Let there be cake

Karo Christine Kumar | Updated on December 30, 2019 Published on December 20, 2019

When families in Kolkata want to eat or gift a Christmas cake, many head to the oven at a local bakery

"How many pounds of cake do we bake this year?” Every December, the answer to this question defines the effort put into the merry process of baking Christmas cakes. A Saturday is kept free for a trip to Kolkata’s iconic New Market. Large bags are filled with flour, but- ter, sugar, semolina, dry fruits such as raisins and cashew nuts, dried orange rind and ginger, murabba, cherries, essences and what not. The eggs are ordered separately the next day. A 6am slot is booked at the local bakery, a scrubby little hole at 11 Beckbagan Row, a stone’s throw away from Park Circus market. “Memsaab, late nahin aaney ka (don’t be late),” warns Khurshid, the man in charge there.

The idea is to reach the bakery while the coal-fired ovens are still hot after the morning bread is done. Opening up the ovens to Christian families is a seasonal business for such bakeries in Kolkata, which otherwise sell bread.

Around eight families were there when we went this time, to bake in an oven which can hold up to 500 pounds. The batter is prepared, cake tins are filled, and  into the oven they go. Four hours later they come out looking a delicious brown in those tins lined with butter paper, butter dripping down the edges. The bakery is filled with the aroma of freshly baked Christmas cakes and there is camaraderie in the air. Soon, everyone’s in a hurry to go home. But not before slicing up a cake and passing it around. After all, Christmas is about sharing! We say our goodbyes to Mrs Gomes and Mr D’Gama, and other familiar faces we invariably end up meeting every year. Then the Christmas cakes are carried home and cooled under ceiling fans turned on full power on a winter afternoon.

Around evening, the kettle whistles and thick slices of cake are served with tea to members of the family. Then begins the bake banter. “Did you know that Mrs Anthony always adds cinnamon to the batter?” or “In 2015, we made the best batch of cakes.” I wouldn’t know about the best, but I do know it never really feels like Christ- mas until that first bite.

Karo Christine Kumar is an independent writer based in Kolkata. Find her work @poptate on Instagram

Published on December 20, 2019