Sri Lankan Christmas Cake

 By ” Jayani C. Senanayake”

The sinful Sri Lankan Christmas cake or the ‘Rich cake’ as we know it is deceptively simple yet notoriously difficult to get just right. This is a recipe that requires patience and almost ritual-like dedication. It’s best to start making the cake about 2 months ahead of Christmas as it is a famously known fact that the older the cake gets, the better it tastes. There are several recipes that you can find online that may or may not work but this particular combination has been tried, tested and perfected over a number of years. For me, this works so I stick to it every time.
Traditionally, all the fruits, including the sultanas, raisins and blackcurrants are chopped into tiny pieces or minced with mincing machines which makes the cake go all mushy. I like a chunkier cake and hence I do not chop the sultanas, raisins and the blackcurrants at all. I quarter the cherries and chop only the dates, the ginger preserve, candied peel. pumpkin preserve and the chow chow into fine pieces simply because biting into a large piece of those would be quite unpleasant and off-putting. The result is a moist, “rich” and chunky cake with a delightful bite!

Ingredients
(Part 1)

  • Sultanas – 250g
  • Raisins – 250g
  • Black currants – 250g
  • Cashews – 250g (or almond or both)
  • Cherries – 300g
  • Pumpkin preserve – 200g (or puhul dosi as we Sri Lankans know it)
  • Chow chow – 150g
  • Dates – 250g
  • Candied peel – 150g
  • Ginger preserve – 150g
  • Honey – 250ml
  • Strawberry jam – 250g (optional)
  • Brandy/Arrack – 500ml
  • Almond essence – 2 tsps
  • Rose essence – 2 tsps
  • Powdered mixed spice – 4 heaped tablespoons (cinnamon, cardamom, clove, nutmeg)

(Part 2)

  • Sugar – 500g (I opt for brown sugar as I like the sort of caramel flavour it gives. Plus it’s healthier!)
  • Semolina – 500g (If you like a fruitier cake, opt for around 300g)
  • Butter – 250g
  • Egg whites – 15
  • Egg yolks – 25

Instructions

Method (Part 1)

  • De-seed and chop the dates into small pieces. Chop the cherries and chop the pumpkin preserve, chow chow, candied peel, cashews and ginger preserve as well.
  • Combine all ingredients in part 1 in a large bowl or basin. Give it a good stir.
  • Put it in large jars or containers and leave aside in a cool dry place for about 1 month. Me being me, only had time to leave the fruits for about 2 weeks this time, but the cake came out just fine.
  • Feed it about once a week with brandy or arrack and give it a good stir.

Method (Part 2)

  • Roast semolina in a pan until it becomes slightly grainy and turns a golden brown in colour.
  • Once it is cool, mix butter and semolina in a bowl until well combined.
  • Beat the egg yolks and half the sugar in a bowl until well combined. The mixture should have a creamy, custardy texture which would ideally double in size upon beating.
  • Beat the egg whites and the sugar together until stiff peaks form.(A tedious task with a hand beater, be warned!)
  • Combine the egg yolk mixture and the semolina mixture together. Mix well.
  • Tip the steeped fruit into a large bowl/basin that has enough space for mixing. Give it a good final stir.
  • Combine the semolina and egg yolk mixture and the fruits. Stir well until properly combined.
  • Taste the mixture. Add more spices, almond or rose essence as desired if you think that the flavour is not sufficient.
  • Fold the egg whites into this mixture. Be careful so as to not stir it too much.
  • Prepare the cake tins. It’s always good to double line the cake tins with oil paper. Apply plenty of butter as the cake tends to be quite sticky.
  • Bake till a skewer or a knife inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.
  • Rest the cake. Every two days or so, mix together honey with some brandy or arrack and brush the cakes generously with a thick brush.
  • Cut on Christmas day and enjoy!

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