The traditional Christmas cake given as a gift in this country that we either love or hate can contain domestic and French cherries, almonds, pecans, walnuts, raisins, pineapple, orange and lemon peel , spices and some sort of liqueur or brandy baked in a cake batter.
Fruit cakes have been around for centuries, the Egyptians placed them in the tombs of their loved ones to represent the sacred food of the afterlife. The Romans baked up pomegranate seeds, pine nuts and raisins into a barley mash and used them as energy bars on the battle fields. After the Crusades exotic spices appeared from the Far East and these were added to fruit cakes which were useful to travelers on long journeys as they remained edible for a long time. In Europe in 1700’s cakes were made in celebrations of the nut harvest and were saved and eaten the following year. By the 1800’s fruit cakes had become a popular addition to the afternoon tea party. The Europeans began sending cakes as gifts to their relatives who had moved to the ‘New World’ to remind them of home and by 1890’s a German immigrant opened a bakery so that they could send a fruit cake gift back over to Europe.
In Germany they bake the loaf shaped, spicy and enticing stollen with its gooey marzipan layer and coating of powdered sugar. The English cover their fruitcakes in marzipan and frosting and decorate them with festive objects. Italy has a selection of Christmas yeasted fruit cakes panattonne from Milan, the Genovese pandolce and the Tuscan panaforte. The Romanians and Bulgarians also bake something very similar to the Italians and call it cozonac. Switzerland gives us the light and fluffy birnenbrot with candied fruit and nuts. In the Bahamas, unsurprisingly they steep their fruit in rum before baking and when the cake is ready more rum is liberally poured into it while it’s still hot. A typical Japanese Christmas cake consists of a sponge cake frosted with whipped cream, topped with strawberries, and decorated with Christmas chocolates or other seasonal fruit.
This year if someone gifts you a fruit cake remember it could have been worse; you could have received the one baked in Kerala, India in 2007. Breaking a new world record it was thirty feet in length and two feet wide weighing an astonishing 5,511lbs, giving you just 22,000 portions to get through.
Photos courtesy of wikimedia commons and flickr - omphale44 and maulleigh