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Rum. Raisins. Candied fruit. All soaked together for six months and baked a month or two before Christmas equals Kerala’s famous fruit cake. During the Christmas season, visitors to Christian homes in the state are welcomed with slices of dark, delicious, fruit cake served with home-made wine in tiny thumb-sized glasses. If the season is Christmas, the cakes are an occasion in themselves. The preparation begins well before there’s any nip in the air, but the smell of rum and raisins, nutmeg and spices are enough of a reminder that the best season is just around the corner.
In the case of sixty-six-year-old Sheela Tomy Kallivayalil of Kallivayalil Bakes, we’re talking about possibly the very best Christmas cake. She is one of Kerala’s best known home bakers, and she’s got one specialty: Christmas-season fruit cakes. Sheela lives in a village near Pala, a quaint little town in the central district of Kottayam, and from here she dispatches her annual batch of cakes all over the country.
Rum. Raisins. Candied fruit. All soaked together for six months and baked a month or two before Christmas equals Kerala’s famous fruit cake. The preparation begins well before there’s any nip in the air, but the smell of rum and raisins, nutmeg and spices are enough of a reminder that the best season is just around the corner. In the case of sixty-six-year-old Sheela Tomy Kallivayalil of Kallivayalil Bakes, we’re talking about possibly the very best Christmas cake. If you aren't a fan of the famous fruit cake then yes, Sheela’s could be the one that changes minds and palates for you. With the festive season almost here, Beautiful Homes caught up with Sheela, just as she’d dispatched the first of her 2021 batch of cakes.
The magic of her cake, created as per an old family recipe that’s never been changed, lies in its softness, so soft that you’d think it had been steamed, but in fact she bakes the cakes in large batches in an old-style brick-lay oven flamed by coconut husks. With this soft secondary heat, the cake cooks gently, never drying out. The quality of ingredients and the balance of spice and fruit, marinating together for such a long period of time, creates the perfect chemistry of flavours. Not everyone loves fruit cakes, but Sheela’s could be the one that changes minds and palates. Beautiful Homes caught up with Sheela, just as she’d dispatched the first of her 2021 batch of cakes:
Beautiful Homes: What makes your cakes different? Is there a secret ingredient?
Sheela Tomy Kallivayalil: I put my heart and soul into making the cakes. Every cake is home-made. I guess that’s why they’re so popular. I start by cutting and chopping candied fruit in March, soaking these with raisins and rum or wine for six months until November when the cakes are baked. By the first week of December, they’re packed and sent off for delivery not just in Kerala but also Delhi, Mumbai, Gujarat and all over India.
BH: When did you start baking?
STK: I was 20 years old when I got married and came to live in Poovarani, a village in Pala in Kottayam district. There was an old-age-home nearby. My father-in-law wanted us to send cakes there for Christmas. That was the first time I baked 30 cakes and sent them off. Slowly that number went up to a hundred cakes for friends and family. Then it became more popular through word-of-mouth. People liked my cakes and the orders increased. I’ve never advertised the cakes.
BH: How many cakes do you bake every year?
STK: I have three kinds of fruit cakes—premium, rum and wine. The premium ones are a kilo each; the others are available in half-kilo and one-kilo versions. I bake 1,000 one-kg cakes and 2,000
Other than rum, raisins and candied fruit, Sheela Tomy Kallivayalil puts her heart and soul into making the delicious cakes.
half kg cakes. From start to finish, it really takes a year. Baking is such a precise process, and you can’t afford to go wrong with measurements and proportion of ingredients, especially when you’re making cakes in large quantities.
BH: Does your family get involved with baking too?
STK: When I first started with fruit cakes, I used to go to Kanjirapally, the town where I’m from. I used to use the facilities of a local bakery there, called Kottaram. Over time, my husband Tomy and I decided we needed our own set up at home. So, he has always been involved and supportive of this venture. I also have five children. When they were young, all of them helped out with the baking and packing. Three of them are now abroad. But the ones here help with taking orders, packing and making sure the cakes are delivered on time.
BH: What are you most looking forward to this Christmas?
STK: I’m looking forward to my family getting together. It’s been a difficult two years because of Covid. But this year, we will all be here at our family home. Pre-Covid, I used to deliver the cakes personally to every single home, and I made a lot of friends. I always bless every cake that goes through my hands. I pray that the home the cake is going to is happy and blessed.
To place an order or make enquiries, visit the Kallivayalil Bakes page on Facebook, or get in touch with Sheela Tomy Kallivayalil on 9497494624. She may have some cakes left from the 2021 batch, or just wait to make an order for the 2022 batch.
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