Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Sweet Commitments

I was inspired by a short story I read in the summer. That might sound odd, but I always find myself inspired by fiction of different kinds - movies, books, paintings, or daydreams. The story is called, 'A Christmas Memory,' by Truman Capote, and he describes a tradition that he and his best friend have of making fruit cakes. One crisp November morning, the elderly woman would stand at the window and declare, "it's fruitcake time!" The four-day adventure of getting the ingredients and creating the cakes would begin.

I'm a lover of traditions of all kinds. I like rituals, especially private rituals. I think I like them because they bind the past to the future through present and expected action, in a way that not many other things can. I suppose this is why I get nostalgic for things I used to do with others, or for foods that represent rituals in my life. Gingerbread houses and clootie dumplings come to mind. My sister and I used to make these foods with my Gran, and Gran made dumplings for my mum and for me for our winter birthdays. Coins wrapped in foil were hidden in the dumpling, and whoever got the penny was the luckiest.

With Capote's inspiration and the 1966 Better Living pies and cakes cookbook in hand, this past November I set out to make Christmas cakes for my friends and family. It's quite the big job. I omitted all the ingredients that I don't like (namely, peel of all kinds) and kept the ingredients that I do like (dried pineapple, walnuts, real maraschino cherries, etc.). After an entire day of chopping, mixing, and baking, I ended up with seven small cakes.

These little guys were wrapped in cheese-cloth that had been soaked in brandy, and then wrapped in foil, and then stuck in the closet (a cool space) to marinate. For the following six weeks, I would unwrap the cakes every Friday and re-soak the cheese-cloth in brandy, and then carefully wrap them up again.

Finally, on the Friday before Christmas I spent an entire day making icing for the cakes. First, there was a simple buttercream icing to cover the cakes. Then, there was the marshmallow fondant (a very easy cheater fondant that actually tastes yummy) to mix, knead, roll, and wrap around the iced cakes. The outcome was marvellous.

I am very happy with how they turned out. I regret that I probably won't be able to make them again next year, because I'm expecting to spend the fall in England. However, if plans change, then I'll do it for sure. I gave the cakes to people who I thought would appreciate them the most - cake lovers, and people who wouldn't just throw them in the garbage. There's such a bias against Christmas cake! But if you have time, a little determination, and a good memory - since it's so easy to forget to rewrap the cakes each week - I encourage a little tradition-making in the form of delicious cakes.

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