Ah, the Yuletide spirit has kicked in. Everywhere there are Xmasy offerings and goodies are put up for sale. Malls are decked with Xmas trees and a friendly Santa greets visitors.
So when I thought of Christmas indulgence, I couldn't help thinking of delicious Christmas treats.We all love our Christmas plum cake, a rich and slightly moist cake embellished with nuts and spices, topped off with a layer of icing and decorated with holly sprigs.
So what is so irresistible about Christmas cakes? It's a decadent chocolate spiced Christmas cake that packs in the goodness of chocolate and the aroma of spices. "The spices as they marry with the rest of the ingredients like brandy, citrus peel and sultanas create a very dramatic experience when one eats these festive goodies. These spices when used in cakes give a very subtle mouth feel," said Bhuvan Ravishankar, Pastry Chef and Senior Kitchen Executive, The Oberoi, Bangalore and added, "Our traditional Christmas cake is made by using a spice mix. This spice mix however varies. It is usually a combination of ginger powder, mace, cinnamon, cloves and star anise."
Almost every bakery across the country will dish up a variety of spicy Christmas cakes, and I'm not talking about the fancy bakeries, but even small ones share the spirit.Preliminary work on Christmas cakes happens a month in advance so that the flavours mature. Cake mixing or mixing ingredients like raisins, orange peel, nuts, spices and flour is ceremoniously conducted in five star hotels.
There are different theories revolving round the origin of Christmas cakes, but I would like to dwell on the theory which is closest to us, and that's related to spice. It's believed that the presence of spice in Christmas cakes is symbolic of the Three Wise Men, a Biblical refrain and the gifts that they brought along which include exotic Spices of the East. It's also a reminder of the spices that entered Europe during the maritime sea trade of the 12th century.
In Scandinavia spice became integral to baking way back in the Middle Ages. In fact Scandinavia consumes almost half of the world's cardamom production and cardamom came from India.
While plum cake is a classic Christmas cake, the Christmas hamper is incomplete without the gingerbread, which is a spicy soft gingerbread cake. Notwithstanding that, a certain regional flavour has crept into Christmas cakes. For instance, Germans greet one another during Christmas with Stollen, a bread-like fruitcake that combines the zest of orange peel with cardamom and cinnamon, among other ingredients.
Today no western baked confectionery is complete without cinnamon and cardamom. And we all know that cardamom plantations have sprung up in various parts of the country. Besides, let's not forget that the Spices Board has set up an exclusive cardamom research centre in Kerala called the Indian Cardamom Research Institute (ICRI). Technologies have been developed to undertake basic and applied research on cardamom. Then let's look at cinnamon. It's native to India and later became part of the fabled spice route.
In fact the spice jar is shaken and tweaked for hatke se gourmet creations. "I usually use whole spices like mace, cardamom, cinnamon sticks, star anise, coriander seeds, fennel seeds which gives an entire twist to the taste of the product. Like in the case of an orange and fennel cake or even a praline for that matter some of these spices can be used to flavour the ganache in the fillings," explained Ravishankar.Whether many of these experiments will make it to the Christmas table remains to be seen. However, the fact that many of our Indian spices have made it to western baked dishes prompted me to post this blog.
Finally I round off this post by 'Let them eat cake ,' a statement popularly attributed to Marie Antoinette - seen here in a positive sense - Merry Christmas. What's more, our cakes are loaded with spices, aren't they?