Keralan Plum Cake
I remember the olden days when shop-bought Christmas cakes in Kerala looked extremely fancy, with thick white sugar icing, pink piped boarders and flowers, which we children used to look forward to more than the cake inside!
Bakeries in Kerala get incredibly busy preparing these cakes just before Christmas. It is the liveliest period for the bakeries as many people gift Christmas cakes to clients, friends and neighbours as a symbol of gratitude and good will, a tradition continued from Kerala’s colonial past.
Many popular cakes and breads in Keralan bakeries are very similar to English ones, as most old local bakers were trained by English madams in the colonial era. This plum cake is one among many of them. I have always wondered why Plum cake is called what it is, because there are no plums in it! There must be a reason or an interesting story behind it – who knows!
Leaving the name apart, it is a beautifully gorgeous fruit cake laced with deep dark caramel syrup, sticky dates, plump golden raisins, candied citrus peels and crispy cashew nut halves.
Several Keralan households have their own recipes for this cake, passed down over generations, with many interesting variations. Some like to use dry fruits soaked in alcohol, some prefer just vanilla and caramel, or some choose to enhance it with a hint of sweet-scented local spices.
My grandmother was an excellent cook and keen baker, and her plum cakes used to be quite sought after in our neighbourhood. She used to bake it in big batches, in large square aluminium cake tins to feed our big family and to share with friends, using a simple black square box oven over a traditional stove top. It was fascinating to watch her do it, and I still remember that sweet vanilla and bitter caramel aroma coming from her lively kitchen on lazy summer afternoons.
KERALAN PLUM CAKE
- Granulated sugar – 50 g
- Butter – 150 g
- Castor sugar – 150 g
- Eggs – 3
- Plain flour – 175 g
- Baking powder – ½ teaspoon
- Pitted dates – 75 g
- Raisins – 75 g
- Mixed candied peel – 25 g
- Cashew nuts – 75 g
- Vanilla extract – 1 teaspoon
- Heat granulated sugar in a small saucepan with one tablespoon of water over medium heat until the sugar starts to bubble, turns to caramel and the colour turns deep dark golden.
- Carefully remove pan from fire and add two tablespoons of water. Make sure you stand away from the pan while adding water as the caramel is extremely hot. Leave the mixture aside to cool.
- Sift flour with baking powder and keep it aside.
- Coarsely chop dry fruits and cashew nuts into pieces and leave aside.
- Whisk together soft butter and castor sugar in a large bowl until pale and creamy, add eggs one by one and whisk in between.
- Add cooled caramel syrup and vanilla extract and fold in with a wooden spoon or spatula.
- Add sifted flour, dry fruits and nut mixture. Fold well until everything is mixed together.
- Spoon into a greased and lined (18 cm) cake tin and bake it in a preheated oven 170°C oven for 60 minute or until cooked through.
- Cool the cake well before removing it from the cake tin.