Tuesday, January 4, 2011
For some reason, this recipe had been calling out to me ever since I first laid eyes upon it. I love "plum cake" loaded with fruits and nuts that we get in bakeries in India and this recipe sounded like a great one for baking my own.
Making this cake to ring in the New Year seemed like a perfect occasion marker. I set out soaking the fruits a week before baking day - it should have been earlier but we did not get the brandy till that day. Though I had mostly bought broken nuts, chopping the cherries, almonds and dates still took quite a while. Seriously, prep work is the most laborious step of most recipes. I soaked the dried fruits and nuts in brandy and put in in the refrigerator. In retrospect, I should have simply left it outside but I was worried that it would go bad given Chennai's humid climate. I ultimately wound up leaving it outside for about 1.5 days and the rest of the days in the fridge.
On D-day, putting the cake together took longer than I expected (so, what's new). Here's what I did, bullet-point style:
1. I assembled all the ingredients first before starting any mixing.
2. The right time to add water to the caramel is when the sugar/water mixture melts completely and then begins to foam/bubble up. The original writer is right, there IS a lot of splashing, so be very careful.
3. I had no powdered spices other than nutmeg. So I simply ground whole cardamom, cloves and cinnamon and sieved it with a tea-strainer before using. Nutmeg is a must for the fruit-cakey taste.
4. I had no dry ginger powder either. So I ground fresh ginger along with the orange juice for the last step and strained and used the ginger-orange juice instead.
5. I don't have an electric mixer and I got a very good arm workout with the hand mixer and plain old hand whisking.
6. One mistake I made was to use fresh lemon peel in the soaked fruit-nut mixture. This peel refused to soften and showed up as weird unchewable bits in the cake. As Mom said, this was the drishti for the otherwise absolutely yummy and professional tasting cake. You could use candied lemon/orange peels if you want to - I think that should be fine.
7. This recipe makes 2 generous-sized cakes (with 8" round pans). The cakes are loaded with fruits and nuts in every bite when made as per the original directions.
8. In case you are wondering, it is impossible to taste/smell the brandy in the finished product. So don't worry if you don't like the alcohol taste.
9. Baking the cake took longer than 45 minutes (closer to an hour perhaps) for me. So keep checking for done-ness every few minutes from the 45 minute-mark.
10. This blog has some more pictures for the same recipe:
The cake tastes best when cooled. This recipe is a sure keeper. All the effort is totally worth it.