavithra said...

The cake looks good, always wanted to try baking Plum cakes , never did, will try it this time. My favourite italian dish would be pumpkin ravioli. Really love this and it tastes yummy. And the chess I love the most is mozarella the fresh one, luv it with tomato , Basil and olive oil. The best way to eat it.

sra said...

One Xmas week, I lived entirely on cake for all three meals, convincing myself I was getting all the nutrients through the fruit in it! :-D

The red and green bits you so hate are papaya - tutti frutti, just as the "cherries" we get are hog plums!!!

jayasree said...

Cake looks absolutely gorgeous..Liked the mix of fruits who have used. And your love for cardamom is seen in this one too :)

Ammini said...

Wow! That is one scrumptious cake! Thank you so much for sharing the details of changes you made to the recipe. I will certainly try your version. Happy Holidays!

Jamie said...

Happy Holidays, dear Aparna! All the best for you and your family! Lovely festive cake and so prettily served! Two fabulous cookbooks, each really the perfect Christmas gift! How can I possibly say what my favorite Italian food it? Fried calamari? Tiramisu (my son's of course)! Pizza? And cheese? Gorgonzola or Roquefort? Goat or comté? Wow, tough question. A little of each.

xoxo Happy Holidays, dear!

veena said...

very delicious looking cake. i love plum cakes and this looks very tempting.
i like the baked spinach and mushroom in white sauce with pasta and of course mozarella !!

SV said...

Hi Aparna,
Happy festive season!
Love the kerala plum cake a lot.
This year, I thought I will be missing this cake.To my surprise my husband got me Elite plum cake and you gave me the recepie and solved the mystery of its name.
For Giveaway I like the pasta with tomatoe sauce.

Kitchen Butterfly said...

Great looking cake.....have a restful, festive season and would love to win one of the books :-)

CarolNWong said...

Now I am hungry for my mother's fruitcake. In the USA, most fruit cakes use candied fruit but the only cnadied fruit that I love is pineapple. My mother decided once that she would make fruit cakes with the ingredients that we love in our family, dried fruits, pecans, walnuts and cashews. She stored the cakes in the freezer for two weeks, once a day getting them out and pouring rum over them. She didn't soak the fruit in rum but used hot water instead. That way it isn't so overloaded with rum. I enjoyed your fruitcake article very much and now I am a new e-mail subscriber to your blog.
Happy Holidays to you.


PJ said...

Awesome cake Aparna.We too had some friends who would share their X'mas plum cake with us.Good old days...

Those two giveaways are great books..As for Italian food I love pasta with any type of vegetarian sauce and for the cheese I love Mozzarella..[Keeping my fingers crossed,hope to win something:)]

Wishing you and your family,happy holidays :)

Srivalli said...

Aparna, now that is such an awesome looking cake. I would surely want to try this also! See my list of to be tried christmas cake is increasing..hehehe..but love how well your picture looks..

I love Italian pizzas and chesse I love on desi would be cheese Dosa..:))

dick said...

The cake looks good. I am also not too much a fan of fruit cake, especially with all the rum, and I also hate the candied citron and the red and green cherries.

For italian food my favorite is Pasta Puttanesca and my favorite cheese dish is grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato and ham or Welsh Rarebit. I love especially the sharpest cheddar you can find, especially the kind that crumbles when you try to slice it.

rumana said...

hey aparna ...lovely cake..plum cakes take us bac to d gud old days...
well comin to italian pasta esp in white cream sauce but keep experimenting and make it with desi twists as well....
pizza too i love..
comin to cheeses...marscapone cheese..mozarella..actually my philosophy with cheese is the more the better ..jus like smiles...
am currently in kerala ..close to palakkad...and thru ur blog i learn a lil more bout the place and den evry evening me n hubby venture out to discover a lil bit more bout god 's own country..
well nyways have a merry christmas and a very happy new year

Priya Sreeram said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Priya Sreeram said...

Hi aparna,
first sending across loads of festive cheers n merriment !!
lovely recipe for the kerala plum cake---have tasted it a dozen times but never thought about making them--- this one is bookmarked ! and hey the giveaways are such a treat !would like to be the proud owner!!
I am very fond of Italian food and i have so many favourites.---- but my all time love is for the Risotto---oh i love them and the variations it offers ---yumm!! especially fond of Roasted Pumpkin & Spinach Risotto and there are Gnocchi and of course Pizza---OMG i can go on & on !
Cheese favourites are Gorgonzola,Mascarpone!!
Here's to a great year ahead !! Cheers !!

Jayashree said...

I love Kerala plum cake....and feel that nothing can match its taste.

Roshan said...

the cake looks perfect in your version...

the giveaway is very interesting....Italian food is one my favorite cuisines....pasta with tomato pesto tops the list ....though i frequently use mozorella in pizza parmesan is my favorite cheese

Nags said...

italian recpes handed down over generations sounds too good to passy by! fingers crossed :)

Sudha said...

Awesome looking cake!Instead of orange juice I used home made red wine because the flavor of orange is already given by orange rind.
Will give a shot to your recipe.
Thanks for the lovely recipe!

Ramya said...

