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‘TIS the season to be jolly ...’ well it isn’t yet, considering we’ve barely put our Halloween masks and broomsticks back in the cupboard for another year, but that hasn’t stopped the Elite Resort and Spa, Bahrain from getting into the spirit of the coming festive season by preparing some annual treats.
Journalists recently gathered at the Muharraq location to ring in the annual start of the frivolities by mixing together traditional Christmas cake ingredients into a giant bowl, which will mature and marinate over the next month until it is ready to be made into a batch of cakes.
It was already a day of celebration for the hotel, with its Facebook social media page attaining its 300,000th ‘like.’ Amongst the party atmosphere, general manager Puneet Siagal expressed his delight.
He said: “This cake-mixing ceremony is a very proud event for us.
“We were the first to do it in the kingdom, and now in some ways it heralds the start of the festive season. Considering the number of different events around this time of year, the fact we kick it off is special.
“We take our time to prepare the cake, and the products that come out at the end are equally as good as the love and care put into making them.”
On the patio by the swimming pool, overlooking the calm autumn sea, we donned our obligatory large white hats without a care for our daft appearance and, armed with a wooden spoon and huge plastic gloves that would look more appropriate on Breaking Bad character Walter White than a hapless hack, we set about our task.
After years of honing my culinary craft at various events, I was confident of tackling a traditional treat. We’ve always been more of a Yule Log family but it’s good to expand your horizons!
Before we could get started, a prayer was said by a visiting priest who blessed the ingredients by spraying them with an aspergillum. This was certainly unexpected, but it did lend a festive feel along with the choice of classic festive tunes emanating from the speakers.
On a large table were trays laid out with traditional Christmas cake filling, and each of us in attendance were asked to mix them all together with our spoons. However, the implement wasn’t quite big enough so we dug in down to our elbows and mixed the ingredients in harmony.
These included cashew nuts, almonds, dried prunes, dates, dried fruits, raisins, blackcurrants, cherries, cinnamon powder, honey and a hefty dose of seasonal beverages.
After our tray full of filling was sufficiently jumbled up, we took turns adding to a huge silver bowl which was subsequently carried away into the hotel’s kitchens, where it will stay until December before other ingredients like flour and eggs are mixed in.
Christmas cake is a type of fruitcake popular in the UK and many Commonwealth countries. It may be light or dark, crumbly-moist to sticky-wet, spongy to heavy, leavened or unleavened, shaped round, square or oblong as whole cakes, fairy cakes, or petit fours, with marzipan, icing, glazing, dusting with icing sugar, or plain.
If a Christmas cake is covered in icing, it is usually decorated with models of houses, Christmas trees or even Father Christmas.
As with so many truly great things in life, good things come to those who wait and this festive delicacy is no different.
A good Christmas cake is left to age for at least a month before serving. Head Chef Ankon Mukherjee, who is the man in charge of the festive treat this year, said: “We have to do this event at this time of year to give the ingredients time to soak up the liquid and completely ingest the flavour. To be a truly authentic cake, it needs room to breathe and develop naturally.”
Ankon will be doing the hard graft in December, baking and decorating the cakes to be sent out to various media outlets for us to sample our own delights.
Unfortunately, my suggestion to uphold British tradition and drop a coin in the mixture, with the person who finds it in their serving getting to keep the coin as a sign of good wealth for the year ahead, was thwarted due to the potential damage it could cause to Editor Stan’s dentures.