Holiday fever: Hotels start ageing Christmas cakes ahead of festive season


Guests and staff at Radisson Blu Arboretum, Nairobi take part in the Christmas Cake Mixing Exercise on October 19, 2023. PHOTO | LUCY WANJIRU | NMG

Hotels have started ageing Christmas cakes, which takes about 30 days ahead of the festivities.

The Tamarind Hotel and Radisson Blu Arboretum are some of the hotels that recently treated guests to the joyous cake-mixing ceremony.

Generous amounts of alcohol, wine, and honey are drizzled over a medley of dried fruits, nuts, ground grains, fresh fruits, and spices, and they are skillfully blended by hand. This practice has its roots in a tradition that dates as far back as the 17th Century.

The fruits are meticulously arranged, and a range of spices, including cinnamon and nutmeg, is delicately sprinkled over the mixture. Alcohol is then poured onto the blending surface. It is carefully mixed into the ingredients, resulting in a transformation of the dough's colour.

The mixture is placed into jars, where it is left to rest for a few weeks. During this period, the luscious fruits soak up the aromatic alcohol, creating a cake that is not only incredibly moist and juicy but also irresistibly flavourful. This patient waiting process allows the ingredients to meld and meld, infusing the cake with a sumptuous, mouthwatering taste that is simply delectable.

Radisson Blu Arboretum executive chef Martin Gituma, who led a team preparing a rich plum cake, said the cake-mixing ceremony is not just about preparing a dessert; it's a symbol of unity and the beginning of the holiday season. It's a time for staff and guests to come together and share a moment that transcends cultural boundaries.

Chef Gituma says the ceremony marks the official commencement of the holiday season. This cherished tradition, often held in late October or early November, is a festive gathering where a medley of ingredients, from raisins to candied peel and spices, are combined with liberal doses of rum, brandy, or other spirits.

It's a lively affair, with guests, staff, and even the occasional celebrity participating in the act of mixing and blending.


A set of fruit nuts at Radisson Blu Arboretum in Nairobi during a cake mixing Exercise on October 19, 2023, dry fruits are mixed in wine, brandy or rum in the preparations of the Christmas cake. PHOTO | LUCY WANJIRU | NMG

The result is a giant pot of goodness that is set aside to mature until it's baked into a rich, decadent Christmas cake.

"Our focus lies on creating a rich, plum cake, and we achieve this by generously infusing it with the warm flavours of whisky and rum. To attain the perfect blend of taste and texture, we diligently age the cake for a full 30 days. This meticulous process is essential, especially when dealing with a substantial 35-kg cake.

"The secret to our cake's unique character, a delightful hint of bitterness, lies in our practice of soaking the dry fruits in alcohol for several months, only opening them up closer to the time for baking. This allows the flavours to intermingle and reach a harmonious crescendo, resulting in a cake that's truly exceptional," said Chef Gituma.

Shivram Gangadharan, general manager, said cake mixing builds excitement and anticipation as the ingredients infuse with spirits, waiting to be transformed into a delicious Christmas cake.

"The cake-mixing ceremony is more than just a tradition for the hotel. It's a celebration of community, of the year gone by, and the festive season ahead. We're thrilled that you took time to be part of this delightful occasion filled with festivity, tradition, chefs delight and ensuring the festive season begins on a high note," he said.

The cake-mixing ceremony at Tamarind Hotel was nothing short of a spectacle. As guests and staff gathered, the ingredients were artistically laid out on four distinct tables, each bearing unique names — Chui' (Leopard), Mufasa', Cobra Squad', and Tortoise'.


Guests and staff at Radisson Blu Arboretum, Nairobi take part in the Christmas Cake Mixing Exercise on October 19, 2023. Dry fruits are mixed in wine, brandy or rum in the preparations of the Christmas cake. PHOTO | LUCY WANJIRU | NMG

These names added an element of excitement and intrigue to the event, and guests eagerly participated in the mixing process, not only blending the ingredients but also learning about the significance of each component.

At just past 4pm, the grand ceremony of blending the 200-kilogramme fruitcake commenced. John Musau, general manager at Tamarind Tree in Nairobi, made the official proclamation of the holiday season.

A meticulously assembled selection of 90 kilos of various fruit nuts was elaborately mixed. These luscious ingredients were then transferred to two massive containers for the fermentation process.

The display was a feast for the eyes, showcasing an array of 11 fruit nuts including cashew nuts, macadamia, almonds, glazed cherries in both vibrant green and ruby red, mixed peels, raisins (dried grapes), sultanas (a variety of dried grapes), and walnuts, each with precise measurements.

Adding depth to the mixture were sesame, pumpkin, and sunflower seeds, artfully combined with spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg, infusing the cake with flavour. A generous dollop of honey was introduced to act as a sweetener.

"We want our customers to have fun and enjoy themselves with the carefully prepared rich fruit cake. On December 10, we will share the cake with the less privileged," he says.

Robai Wamoto, executive chef at Tamarind Tree Hotel, disclosed that 60 litres of alcohol were introduced into the mix, paving the way for a 40-day fermentation period.

This alcohol assortment included beers, spirits, brandy, wine, whisky, and rum, imparting various flavours to the cake and serving as a preservative.

"We have used 60 litres of alcohol, while the mixture of the nuts and seeds totalled 90 kilos," said Chef Wamoto.

The fermented mixture was then harmoniously blended with unsalted butter, eggs, flour, baking powder, and margarine, culminating in the creation of the cake. The 40-day fermentation period allows the fruit nuts and seeds to meld, infusing the cake with a delightful, fruity flavour.

"If the mixture is not fermented for 40 days, it will not have the same flavour. This one has that nice, fruity flavour. If you also don't put enough fruits, then the taste will not be the same,” She said.


Radisson Blu Arboretum Executive Chef Martin Gituma during the interview on October 19, 2023. PHOTO | LUCY WANJIRU | NMG

Following fermentation, Chef Wamoto reassured that the potency of the alcohol would have significantly reduced, and further evaporation would occur during baking, making the cake safe for children and those who cannot tolerate alcohol.

The cake mixture would then be divided into portions, based on specific orders. Each portion would be baked at approximately 160 degrees Celsius for about 45 minutes. Once cooled, it was left to the discretion of individuals whether to ice it or savour it as is.

"The cake is a traditional fruit cake composed of 70 percent fruits. The baked cake will be shared with our guests, children's homes, suppliers, and our staff." Mr Musau shared that preparing this colossal cake had become a beloved tradition to usher in the festive season, and it's an endeavour they cherish.

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