Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Christmas cake - more than just fruits

In the last blog, we obsessed about Christmas cookies. This time, we will delve into their heftier cousin, the Christmas cake.

The Christmas cake had a rather humble beginning as the plum porridge. Made with cheap ingredients, its purpose was purely utilitarian - to coat the stomach after a day of fasting.

In the 16th century, with the addition of butter, wheat flour, honey, and eggs, the plum porridge was upgraded to the boiled plum cake. Of course, wealthier families had the luxury of taking this cake up another notch. They added marzipan, dried seasonal fruits, and spices - in effect, introducing the Christmas cake as we know it today to the world. Well, to the richer circles anyhow.

Today, the Christmas cake is typically a fruitcake that reflects local ingredients and preferences:

*The Japanese Christmas cake is a simple sponge cake, frosted with whipped cream, and decorated with chocolates, strawberries, or other fruits

*The Filipinos mixed macerated nuts and fruits into their Christmas pound cake and soak it with brandy or rum

*The Germans' Weihnachtsstollen or Christstollen is still a traditional fruitcake

*The French popularized the Buche de Noel, or the Christmas log, a thinly rolled sponge cake filled with jam and coated with butter cream icing, meringue, or marzipan

*The Scots, not to be outdone, are well known for their Whisky Dundee; I think you can guess what is the critical ingredient in this national treasure

However, regardless of their colour, texture, weight, and moisture content, and whether they are frosted, glazed, dusted with icing sugar, and doused with brandy, sherry, or whiskey - or not - Christmas cakes are invariably made in advance and served to guests at this time of year.

I think that's ample Christmas cake trivia to digest for now. Suffice it to say that, like the Christmas cake, we have also evolved into much more sophisticated beings that favour subtler tastes and complex yet delicately balanced infusion of flavours. And we also demand creations that please our eyes as much as our palates.

Here's a prime example of what would be considered a fine modern day Christmas cake created by Steveston's own Erlinda Jalandoon of Picture Your Cake:

Photo courtesy of Erlinda Jalandoon
of Picture Your Cake

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