Hi Aparna…
Thanks for sharing the recipe…..
Cake looks yummmmmm…I wish I cud get a piece of the Kerala plum cake…

Now to my fav Italian recipes…Definitely Ravioli and Lasagna..
It difficult to choose a cheese..hmm….I love Feta, Ricotta and our dear Paneer
I also like Blue cheese and good old parmesan and Mozzarella..

Happy Holidays

Raaga said...

I love the texture of the cake!

My favourite Italian food has to be Pizza and my favourite cheese is fresh mozzarella :)

alison said...

beautiful fruit-cake!i made a stollen for this christmas.:)
my favourite cheese is mozzarella!love it for ever!

josephine said...

We love fruitcake and I have a dear friend who comes from Kerala so I think I'll surprise her with this cake! My favorite italian food is linguine ala pescatore. My favorite cheese is goat cheese! Thanks for the giveaways.

Mary J said...

Good looking cake, although,like you,
I'm not a fruitcake person either.
Did make my 1st fruitcake last year, used dried apricots, currants and pineapple. None of that red & green stuff either. Soaked it all in brandy for a month. It didn't last long. It was the 1st fruitcake I liked because I used brandy instead of rum, which is not a favorite of mine.
Love most of the Italian dishes with their various excellent cheeses. But, my favorite cheese is an aged 7 year Wisconsin Sharp Cheddar Cheese, served very simply with crackers. Thanks for allowing me to enter your book drawings. Happy New Year to you & yours.

moonsword said...

My favorite Italian food is arancini, or rice incredibly addictive...tender rice and filling on the inside, golden crispy coating on the outside...soooo good!

Sumi said...

lovely cake, have bookmarked it.Gonna try this once I get all the ingredients. Wish you a very Happy new year.

Deeba PAB said...

What a gorgeous giveaway Aparna...and what a difficult choice. Do throw my name into the hat. I would LOVE to win either!

Gwen said...

My favorite italian food is pizza but I'm not sure if that's a bonafide italian food! So next I would say ravioli or a similar type of pasta. Actually, I think I love all Italian food!

Bonnie said...

I love pasta with any kind of sauce and my favorite cheese is Blue Cheese. What a beautiful cake.

Shiny said...

Hi Aparna,

Let me wish you a merry Christmas and a Happy New Year ahead. Your plum cake looks yummy. Honestly, I am not an ardent "Plum cake fan". But your clicks prompts me to try one immediately.

And yes, such fantastic giveaways. I wish I could be one of the winners. Please do throw my name into the lot and let me try my luck.

god bless...

Angela said...

Hello, favourite Italian food would lasagna, pizza, sea food pasta, and and and .. the list could go on. Difficult choice on the cheese, like them all. Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this giveaway. Angela
email :

Anonymous said...

Wow that cake looks terrific and so do all the others! My favorite Italian food is pizza and my favorite cheese is Mozzarala (spelled wrong *G*).

Happy new year!


Priya (Yallapantula) Mitharwal said...

Aparna, that plum cake does look divine and something to devour :)

I would surely like to be part of the giveaway. I had never eaten Italian food, till I came to this country (US). I have had a lot of things, but my favorite is Gnochhi.

And in Cheeses, what do I say, I love all kinds, but mostly the ones which have a nice tang in it. Love any cheese though :)

Michelle said...

Great giveaway Aparna! I would especially love the Cheese Book!

Torviewtoronto said...

lovely giveaway and cake

Kitchen Butterfly said...

I love the flavours in your plum cake, and in your stollen. i love both of the books, especially the Italian my daughter and husband just got me a Cheese book. Have a great end of 2010 and 2011 - I wish you all the best.

Swati Gehlot said...

fantastic recipe Aparna :)

Judy's Bakery & Test Kitchen said...

What a beautiful cake! I love that you always put your own spin on the recipes.

I'll have to check out your Cardomom cake recipe, too. But I'll probably make that when we have people over. My hubby isn't in to cardomom. Although, if I make him some chocolate, he's putty in my hands...

Love your giveaway. Both books sound interesting! Please enter me into the contest.

Happy New Year! I look forward to your posts and ideas next year. I'm learning a lot from you.


Aparna said...

My pleasure, Jayasree. Shall check it out.

Jayasree said...

Aparna, I just posted my version of the plum cake, adapting your recipe. Made it eggless though. Thanks for the recipe.

Harini P said...

Looks beautiful! I love fruit cakes, plum cakes etc. but present tooth condition does not allow much enjoyment. I used bread and have small jars of dry fruits always soaking in brandy, rum and even cognac and brandy mix! I find that the cake really smells divine using the drunken fruits but then its just me.

Love the look now! Good that you took time on deciding because this does look serene and inviting! I also found recently during a root canal session that the tattoo was not half as painful as the drilling!

Vrunda said...

Your Gingerbread men in circle looked cute! I liked this new look of your blog, very refreshing. Nice giveaway. Please add me in it.

Archana said...

Love Tiramisu ! I have never won any of the giveaways i entered in the blogging community, hope i win 500 cheeses this time !

Indugupta said...

If I dont get lucky and win the book in givaway, Iwill love to have the cake itself. Aparna you have a diverse kitchen and similar fan following. Latest fan is Samik my 7yr old and he loves your diverse kitchen.