Kerala’s Rich Plum Cake

Kerala's Rich Plum Cake

A visit nowadays to the local bakery in town is a treat for the eye…in the savoury section the veg and non-veg puffs, cutlets, our very own local treats parippu vada, bonda, samosa elbow each other and end up tumbling over one another as tongs lift them up and scoop them onto plates before the waiting customer, but a quick scan of the sweet section would have one scratching one’s head in confusion.Vying for attention are the red velvet, black forest and so many exotic cake varieties and a delectable array of tarts and cheese cakes, all shining and brightly displayed in the refrigerated counter shelves. It is with a sinking heart that one notices the plum cake, naked and dark, without the shiny coat of icing, sitting in a remote corner, untouched as the other cream coated beauties get carefully stacked into boxes for delivery. The new creamy rich frosted cakes may rule the roost temporarily, but it is a given that the fruit plum we bake in our little bakeries would catch back all those roving palates sooner or later.

The technique of baking was brought to Kerala’s shores by the Europeans way back in the 1800s.But then, unlike in the western world, where kids as young as 5-6 are initiated into the art of baking cakes and biscuits, most of us are novices when it comes to baking. With the tight purse strings of the middle class Indian household, an oven in the kitchen is sheer luxury…at least during our younger days.

Many years back, as kids, we knew of only two types of cake.. a tea cake which had a brown crust and a golden crumbly and soft interior with a strong lemon and vanilla flavour… and a rich dark plum with a profusion of nuts and dates in it. Come Christmas-eve and all kids in the family would be herded to the family jewellery store in town, dressed in our best frocks and trousers, socks and polished shoes and a small hanky pinned at the chest. The ante room at the back of the shop would be laid with a horde of goodies and treats, all brought in by the neighbouring shop owners.. Chackochan from the next-door furniture shop, Rappaichetan from the adjacent pawn shop, Antony uncle from the bakery opposite. There would be tapioca chips, banana fritters, biscuits and toffees, but the focus of attention was always the cake in the centre of the table. With a thick layer of royal icing, the cake would sometimes be shaped like a giant jack-fruit or a pineapple and all of us kids would circle around it and watch in wonder at the perfect little thorn shapes on the jackfruit cake. The call to cut the beautiful cake would trigger a bit of a pull and push among us to reach for the plastic knife, but then whoever gets it must anyway give in to the little brother who would be stamping his foot and hollering displaying his lung power. The cake portions would soon be passed on in plates and as we relished on it, rolling chewy tuttifruti and red cherry bits in our mouth, sometimes taking them out to inspect them closely, we would all be telling each other how nice it is to celebrate Christmas, just like our Famous Five heroes, Julian, Dick, Anne and George.

The sugar glazed cherry in the Plum cake has always been a major attraction for kids, so much so that many years hence, on the plane to Delhi with my little girl (a horribly fussy eater those days) we were served a portion of cake topped with the shiny red glazed cherry. Acting like a big girl, she leaned over and armed with a spoon scooped up the bright cherry and popped it in her mouth, only to be struck by the heavy sugar and in one quick, silent motion coughed it out right back on to the plate.

The plum cake has the sweetened cherry bits along with the colourful tutti frutti and raisins and cashewnuts and also dates which all go in to render their sweetness and bite. The crunchiness of the nuts and treacle sweetness of raisins when combined with the caramelized sugar gives a distinct character to the cake which makes it an all-time favourite of the Malayali.

Butter : 250 gms.

Sugar : 180 gms (powdered) + 75 gms for caramalizing.

Flour : 250 gms.

Eggs : 5 no:s.

Baking powder : 1 and 1/2 tsp.

Dry fruits combined : 8-10 cashewnuts, 8-10 dates, 2 tblsp full raisins, 1tblesp each green, red tuttifrutti bits, 4-5 sweetened cherries. ( you may add walnuts, almonds too, but those are recent arrivals in stores around. )

Vanilla essence : 2 tsps.

Rum essence : 1tsp.

Salt : 1/4 tsp.

Powdered nutmeg : 1/2 tsp.

Water : 1/2 cup.

Method :

Break the dryfruits, dates and cherries into bits.

Coat them in 2tblesps of flour and keep aside.

In a small sauce pan or kadhai on heat put 75 gms sugar and 1/4 cup water and allow the sugar to melt and caramelize.

Once the mixture becomes frothy and toffee brown, carefully pour the remaining 1/4 cup water and stir quickly.

The sugar mix will turn syrupy. Take off gas.

Sieve the flour with baking powder, nutmeg and salt and keep aside

Cream butter and sugar till fluffy and light.

Add eggs, one at a time, beating to incorporate into the mixture.

Add the cooled caramel syrup and fold in.

Slowly add the sieved flour and fold in.

Add the essences and mix well.

Now add the flour coated nuts and gently fold in.

Pour the cake mix into a 9″ cake tin, which is buttered and lined with butter paper.

Gently tap the tin to have a uniform top.

Bake in a 180-degree hot oven for 45-50 minutes, till a knife inserted comes out clean.

Enjoy with any hot or cold beverages.