‘Tis the season: Remembering George Fernandes’s 2001 cake tradition to jawans as a Christmas present – Economic Times

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George Fernandes, who died at the start of this year, now seems like a politician from an impossibly different era. He could connect with people of all kinds, work across political barriers, and use cake, not as part of some self-celebrating birthday event, but as a simple Christmas present for the jawans when he was defence minister.

The cake tradition started in 2001 when he was visiting a childhood haunt, Koshy’s Bakery in Bengaluru. Fernandes was about to visit the soldiers in Siachen, and decided to take Koshy’s plum cakes as a Christmas present.

This was a big hit, except that Fernandes heard some soldiers were upset because they hadn’t got the cakes. So, next year, an even larger order was placed, and this continued with Koshy’s sending increasingly large amounts of plum cake to the border. Even in 2005, when Fernandes was no longer minister, a consignment went with the financial support of several NRIs.

This is a testimony to an unusual politician, and also to Indians’ love of the dense dried-fruit stuffed and alcohol-drenched concoctions called plum or Christmas cakes. They were brought by the British though their own tradition, which is not that old. The cakes made to celebrate Christmas in many countries tend to be simpler, like the French Buches-de-Noel, shaped like a log, or breads like Italian panettone or German stollen.

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The key ingredient was always the copious amount of alcohol used to soak the cake, which probably explains why the jawans loved it.

The dried-fruit and alcohol dessert the British celebrated with was Christmas pudding, which is steamed, not baked. Its key ingredient is beef suet, a fat that is hard at room temperature, but melts just enough during steaming to give the puddings their characteristic moist yet firm texture. Obviously, authentic Christmas pudding was not destined to last for long in India after the Raj, though some clubs continued to make poor imitations with margarine.

A fruit-stuffed cake was traditionally made around this time, but for Twelfth Night, the Feast of the Epiphany that marks when the three wise men saw the baby Jesus, 12 days after he was born. There is a centuries-long tradition of cakes to mark this feast, but during the Victorian era, it was slowly supplanted by a cake for Christmas itself.

In 1884, The Times of India reported that the Maharaja of Bhavnagar had ordered “plum puddings and twelfth cakes” from Mr Buszard, a confectioner in London, but by 1899, it was reporting that the same establishment was exporting “45,000 rich Christmas cakes” along with puddings to the colonies, including India.

A taste for Christmas cakes was clearly growing and Indian bakers started making them as well. These were often given local touches, like the use of petha, candied white pumpkin, and along with the regular flour, some semolina, whose granules would swell in baking and give a distinct texture.

But perhaps the key ingredient was always the copious amount of alcohol used to soak the cake, which probably explains why the jawans loved it, apart from the novelty of getting it from a politician who really knew the value of cake at Christmas.

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Source: Thanks https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/magazines/panache/tis-the-season-remembering-george-fernandess-2001-cake-tradition-to-jawans-as-a-christmas-present/articleshow/72948231.cms