Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Luxurious Plum Cake and a Happy New Year !

It's been way too many days. More than I can count. Except that I did. 15 days after I left you with the tidings for a Merry Christmas and a sappy picture of a stuffed animal looking at cake pops, made by kids. Not that I didn't do much, just that probably this winter break was truly underestimated and the force by which it went by, all fast and furious made my visions of a truly dramatic new year update, complete with magnificent pictures fly out the window.

Blame it on the fruit. The dried fruit that needed to be soaked, that is. "Soaked", you say? Yes. Soaked and submerged in brandy. Here is when I argue that I had no brandy. You see, there's not much use for it, in our house, unless you speak of just that one time of year, the one I'm trying to get to. It's then I do purchase the brandy needed to pour over my fruit. "What are you talking about?" I hear it, even the eye rolls. I'm getting there, I'll explain. So my introduction begins. It's a conversation that was playing in the nether of my mind, myself to you and back. Maddening, don't you think?

It's what I'd mentioned only a million times. The bang that I wanted to begin the year with, and, though, I knew I'd be late, I didn't want anything but. this. very. subject. To grace the first page of 2013.

With the greatest pleasure and and a dash of pride, I introduce to you the King of cakes and my personal favorite; my friends, meet The Venerable Plum Cake. Or fruitcake as some would call it. It is a customary celebration cake of that part of India I hail from. With quite a formidable history, this cake is of heirloom ranks, of the British era, a colonial period in India's history once, and in this matter where fruitcake became a welcome and permanent visitor to many a kitchen, especially along the country's Southern and coastal regions. Since then, it has been our own, labelled rightly, Kerala plum cake.

Unfortunately for many, when I say fruitcake, various inflections of UGH! resonate in your minds. Thereby, it'll be here in this one post that I attempt to destroy any disturbing image you may have of fruits in cake. It might be those familiar shaped boxes and rounds filled of cubed kaleidoscope gels, hardly resembling any fruit known to man. Or even the cement bricks, requiring a safety sign to go with. Nix. No. Forget. For we do not talk of the same cake.

Get ready to rewire your mind. Plum cake is precisely not what it claims to be. Definitely a type of fruit cake, though no single plum exists in its twenty+ ingredient list. Albeit, beautifully well set in construction, the bulk of this fruit cake's form comes from a bevy of dried fruit- three types raisins, diced up dates, soft quartered figs, sugar coated ginger. A handful of raw cashewnut to boot. The fruits are soaked and preserved in brandy, in most cases well over a month. In my case, it happened to be just short of a week, and with the aid of microwave rendered heat,  dried forms were impressively plumped and mellowed fine to play their part in the annual saga of our plum cake.

The flavors are warm and impressively distinctive, complementing each and other, progressively getting better over time. When rested over days, maybe weeks, time works magnificently in further deepening flavor, perfecting texture, a change and experience that leaves you in awe, to wonder, " Oh Sweet Glory, did you come from these hands?"

And of course, so need of mention is the outstanding air that I breathed in for the time these were baking, and several hours after. My whole house was shrouded in clouds of caramel sugar and spice.

Have I made you a believer? Congratulations, for this will now be your life long love story. One that gets blissfully better with age.  Happy fruitcaking!

The metric system of weights is what I use, almost always for this recipe. An exact weighing in requires the kitchen scale, your most needed accessory.

