Besides from the presents and the feeling of togetherness at Christmas, like all other festivals and holidays, it’s the food we remember most. While the list of goodies is endless, for me there are two things that signify Christmas. Christmas cake and mulled wine.
Both these items are hard to get in Nepal. Yes, there are Christmas cakes on sale at some of the larger hotels and even some homemade ones at the Christmas markets. And yes, at the same Christmas markets you will find mulled wine, or Gluhwien to give it its Germany name. But these are not quite the same as in other countries that have a longer tradition of Christmas.
While I am not going to attempt to teach you to make a Christmas cake, I can pass on my recipe for mulled wine. And I wanted to share something about the Christmas cake mixing gatherings that happen here. Something I had never heard about until I came to Kathmandu!
• Dry red wine (no need to go for the most expensive).
• Two to three glasses of orange juice per bottle of wine (depending on how potent you want it to be).
• Khukri Rum. Again it depends how potent you want it. As rule of thumb, half a quarter bottle per bottle of wine.
• Honey. How much honey depends on your taste. Maybe around 2-3 tablespoons per bottle of wine.
• Spices: cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, black pepper corns, star anise (added as you like).
• Cubes of real fruit; apples
Christmas cake mixing ceremony
Christmas is not Christmas without that alcohol fueled cake. The earlier you (or preferably mother or grandmother) make this the better it is as the alcohol then has a chance to flavor all of the dried fruit which make up a Christmas cake. This tradition of early preparation has been taken up by the larger hotels in Kathmandu. Yet it seems it’s something which doesn’t happen anywhere other than Nepal and India. This required further investigation.
It would appear the Christmas cake mixing ceremony originally started in India. Most of the online posts claim the mixing tradition started in ‘Christian households’ way back in 17th-century Europe when dried fruits and nuts were harvested to be made into a traditional plum cake. Other stories have it that the cake mixing ceremony was born in mid-19th century. But whatever its origins, it seems to have really caught on in India where it is seen as the bringer of the Christmas season. This tradition crept into Nepal, no doubt along with the star hotels.
But what exactly is this cake mixing ceremony? Like all good Christmas cakes, a lot of preparation goes into its making before it’s finally put into the oven. In fact this prep starts weeks in advance. Dried fruits and nuts including dates, raisins, red cherries, cashew nuts, cloves, cardamom, ginger peel, lemon peel, orange peel, dry figs, walnuts, apricots, prunes, pistachios, almonds, pepper and spices are laid out by the kilo. Most likely these days in the shape of the hotel’s logo. In goes bottles of liquor and wine. This intoxicating mix is then stirred up by hand and put into an airtight container to ferment and grow more delicious over the next few weeks before being finally turned into a cake with the addition of flour etc.
Today VIP guests are invited to do the mixing; kited out with kitchen gear and gloves. It’s a fun event that also helps to draw the media attention to the hotel. I recently attended one of these cake mixing ceremonies and was reliably told that this year the Aloft Hotel Thamel will be producing cakes with that heady mix that I helped with. These cakes can be pre-ordered from the hotel.
Mulled wine is a spiced and heated red wine, perfect for a cold winters evening and smelling every so much like Christmas! I am often asked by friends for the recipe for mulled wine so here it is, tried and tested!
Pour your wine into a big pot. Add the orange juice and rum (or brandy if you prefer). Start to heat SLOWLY. When warm add the spices, honey and fruit. Keep warming it. Do not boil it—why burn off that lovely alcohol? Serve in tall heat-proof glasses. You can also prepare in advance and bottle it. Re-heat before serving. Do remember this goes down smoothly so don’t have too many glasses!
For non-drinkers and children, replace the wine (and rum) with cranberry juice and reduce the quantity of honey.