This is also the story of water and how we both manage and mismanage it. From Hetch Hetchy, to the Colorado River, on to the Salton Sea and the Yallahs River, what have we lost and what have we gained?
All done! Now that the Christmas cakes have been baked, it’s time to start another batch of fruits for next year’s cakes. These fruits, soaked in white rum and port wine, consist of equal parts currants and raisins, and to a lesser degree, diced prunes. The suggested ratio is 1:1:1/4 of raisins, currants and prunes.
Douse the fruits in Jamaican overproof white rum and a good port wine. Put enough rum and wine to saturate the fruits and seal in an airtight glass jar. Keep in a dark area, away from sunlight.
A quicker method is to infuse the fruits in alcohol and warm in a covered pot over a very low heat a day or so before baking your cakes. I let my fruits soak for a year because that reinforces the tradition of baking these cakes at Christmas time. If they’re not soaking, I’m probably not baking.
The recipe below makes approximately 4 pounds of cake. I usually make 4 cakes: 2 six-inch and 2 approximately 3-4 inch cakes in round cake tins.
1/2 lb. butter (softened at room temperature)
1/2 lb. dark brown sugar
2 tsps. vanilla
1 tsp. of almond flavouring
2 tsp. lime juice, freshly squeezed
1 tsp. lime or orange rind
6 medium eggs
4 cups mixed fruits (raisins, currants, prunes, citron, cherries, dates)
6 ozs. plain bread crumbs
6 ozs. all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. ground allspice
1 cup white rum (I prefer Wray & Nephew, Jamaican white overproof rum)
1 pt. port wine/brandy
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Prepare tins by lining the bottom of each tin with 2 circular sheets of brown paper (brown wrapping paper is good) cut to the size of the pan. Next, line the entire pan with parchment paper, placing it over the brown paper circles at the bottom of the pan.
Beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
Mix browning, vanilla and almond flavors, lime juice and rind.
Add eggs, beating in one at a time, until completely blended into mixture.
Mix in breadcrumbs, flour, baking powder, salt and Jamaican all-spice (or other all-spice).
Add alternately with rum and port wine.
Add drunken fruits and add cherries (remove cherries from juice) and mix in thoroughly.
Pour into prepared baking tins 3/4 full.
Cover and bake, approximately [1 hour].
Baking time varies according to the size of the container. If you use 9-inch round containers, you probably need about one-and-a-half hours for baking. The thicker the cake, the more baking time is needed. You know your cake is done if you stick a fork or toothpick in the middle and it comes away with a slightly moist, not extremely wet mixture.
You can moisten your cake with more port wine after it has cooled. Enjoy!
In honor of the season, I’ve included two wonderful short stories about Christmas, one of which is centered around the ritual of baking Christmas cakes:
The zaniest, craziest story I’ve ever heard about Christmas has got to be David Sedaris’, Six to Eight Black Men. It is the story of Christmas in Holland and it involves Santa Claus and you guessed it, six to eight black men.