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Kitchen Adventure #18  to India - Kerala Plum Cake

Kitchen Adventure #18 to India - Kerala Plum Cake

17th Apr 2022

The adventure: So I have this tradition. Every Christmas, I ask my customers what they're having for dinner. I always find it fascinating. You see, while Thanksgiving Dinner is pretty well established, at least the major dishes, Christmas varies. Every year, the meal changes for quite a few people. And in case you were wondering, Christmas 2021 was the year of the beef brisket. Anyway, in the midst of one of these conversations, my customer made a comment. She longed for the fruit cake of her grandma. I KNOW I got a funny look on my face, because...um...I know of NOBODY who craves fruit cake. Christmas fruit cake is butt of many a joke nationwide. She saw it, started laughing, and said, "Oh no...it's not an American style fruitcake, that's really gross." Turns out, her grandma lived in India and the way they do fruit cake there is TOTALLY different than ours. It involved rum...lots and lots of rum. So, needless to say, I was ALL IN. With her by my side, we googled, read, googled more, read more, until we found a recipe that was just like her grandma's. Soooo since it was way too late to start my fruit soak in time for Christmas, I slated the fruit cake for Easter Sunday.

Pre-adventure Jitters: Fruit cake. That's pretty much all I need to say, right? I mean, if this recipe is American style, it's gonna be a WHOLE lot of effort for a cake that's reminiscent of a brick and hits my stomach like lead. Armed with my recipe from Pepper Delight, and a ton of questioning of my sanity, the adventure begins.

The Adventure: I read up on this recipe...at length. Turns out, there's no right or wrong with the fruit, nut, or even booze choices within the parameters. So I made the decision to go with what I had in my cupboard. Two years ago, mid pandemic, the last shipment of dried fruits at the shop ended up expiring. I didn't have the heart to pitch them sooooo they went home got shoved in the back of my cupboard. So I'm just about set! I have sultanas, dried cherries, apricots, and cranberries, which is a fabulous assortment. I'm not fond of dates, so I decided to buy prunes instead (being a 'plum' cake and all). I have cashews and pistachio nuts in my cupboard AND a TON of dark rum. Seriously. I bought the big bottle on sale for a recipe last Spring and it's still almost full, so dark rum it is!! This is unheard of. I have one thing on my shopping list. Just one. So I hit the store, buy my prunes and I'm good to go!!

I need a solid 30 days of booze soaking, because that's what grandma did, so I started the prep mid March. Cut up my nuts, my fruits, shoved them in a canning jar and filled just enough rum to cover. I mean, I'm not trying to be stingy, but why pour in what you don't need, right? Wake up on day two and the fruit has puffed up to double it's original size!!! I chugalug more rum to cover my fruit yet again and set it back on the counter. Day three, I give it a shake...and again on day five, day 7, day 9. Mhm, you get the point. I've been shaking and watching my boozy bits for a solid 30 days.

Easter morning, I'm up at dawn. I have a fruit cake to make! I'm thinking I'll get it done early and have the rest of the morning to do odds and ends annnnddd then I read through the recipe. Oy...it's gonna be a bitch. What was I thinking?!? I start with the caramel syrup. It looks super easy, so no sweat, right? I'm curious why it says to "carefully add the rest of the water a tablespoon at a time." Carefully? What the heck? Like it's gonna explode or something? I almost dump the water in and at the last minute, decide to follow the directions. HOOOLLLLYYY CRAP!!! It does! It explodes like a volcano!!!! Every tablespoon of water added has a mini eruption. It's crazy!

I set the caramel syrup to the side, as instructed, and move on to the cake. I open my drawer of springform pans to find just the right one. Yup...I have a collection of springforms. I'm a big cheesecake maker, so I've never met a springform I didn't like, and you never know if you'll need a 10" or a 12 or an 8. For this recipe, I needed my 9". I pull it out and then see the sentence that makes me hang my head in sadness. I have to line the pan with parchment paper. I really hate that kind of stuff. I mean, really. You shouldn't need a pencil and scissors to bake a cake. But I've been soaking my boozy bits for weeks now, so there's no turning back. I cut out the bottom circle, the strips for the side, grab the stick of butter with my bare hands and use it like a crayon. Messy, yes, but oh so much quicker.

The cake itself mixes up beautifully. I mean, yeah, it took some time, what with the soft peaking of the egg whites, the zesting of the orange, and all that. But it was uneventful...which is about all I hope for with recipes like these. I fold in my floured boozy bits, pour it into my springform, and put it in the oven. It goes in at 11 soooo it's not going to be ready for lunch, but it'll be ready for my dinner!  

The cake takes a solid 75 minutes to bake...another 2 hours to cool...so I FINALLY grab the powdered sugar and give the top a little dusting. I cut a wedge and take the first bite. It's fantastic!! The cake is light and airy. The boozy fruit gives it a twang that you just can't describe. It was so good, I cut a second piece. I need to try it with the option of drizzling the remaining rum over top, right? I mean, I haven't completed the adventure if I don't, right? I'm totally stoked that this adventure was a massive win. On to the next!!  

