The beauty of India is that we keep celebrating something or the other throughout the year, be it a Hindu, Muslim or a Christian festival. I think Christmas is almost a secular festival, at least in Calcutta and also in Chandannagar, the small town of my childhood. Christmas meant a month-long holiday and fruit cakes for me. The stores used to stack cubes of fruit cake wrapped in yellow cellophane paper. I am sure they were mass-produced with barely any fruit in them. But, they were still fruit cakes to me because I hadn’t had the chance to taste any other fruit cakes.
Calcutta used to light up during Christmas with the same fervor as any Hindu or Muslim festival. The shops in New Market would be filled with Christmas decorations and Park Street was packed with people out to see the lights. It was exactly the opposite in Baton Rouge (the university town where we both went for graduate school)….and it was not something I had envisioned. To me, a festival or holiday is celebrated with everybody, the city will have a festive mood and people will walk on the street….but no….it was completely different. It was very privately celebrated. They put some lights on the trees and on the front porch during Christmas, but that was it. Nobody walked on the street, no hustle or bustle, no chaos, nothing. The shopping malls were busy but not like what we see back home. I didn’t go home during the first Christmas holiday and spent the entire time in the ghostly university town with my international friends who were unfortunate like me and couldn’t go home for the holidays. The International Students Association was kind enough to host a Christmas party for the international students and that was it.
Once we moved to the Washington, DC area, things changed gradually and we kind of feel the festive mood here again. Street lights, busy shopping malls, exchanging gifts, sharing recipes, holiday potluck parties and everything else that belongs in a holiday season. I bought myself a reusable Christmas tree two years ago and love to decorate it with whatever ornaments we have and a few new ones each year. This year it was special for me because for the first time in my life, I got Christmas gifts from Santa-a cute little piggy-shaped cutting board, a cherry/ olive pitter and a nice bone-handled bar spoon.
On the other hand this year I am a little sad because of the Connecticut shooting. Although I am not a mother, I still cannot accept the fact that a human being could be so brutal to children still too young to have been touched by evil. They were innocent little lives. While everybody is busy shopping, cooking and spending time with their loved ones, my heart goes out to the unfortunate parents who are going through a terrible time in their lives. No comforting words will erase their grief and all I can hope is that we don’t have to see this happening again.
•1/4 pound raisins
•2 ounces dried cherries, coarsely chopped
•2 ounces dried cranberries
•2 ounces dried apricots, coarsely chopped
•1 tablespoon honey
•2 tablespoons rum
•1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
•6 ounces chopped pecans
•1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
•1/2 cup superfine sugar
•1/3 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
•1 extra-large egg
•2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
•In a medium bowl, combine the figs, raisins, cherries, apricots, honey, rum, lemon juice, pecans, and a pinch of salt. Cover and allow to sit overnight at room temperature.
•Cream the butter, superfine sugar, and brown sugar until smooth.
•Add the egg and mix until incorporated.
•After that slowly add the flour and 1/4 teaspoon salt just until combined. Don’t over mix! Add the fruits and nuts, including any liquid in the bowl.
•Divide the dough in three portions and place each portion on the long edge of a 12 by 18-inch piece of parchment or waxed paper. Roll each half into a log, 1 1/2 to 1 3/4-inch thick. Refrigerate the dough for several hours, or until firm.
•Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
•With a small, sharp knife, cut the logs into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Place the slices 1/2-inch apart on ungreased sheet pans and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until lightly golden.
PS: Here is the original recipe and the video. I have tweaked it a little bit. I didn’t add cloves and figs, instead I added dried cranberries. You can add any dry fruits in hand; there are no hard and fast rules. The cake was very easy to make and the video helped me a lot. As I am a new baker, a video is what I need to boost my confidence.