Originating in classical times, the oldest recipe is a humble mixture of pomegranate seeds, pine nuts and raisins mixed into a barley mash with the end result being the first Roman style fruitcake.
The Middle Ages introduced honey, spices and preserved fruit, and perfected this age-old treat. The British love affair with fruitcake began in the 15th century with the arrival of dried fruit from the Mediterranean. Known as plum cake during the 18th century, this delicacy became so sinfully rich with additions that it was banned in Europe!
Fruitcake became popular between 1837 and 1907; it was an essential item on the Victorian tea table. Stemming from British tradition, this confection – sometimes called Christmas cake or plum cake in Victorian England – became an ever so popular food at weddings and holiday celebrations.
Crossing continents, this traditional dessert made its way to Sri Lanka for the locals to create the perfect wedding cake and their version of Christmas cake.
The local version contains a variety of fresh ingredients and a whole new list of names, which includes ‘wedding cake,’ ‘Christmas cake’ and ‘rich cake.’ Three different stages must be followed to create the perfect cake including a few months for preparation.
Currants, raisins, sultanas, red and green cherries, cashew, ginger preserve, candied peel, chowchow and pumpkin preserve are chopped finely. Mixed spice powder, jam and brandy are added to the chopped fruit mix. And the mixture is stirred well – in most instances by hand, to ensure that all the ingredients are properly mixed. It is then covered and left to marinate.
Leave it to marinate for between a week and around three months. The longer the fruits soak, the better the flavour will be. But if you’re in a hurry, leave it overnight or for at least three days.
A cake batter is made by beating butter and sugar until they’re creamy. Egg yolks are added one at a time and stirred. Essences like vanilla, rose and almond are then added. Golden syrup is also poured in and the batter is mixed well. It is then mixed into the previously prepared fruit mixture. Roasted semolina is added and followed by whipped egg whites.
A baking pan is lined with five layers of newspaper with a sheet of baking paper on top. Butter is then applied on top. The cake mixture is poured into the pan and the air is tapped out. It is baked at 130ºC in a preheated oven for three to four hours.
Once the cake is cooked and cooled, it’s crumbled and placed in a container to mature for a few days or overnight.
For pieces of wedding cake, the crumbled cake is pressed into wedding cake trays and a thin layer of ersatz almond paste made out of powdered cashew is placed on top. The cake is then cut into the desired size and wrapped in readymade wedding cake wrappers or placed in ornate bespoke cake boxes.
Wedding cake is part and parcel of
Sri Lankan weddings irrespective of the religious beliefs of bridal couples. People are extremely creative with the cake boxes, which are often in sync with the wedding theme and decor. With materials ranging from board and metal boxes, to mini-woven baskets and traditional designed clay containers, the options are many. Stencil work, ribbon, lace and rhinestones are used to accessorise these boxes further to add a touch of glitter and glamour.
From grand wedding receptions to the exquisite Christmas table, a traditional English dish has become a local delight – Sri Lankan style!
Compiled by Nicola Jayasundera