I was born in Ceylon (now referred to as Sri Lanka, though that has always been the name given to this tiny island by its native inhabitants) and lived there till I was 11 years old after which my family emigrated to Australia, settling in Perth in 1955.
My memories of my early years are still vivid and preparations for Christmas hail as a particularly special time. Being of Dutch/Portuguese/English/Irish/German heritage (Heinz 57 varieties) my family had some wonderful foods and dishes which were essential to particular celebrations and seasons.
Getting ready for Christmas commenced in October, when my grandmother would round up all available children, grandchildren, neighbours and friends to help prepare the mountain of fruit which was required for her enormous Christmas cake, also known as Rich Cake. Sultanas, raisins, glace cherries, mixed peel, chow chow (fruits preserved in thick ginger flavoured syrup) and raw cashew nuts had to be chopped into tiny dice, then soaked in brandy for a day or two. Once this task was completed, she only needed a couple of strong-armed helpers to stir and combine the many ingredients prior to filling the baking tins and cooking the cakes.
I remember these times as convivial hours of folks gathered around a large table, chatting, eating, tasting, and gossiping while chopping and dicing. So much was absorbed by the children of customs, friendship, family values and sense of community. The pleasures of mass food preparation stays with me to this day: I love making jams, pickles and chutneys, but find it difficult to persuade my grandsons to give me a hand. Their iphones and facebook seem to be the foundation stones for creating their own childhood memories.
Though this cake has a daunting list of ingredients, they are all vital to playing their part in the scrumptious end- product. Do give this recipe a try. It is a truly delicious cake suitable for any occasion. Set aside a couple of days in which to make this cake and persuade some friends to join in the fun. You could even pool the ingredients and make several cakes which can be shared out by the workers.
It is a stand-alone cake – in that it requires no icing, but aficionados maintain that it is a crime to eat it without marzipan icing. Tradition in Ceylon dictated that the cake be topped with a layer of marzipan, cut into pieces, wrapped in cellophane and decorated with ribbons, stickers etc. suitable to the occasion e.g. Christmas, weddings, christenings etc. This way, if the recipient did not wish to eat the cake immediately, it could easily be placed in a handbag for transport home. Needless to say, several pieces disappeared into everyone’s bags whether they wished to eat it immediately or not!
- 375 g sultanas
- 250 g seedless raisins
- 100 g currants
- 250 g glace ginger
- 250 g glace cherries
- 125 g mixed peel
- 250 g mixed glace fruit e.g. apricot, peach, pineapple, pear (not fig)
- 2 small cans chow chow preserves or 1x500 grm tin of melon & lemon jam or sweet marmalade
- 250 g raw cashews or blanched almonds
- ¼ cup brandy
- 2 tablespoons plain flour
- 375 g butter
- 500 g brown sugar
- 12 eggs - separated
- Grated rind of 1 medium lemon
- 1 level teaspoon finely grated nutmeg
- 2 level teaspoons ground cardamom
- 1 level teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 level teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 tablespoon rosewater
- 2 tablespoons vanilla
- 1 tablespoon almond essence
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 250 g semolina
- Chop all the fruit into small dice; nuts finely sliced or chopped; drain any fruit in syrup, (reserve syrup).
- Place all fruit and nuts in a large bowl, pour over the brandy and reserved syrup and mix well. Cover and leave to stand overnight. Mix in the plain flour just before adding this mixture to the rest of the ingredients.
- In a large baking pan, gently warm the semolina in a slow oven - 150°C. Do not let it brown. Remove from oven, chop butter and place pieces of butter on top of semolina so that it melts. Mix well and set aside. Leave the oven turned on as this is the temperature required for baking the cakes.
- Whisk together all the egg yolks and 6 of the egg whites. Add them to the fruit and nut mixture and mix well. Whisk the remaining 6 egg whites until stiff and fold into mixture.
- Stir in semolina and butter, spices, flavourings and honey. At this stage when all ingredients are in the bowl, it is easiest to wash your hands well and do the mixing with your hands. The best part of this somewhat earthy procedure was licking the raw cake mix off our fingers. (Yes, even the littlies were allowed a quick ‘hand mix’ if hands were well scrubbed: it put paid to squabbles on who was going to lick the bowl clean).
- Ladle the cake mix into the prepared tins, smooth tops of cakes and place in oven. They need to cook for 3 – 4 hours. Test in the usual way with a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake. If mixture clinging to the skewer is too runny or raw, bake for longer time. Generally, 3 ½ hours is plenty of time.
- My grandmother had a trick to keeping the cake moist and pliable (how she liked it). Each half hour, she would open the oven and carefully stir the mixture in each cake tin. She didn’t like dry, crusty edges to her cakes. I must admit they had a wonderful texture and did not fall apart.
- When baked, remove from oven and leave to cool for a few minutes in the tin. After about 30 minutes, take the cake out of the tin, remove all paper linings and place on cake cooling rack. When cool, pour more brandy into the base of each cake – quantity of brandy per cake is totally up to your taste.
- I then wrap each cake in greaseproof paper followed by a final wrapping of cooking foil. Store in a cool, dark place till required. This cake can actually be stored for over 12 months with a further addition of brandy after 6 months, if, of course, no one knows where it is hidden!
- This quantity fills a 25cm (10 inch) round or square cake tin which should be lined with 2 or 3 thicknesses of newspaper, then the same of brown paper and finally 1 thickness of baking paper or greaseproof paper well brushed with melted butter.