Another Christmas, and it seems like it’s going to be a ‘silent night’. The new Omicron variant has made certain of a demure and a more somber season, at least in most parts of Europe and the west. By the time you are reading this, the chances are that we too will be faced with some curbs and embargos, at least on large and collective merry making. To me, it really doesn’t matter because Christmases have always been home affairs with friends. The Broacha Christmas Tree goes up by the first of December. Cyrus Broacha’s mom, Olivia, who is a true-blooded Goan catholic, switches on her CD player at 8 am and the whole of Jain occupied Malabar Hill echoes with Jim Reeves’ baritone flogging “Feliz Navidad” and “The First Noel”. In the good old days, Broacha and I would host the most gate-crashed Christmas Eve party ever. Just bottles and bottles of alcohol, potato wafers, peanuts and rock ‘n’ roll. What I will miss though is the late Alyque Padamsee’s Christmas Eve party at his home which was also called “Christmas Eve”. A traditional beer and ‘Bhel’ bash where we’d be half seas over, by midnight while Ernie Flannnigan would play Carols on his keyboard, and advertising greats would try their hands at a jingle, and old Alyque would threaten to call the police on Cyrus and me.
This of course doesn’t mean that food is not an important part of Christmas. It definitely was and it still is. At the Broacha’s, there would be a table laden with Pork Vindaloo, Glazed Ham, Potato and boiled egg salad, with some Sali-Boti and Pulao Daal thrown in at the Broacha Christmas Lunch. A perfect Parsi-Goan feast. Christmas Pudding and Brandy Sauce to top it all. Also boxes and boxes of marzipan, kulkuls, (deep-fried, sweet, pastry bites), Baath or Badca, a traditional Goan Coconut Cake, Coconut Snowballs (ladoos with desiccated coconut) and Neureos (a bit like Maharashtrian Karanjis) and more. These of course are very Goan sweets, but since we may all be stuck at home this season, there is a whole bunch of cakes and sweets that are time-honoured Christmas classics from all around Europe and the world, that we could actually make at home, all it needs is an oven, some ingredients and some zeal. Let’s start off with the most common. The Classic Christmas Cake or Pudding.
Christmas Cake or Pudding
They are quite the same but different. The Christmas fruit cake contains dried fruits, nuts and spices that have been soaked in rum or brandy or wine possibly for even a year and is then made with butter and baked in the oven. Often a Christmas cake is covered with marzipan and royal icing. On the other hand, the Christmas pudding also contains flour, sugar, dried fruits like, raisins, currants, and nuts soaked in alcohol. But the Christmas pudding is steamed and served with a creamy brandy sauce.
In Germany, tradition insists on Stollen, a flaky and moist yeast bread with dried fruits, candied citrus peel, nuts and spices, which is baked and then covered with a dense butter and sugar coating. This is then dusted with powdered sugar. Considering this German recipe and the tradition, which is over 700 years old, the Stollen has many permutations, like Mandelstollen (made with almond), Nuss-Stollen (with nuts), Butterstollen (with lots of butter), and Marzipanstollen.
Also from Germany, Lebkuchen is honey sweetened Christmas cake. Catholic monks created the Nürnberger Elisenlebkuchen in the 14th century and used whole of nuts without any flour to make this traditional cake with all the goodness of almonds and hazelnuts.
Contrary to common faux pas, a Christmas mince pie contains no meat or mince-meat. Mince pies contain a sweet mixture of dried fruits, sugar, spices which are minced finely and doused in brandy. This rich, sticky, sweet filling is wrapped in pastry and then baked. A part of British Christmas heritage, mince pies have been around since the 16th century.
Panettone is a tall, Italian Christmas cake. This rather towering cake originated in Milan and can be full of almond marzipan, ginger, orange peel, cashew, dried apricots and other lovely dry fruits and nuts. Most importantly, a Panettone is light and airy in texture with a rich and buttery taste. This origin of this recipe quite literally dates back to the Renaissance.
And finally the Yule Log, also called Bûche de Noël, in France. The Yule log is a traditional French Christmas cake that uses chocolate sponge roulade, or rolled cake, and Italian buttercream. The cake is shaped like a wooden stump or a log that is burnt on the hearth as a winter tradition in parts of Europe. Dusted with sugar and decorated with green marzipan holly leaves, it represents Christmas like one other.
So go out and find a recipe that suits you, roll up your sleeves and with a song on my lip and cake in my mouth and a prayer in my heart I wish you all a great season.
Kunal Vijayakar is a food writer based in Mumbai. He tweets @kunalvijayakar and can be followed on Instagram @kunalvijayakar. His YouTube channel is called Khaane Mein Kya Hai. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the stand of this publication.