The original, Marathi version of this article appeared in Loksatta on December 22, 2012 and can be viewed here.
Mumbai has never really had a winter. Somewhere in the middle of December, we tell ourselves it is getting cool enough to bring out the occasional sweater or shawl that only sees a day or so in the whole year, indulge in the rich foods of the season (who can do without Undhiyu and Ponk?) and find a legitimate reason to spend an extra few minutes under the covers. For me, December holds another special place in my heart. As soon as the smog of the Mumbai winter descends on the city, as soon as the cool air hits my face when I open the windows in the morning, I am immediately slid into a suitably Christmas-ey mood.
If you’ve grown up reading Enid Blytons and studying in convent and mission-funded schools, December brings with it the memories of fairs, decorated trees, red felt caps with fluffy cotton borders, and bake shops bursting with dark, packaged plum cakes. I was on the school’s choir, and for a few weeks before Christmas, we would go to school an hour earlier to practice. The air used to be nippy in the mornings, and the few sweaters my grandma would knit for me would come out then. The practice session would invariably end with “Silent Night” or “Oh Come All Ye Faithful,” and it would be difficult to let anything come in the way of having a perfectly joyous day ahead. The warmth of the school’s assembly hall or chapel would permeate one’s heart and everything would look like a warm and cozy, soft-focused Christmas greeting card.
My great grand aunt, Radha kaku, was Christian; every Christmas, she would bake huge batches of fruit cake and coconut fudge tarts. The cake was her own concoction of the western flavors she had tasted in her stay abroad and the Indian ingredients she had available in those days. It is years now since she passed away, but even today, we put up a tree and make as many goodies as we do in Diwali. I go hunting for marzipan sweets, guava jelly and fig rolls, and the oven barely gets to rest. One of the dishes I have come to enjoy (apart from Radha kaku’s fabulous fruit cake) is Stollen—a sweet, fruit bread of German origins, typically filled with Marzipan. It is an excellent choice for those who want a low calorie option but don’t want to miss out on the typical flavors of the season. Here is my recipe; a simpler version of the original:
- 3 cups flour
- 1 tbsp. instant dry yeast or fresh yeast
- 3 tbsp. sugar
- ½ cup milk
- ½ cup Mixed dried fruit and nuts (raisins, figs, dates, tutti fruiti, glace cherries, almonds, cashews, etc. soaked in ¼ cup rum/brandy/Cointreau/orange juice) overnight
- 1 and ½ tbsp. butter
- A pinch of cinnamon powder
- A pinch of nutmeg powder
- A pinch of clove powder
- A pinch of cardamom powder
- A pinch of salt
- 2 tbsp. marmalade or Kaju Katli; crumbled (optional)
- Icing sugar to dust
- Place the flour and powdered spices in a bowl and mix.
- In a smaller bowl, place the yeast and sugar and pour lukewarm milk on top. Allow to rest for 5 minutes until the yeast froths.
- Add the yeast mixture to the flour and knead to a soft dough. Now, add the butter and knead again until silky. Shape into a ball, cover with cling film, and leave to rest in a warm spot for 20-25 minutes until double in size.
- Punch the doubled dough to let the air escape. Drain the soaked fruit and nuts and add to the dough. Knead lightly to make sure the dough and fruits are well combined.
- Flatten the dough into an oval shape. Spread the marmalade or crumbled kaju katli down the center of the oval and fold. Place on a greased and floured baking sheet and place on the top of a pre-heating oven to rise again (about 15-20 minutes).
- Bake in a pre-heated oven at 180 degrees centigrade for half an hour to 45 minutes until golden brown in color and hollow when tapped.
- Allow to cool completely, then dust liberally with icing sugar. Cut into slices and serve plain or toasted, with or without butter, jams, preserves, and marmalade.