  • 250 gms black raisins
  • 250 gms white raisins
  • 125 gms currants
  • 125 gms dates
  • 4 tbsp chopped crystallized ginger
  • 1 c brandy or enough to cover dried fruit
  • 1 c sugar
  • 1 ¼ c water
  • 500 gms all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp nutmeg (powder)
  • ½ powdered cloves
  • ½ ginger powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 125 gms chopped, raw, unsalted cashews
  • 500 gms unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 500 gms sugar
  • 500 gms eggs (9 large eggs)
  • 2 tsp lemon rind
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ¼ c orange marmalade
Though the cake itself has heavy, very rich ingredients, it is not so on an actual bite. Less sweet and lighter than most dense cakes, plum cake is loaf like in structure, but moist because of all the alcohol dissolved fruit. It's cherry wood color and warmed sweet taste owes in part to the proper melting and burning of sugar.
  • Chop all your dried fruits( raisins to ginger, currants need not be cut, dates quartered, then halved) into smallish pieces and place in a jar or non reactive glass container with lid. Pour in brandy to immerse the fruit. This should be done a few weeks in advance, but if you're like me a week/even a day/hour or so will do. If you rely on a shorter soak time, warm fruits 1 minute intervals on 60% power in microwave until will plump up a bit and absorb the liquid. Do not boil or overheat. Keep to cool.
  • Line and butter your pans with parchment. (I use several small loaf pans and a 9 in round)
  • Using a medium  saucepan, melt the 1 cup sugar on medium high heat. Allow it to boil until it reaches a deep dark brown, about 5 minutes.
  • Immediately, remove the pan from the stove top and carefully add 1¼ cup of water to the caramelized sugar. Boil for another 2-3 minutes on medium heat, prior to it becoming a thick syrup consistency (about 210-215°F on a candy thermometer).
  • Remove from heat and allow to come to room temperature.
  • Preheat oven to 375° F.
  • In a separate bowl, sift all dry ingredients from the flour to the salt.
  • In the meantime, take out your fruits from the jar and lay onto a large flat surface( like a large plate) along with the cashews.  Sprinkle a couple tablespoons of the flour mixture and lightly roll the soaked fruit and chopped cashews in it.
  • In a large bowl, using either a stand mixture or handheld, set to medium speed, whip butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3- 5 minutes. 
  • Set speed to low and add eggs one at a time, beating a minute or so after each addition. When last egg is broken in, set the speed to medium high and beat until you get thick pale yellow ribbons, another 6-8 minutes. Blend well, after adding each egg.
  • Add flour,  1 ¼ cup of caramel syrup and fruits/ cashews alternatively, starting and ending with flour. Complete the mixing of ingredients now, using a wooden spoon/ladle, stirring thoroughly spoon after each addition.
  • Mix in lemon rind, vanilla extract and marmalade. Stir until all ingredients are combined well and the fruit is distributed evenly. 
  • Pour batter into prepared pan(s). You can do this in 2 9"X 13" pans, in two batches.
  • Bake for 15 minutes at 375°F.
  • After which reduce to 300° F and allow to bake for another 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean.
You can add 125 gms chopped figs, if desired, or swap out any fruit for other dried fruit.

17. Exactly the number of times I've mixed and baked this cake. One for every Christmas/New Year of my married life. Generously taught by JZ's cousin, when we were in Goa that very first year. She jumpstarted an ongoing love of baking and eating this Bejewelled Magnificence. Though the recipe has been changed and refashioned several times to suit present tastes, the tradition and love that it came with remains unaltered.
Notes and Tips:
~When preparing the caramel syrup, use warm water to pour in and bring final mixture to a rolling boil together for app. 2 minutes, but not too thick of a syrup consistency. Keep away from your face- I like to take it over to the sink and do the task, since hot burnt sugar gets ferocious once bothered.

~ Your fruits/nuts  spread evenly throughout the cake while baking and not sink if they are rolled in a small bit of flour.

~There are those who may theorize that separating eggs, and adding stiff whites later will yield fluffier cake. I don't see a huge difference, plus isn't there enough work in this already? Try and test. Then decide.

~You can bake in batches if you plan to do several cakes (and it does yield enough and more).

~This makes for 2 9"X13" cakes or an interesting mix of many cakes using different cake/loaf pans, if gifting is in your future. Need only one? Halve the recipe, please, using only gram measurements.

~Plum cake keeps well. With proper storage and an occasional brushing of brandy, it can be stored double foiled, in an airtight container for months.

That's it. Picking through crumbs and shaved pieces has probably gifted my tummy the equivalent of a pound of cake. Numerous hours of visiting with Jillian Michaels can been seen in my near horizon. 
We like to eat this magnificently unadorned with no icing. For gifting purposes, though, I decided to dress some up, a layering of my own marshmallow fondant on a few and, a sprinkling of  confectioner's sugar and buttercream rosettes on others.
***Rich plum cake recipe is one I've had that I've tweaked and reworked a lot, that too playing with different combinations of dried fruits. Over the years, the recipe has been, slyly, taken from me, by at least a dozen people and even submitted in a local cake competition to which it won first prize, by the same cake thief. I don't have any qualms now. I know this is a winner. And it's my present to you.


"And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you." Galatians 3:29 (NLT)

You have all you can ever  possess in Christ. Keep your eyes fixed on Him, and see Him do the impossible in and through you. A wonderful year to you, friends, one of overflow, blessed and faith filled throughout.


Thanks for sharing your thoughts with me!