The smell of the decorated pine Christmas tree in the sitting room, the enticing aroma of Christmas cakes being baked and the ‘kalkals’ and rose cookies being fried, the sight of all the Christmas decorations, buntings and the soothing sounds of Christmas carols — I have great memories of everything and all these are a part of the wonder of Christmas.
My mother would start the preparation of the traditional sweets and treats that are a part and parcel of Christmas a fortnight in advance. Kalkals, rose cookies, fruit cakes, coconut sweets, the Christmas pudding, bole cake, dodol, bebinca, marzipan, peanut fudge, cashewnut fudge and rice crispies were some of the goodies that were prepared in abundance by her. The delicious aroma of these goodies would drift through the house and neighbourhood.
I am sharing the recipes of two of my favourite Christmas delights — kalkals and Christmas cake.
As kids, we would wait for the Christmas holidays to begin so that we could all help my mother in the preparation of sweets. We would all sit around the dining table and each of us would take a lump of dough and spread it on a fork to make as many kalkals as possible with it. These kalkals were like small shells and we would also cut out various other shapes like hearts, clubs and diamonds with the help of cutters.
It was fun competing with each other to see who made the most. As soon as we completed a good number my mother would start frying them till all were fried and a huge heap was kept in basins and trays on the table. Once cold, she would make the frosting by pouring hot sugar syrup on the kalkals. We had a lot of fun helping her and sometimes even our non-Christian friends would join the fun. Of course, a good portion of the fried kalkals would go into our mouths in the process!
The Christmas spirit would set in early thanks to the Christmas cake. The earlier it is prepared with your choice of liquor, the more delicious it turns out to be. Most Anglo-Indian families have their own recipe for Christmas cake, which is usually handed down through generations. Candied fruit, plums, currants, raisins and orange peels are dexterously cut and soaked in rum or brandy a few weeks in advance. Nuts are peeled and chopped and the whole family comes together to make the Christmas cakes.
In our family, different tasks would be allotted to each person — while one whipped up the eggs, another creamed the butter and sugar. A person with strong arms would do the final mixing and stirring. After the cake batter was poured into the tins, the real fun would begin with everyone fighting to lick the leftover batter in the mixing bowl and on the spoons and spatulas!
Mix the flour, salt, sugar and baking powder together. Add the coconut milk and eggs and knead to a soft dough. Keep aside for an hour. Form kalkals by taking small lumps of the dough and roll on the back of a fork or a wooden kalkal mould, to form a scroll. Alternately, roll out the dough and cut into fancy shapes with kalkal or cookie cutters. Heat oil in a deep pan and fry as many kalkals as possible at a time. Keep aside.
To frost the kalkals, melt one cup of sugar with half cup of water and when the sugar syrup crystallises, pour over the kalkals and mix well. Store in air-tight boxes when cold.
Refined flour or plain flour - 500 grams
Dark brown sugar - 300 grams
Unsalted butter - 500 grams
Mixed dried fruits (black currants, raisins and sultanas chopped finely and soaked in rum or brandy before hand) - 500 grams
Chopped orange / lemon peel - 100 grams
Lemon or orange zest - 1 tablespoon
Salt - ¼ teaspoon
- ½ teaspoon
Cinnamon powder - ½ teaspoon
Eggs (beaten) - 4
Milk (optional) - 4 tablespoons
Baking powder - 1 teaspoon
Vanilla essence/extract - 1 teaspoon
Black currant jam or orange marmalade - 2 tablespoons
Black treacle syrup or date syrup (optional) - 2 tablespoons
Heat the oven to 150°C. Remove the chopped fruit from the rum, drain and keep aside. Sift the flour, baking powder, cinnamon powder, nutmeg powder and salt together.
Dust the orange/lemon peel and the chopped soaked fruit with a little flour. Cream the butter and sugar well. Add the beaten eggs, treacle/date syrup, vanilla essence, orange/lemon zest and mix well.
Now add the black currant Jam/marmalade, orange/lemon peel and chopped fruit. Slowly, add the flour and mix gently till all the ingredients are combined well. If the mixture is too thick, add a little milk.
Pour into a greased and papered baking tin and bake in a slow oven for about one hour or more. Check if cooked by inserting a tooth pick. If the tooth pick comes out clean, your cake is ready.
Remove from the oven when done and set aside to cool. When the cake is completely cool, poke all over with tooth pick and drizzle brandy or rum. Repeat once in every week or ten days if you are preparing in advance. Wrap in foil paper. This cake will last for months if stored in an air-tight container.