The Recipe - Kerala Plum Cake

Ingredients

For soaked dry fruits
  • ½ cup raisins
  • ½ cup dried cranberries
  • 6-8 apricots
  • 5 dates (seedless)
  • ½ cup cashews
  • ½ cup almonds
  • 1 cup rum (or more)
For caramel syrup
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup water
For cake
  • 2 cup flour + 2tbsp
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 2 sticks of unsalted butter (1 cup) (softened at room temperature)
  • 1½ cup powdered sugar
  • 4 eggs (at room temperature)
  • zest of one orange
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp cinnamon powder
  • ½ tsp dry ginger powder
  • ¼ tsp nutmeg
  • 2 tbsp rum (from the soaked dry fruits)

Instructions

Preparation of fruits
  1. Chop dry fruits n nuts into bite size pieces, and transfer to a dry glass container. Pour the rum into the container and ensure that the contents are completely immersed in it. Place its lid and keep the container tightly closed.
  2. Soak the fruits for at least 2 days, you can even preserve them up to 6 months; I soaked mine for 4 weeks. Shake the jar every alternative day and keep refilling it with extra rum as the fruits start absorbing it.
  3. You can use 2 to 2 ½ cups of soaked fruits and nuts while baking a cake.
  4. For soaking instructions and other tips, refer the notes section below.
Preparation of caramel syrup
  1. Add the sugar and 1 tbsp water into a pan and heat on a medium flame.
  2. As the sugar melts, turns golden in color, and bubbles, lower the flame and give it a quick stir. When the color changes to dark brown, switch off the flame and take the pan off the heat.
  3. Now carefully add the rest of the water a tablespoon at a time and stir. Your dark colored caramel syrup is ready. Keep it aside to cool down, stir in between.

Preparation of cake

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Line a 9 inch nonstick springform pan with parchment paper; on the bottom and and along the sides extending 2 inches above the rim of the pan. Butter the paper thoroughly and set aside.
  3. Drain the rum soaked fruits and keep the liquid aside for later use. To the drained fruits, add 2 tbsp flour and mix to coat the fruits; this helps preventing them from sinking to the bottom of the cake while baking. Keep aside.
  4. Separate egg whites and yolks. Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form, set aside.
  5. Prepare the dry ingredients by sifting flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl. Keep aside.
  6. In a large bowl, using a hand mixer or a stand mixer, beat butter and powdered sugar until smooth and creamy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed, this helps to mix it evenly.
  7. Add egg yolks followed by grated orange zest, vanilla extract, cinnamon powder, nutmeg and dry ginger powder. Beat well.
  8. Add the cooled caramel syrup, dry ingredients, and the beaten egg whites in two batches, beat lightly until well combined.
  9. Now add the flour coated dry fruits into the batter along with 2tbsp of the drained rum. Do not beat, instead fold in all the ingredients thoroughly with a spatula. The batter is ready, it will have a slightly thick consistency.
  10. Pour the batter carefully into the prepared baking pan and bake for 55-65 minutes, until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool for 10-15 minutes.
  11. Gently run a knife around the edges of the pan and then unlock it. Move the cake to a wire rack keeping the lined parchment paper intact and let it cool completely. Dust with powdered sugar (optional).
  12. Once cooled you can remove the paper, and the cake is now ready to be served.
  13. To store, you can wrap the cake in an aluminum foil and keep in an air tight container at room temperature for a week. Refrigerate thereafter.

Notes

  1. Soak dry fruits in alcohol to enhance the flavour. I recommend soaking for at least 48hrs but you may do so for days, weeks, or even up to 6 months. The more it soaks, the better it tastes.
  2. Chop the fruits to be soaked into bite sized pieces. Use a clean air tight glass container to soak and store. Shake the jar or stir every alternate day as it helps to rehydrate the fruits and not dry out. Fill with extra rum as needed.
  3. After draining the soaked dry fruits before baking the cake, coat them in a few spoons of flour. This helps the fruits to stick on to the batter while baking and prevents from setting down to the bottom.
  4. Be cautious while preparing the caramel syrup, the melted sugar is very hot and will boil intensely when water is added. It can burn you if not carefully handled, also ensure to remove the pan from the flame when adding water.
  5. After removing the baked cake from the pan, allow it sit on a wire rack to cool down at room temperature. Do not remove the parchment paper from the pan when the cake is hot, it might crumble.
  6. Wrapping the cake in an aluminum foil helps it to retain moisture and prevent drying out.
  7. You can keep the cake in an air tight container at room temperature for a week. Refrigerate thereafter.
  8. If you want to make your cake boozy, you can brush the left over drained rum from the soaked fruits over the cake, once it is cooled from the oven. For those who prefer an aged/matured cake, you can bake it in advance and daily brush it with the remaining rum and wrap it back in the foil, until the day of serving / Christmas.