Making it a December to remember - A Russian Tea Party of sorts with a cake filled with Christmas scents
December and Christmas have their own very specific scents, wouldn't you agree? They also have their very own ingredients, that even though you might use them all year round, whenever you get a whiff of their aromas combined, your mind is transported straight into Christmas cheer, memories of long, dark, cold nights, a fireplace, a blanket, warm drinks, tables ladden with goodies and yummy food, a Chrsitmas tree with its fairy lights twinkling in one corner, gifts beautifully packaged sitting underneath it, carrols playing around the house, certain films on repeat. There is a scent to Christmas, to December, and for me it comes from certain, specific ingredients.
There are colours, and moods, specific of the season, too. To some it may be the silver and white of a Wintery December, frostbitten windows and all, mercury glass glimmering with white candles, the scent of vanilla and cardamom and star anise, the sight of tiny sweet treats in a dusting of icing sugar, turkish delights, clementines and sugar covered grapes. To others it may be the white Christmas tree decked with white and red ornaments, the two toned candy canes, the snowy cabin look of a northern Christmas, Scandinavian inspired, with treats filled with ginger and glög on the side, a paired down mood, with wooly throws on a pristine white couch, children playing contently on a light wooded floor, the silence of the falling snow outside.
And it may be the gold decked home of those more into the classical mood, with long ribbons around the branches of the tree, the white china with the golden sliver around the trim, those lovely bright ornaments that look like sparkling jewels, the feeling of light and warmth and glamour it concedes to such a magical time, a table that has the choicest nibbles, the flowing champagne, the patés, the vol au vents; or maybe it is the traditional good ole' time tested red and green and gold, the house filled with trinkets that have been collected over the years, some vintage looking, some more amusing, the red balls on the tree, the red lanterns, the stars, the golden tiny bells hidding on the upper branches, the yellowy fairylights that make the whole room sparkle as if gold dust had been scattered over it, the freshness of the dark green reminiscent of those deep, darkened woods of faraway lands, the warmth of the red in all its hues scattered around, the roast meats and veggies, the chocolates, the mince pies, the cakes, the mulled wine spreading the sweet scent of cinnamon, mandarins and star anise all over the house and the songs playing all day long.
And then it can be that one image from your imaginary, of a Christmas set in a land so far up North the day is indeed short and night is quick to come, dropping the land under a velvety blanket of midnight blue speckled with jewelled stars, a Christmas that is rustic and yet lavish, that of the fairytale Russian Christmas, the one that haunts my imagination time and again. Nöel a la Russe. I love the ballet, I did ballet for quite a long time in my life, and whenever it comes to December, besides the colours, the scents that I associate with this time of the year, there is the longing for ballet watching, something I did a lot when I was a child, over Christmas. And if we're talking ballet and Christmas, there is only one piece to mention, really. The Nutcracker. Because it's set at a Christmas party and all, but also because it has infested my dreams with a romaticized vision of a Russian inspired Christmas, ever since I was just a tiny kid...
So this cake has been somewhat inspired by my own personal imaginary idea of a Nöel a la Russe, and the scents and aromas, the flavours that to me, as a portuguese born and raised, but who has been ever curious about other countries and their traditions, speak of Christmas and December, those scents and flavours that immediately put me in the mood and make me dream away of the magic of this season, the magic I choose to see in it and to imbibe it with. The photos were inspired by my also very much romanticized idea of Russian Christmases, the bright colours, the reds, the blues, the gold, the almost overwhelming excess of gaiety and joy and cheer, the thought of a shot of vodka to warm you up, the tea brewed in a samovar (I should have grabbed my mother's samovar for this shoot, come to think of it!) and the rich cakes to acompany it, the velvets and the furs, the lavish drapes and all the luxurious glamour of a Romanov tea party, barely seen but mostly hinted at...
It's a very simple cake, redolent or orange zest and juice, a sprinkle of cinnamon, a handful of raisins. The addition of a white chocolate glaze on top makes it richer, and evocative of the Russian snows and the Russian Winter, but the flavours, the scents, are all December's to me, these are the colours and aromas and the taste I associate with Christmas and December, even if it's not Russian, even if it's not Portuguese, it is mine, and I claim as mine also the magic I wish to throw over December and Christmas, the magic I wish to share with my son, in the perhaps selfish and absurd hopes that when he is all grown up, with a family of his own, he might think back with a sense of joy and nostalgia to his childhood Christmases, and the hopes he will perpetuate this sense of joyfulness and dreaminess on his own children, sharing with them as I try to share with him the magic that one only has to wish to believe in. I hope he too will make it a December to remember when he becomes a man.
So, for this cake you need:
- two to three carrots, depending on size
- one cup olive oil
- two cups flour
- one and a half cups sugar
- one tablespon baking powder (yes, you read it right, it's one tablespoon)
- 4 eggs
- zest and juice of an orange
- half a cup raisins soaked in crème de cassis
- 100 gr white chocolate
Grate the carrots and zest the orange. In a bowl, mix sugar, flour and oil until combined. Add the eggs and the carrots, mixing gently, the orange juice and zest, the raisins and finally the baking powder. Pour into a bundt tin - only because it will look prettier! - and bake on a pre heated oven at 180º. It will take about 45 minutes, but check after 40 minutes, if the skewer comes out clean, then it's baked. Let cool over a rack, and once it has cooled down slightly, take it out of the tin and then allow to cool completely. Melt the chocolate in a small drizzle of simmering milk and add a little know of butter to make it shinier. While the chocolate is still warm but not piping hot, it will have thickened up slightly, just drizzle a little or all of it over the cake. It's a very light and fluffy cake, a bit crumbly, but very tasty. I hope you enjoy it. Since the recipe makes for a very large quantity I usually make another cake or some cupcakes, by either taking out the raisins and only adding it to one of the cakes when I pour it into a tin, or by adding other ingredients like candied orange slices, or nuts chopped roughly, which is a good alternative for when you want to serve up different cakes for a party, for example. I'll comeback to a variation on this cake soon here on the blog, as we used the same basis to make this one and a couple more treats. Stay tuned!