Besides helming Human Resource at PSA International, one of the world’s leading port groups, Caroline Lim is also an illustrator and author of a diverse range of publications.
From colouring books for mental wellness and children’s literature to human resource management and organisational culture change, her works are more than an indulgence for her love of art and the written word; proceeds from the sale of her creative work to friends and colleagues goes to help the underprivileged and the disadvantaged.
While she professes that her creativity doesn’t extend to the kitchen, Caroline’s signature Christmas fruit cake has received praise for its “dense and complex flavours that only get better with age.” “Many people have asked for the recipe, and I’ve only shared it with a few very close friends before this article,” says Caroline. “It is — or I should now say, was — a closely-guarded family recipe. You can chill this fruit cake for months and still get a taste of Christmas whenever you want. And it’s the only thing I know how to make!” She shares more on the traditional festive treat below.
How did you get the recipe?
It was passed down for generations from my husband’s family. My late mother-in-law shared it with me and insists that I learn how to make it.
Why were you inspired to re-create it?
Strong flavours appeal to me. It is the same in my taste of interiors and fashion. The distinctiveness of this fruitcake make it quite unforgettable but, for some, it can be an acquired taste because it uses treacle (Lyle’s is best), which imparts this deep, burnt caramel-like flavour that gets better with time. One little trick is to pat it down with some brandy every few weeks. My late mother-in-law always baked her Christmas fruit cakes in September and let them sit in her larder for three months wrapped, while lavishing it with dabs of brandy every two weeks. The cakes are gifted to close family members wrapped in a beautiful tea towel in early December. Most will eat it slowly for the whole year, and it lasts if you keep putting a little brandy on it, but in Singapore’s climate, refrigeration is best. That may be why it gets better with time, the flavours or the cake and brandy concentrate and you get this luxurious dessert that gets boozier each time you eat it.
How long does this take to make?
After soaking the fruits with brandy, it takes more than an hour or so to complete before going into the oven.
What is it best eaten with?
Enjoy it with a slice of sharp English cheddar. After cutting out a slice of cake, let it warm up naturally for about 20 minutes if it’s taken cold from the fridge. A quick zap in the microwave will do, too. I like to lay a slice of cheddar on top after warming it in the microwave. I let the cheese melt a bit, and pair it with a strong cup of English Breakfast tea.
Are you a good cook, generally speaking?
I hardly ever cook, but I am told my generosity with brandy when patting down this fruitcake is quite unparalleled…
Any favourite recipes, chefs or cooking shows you can recommend and why?
I love all cuisine and the recipes I use usually come from dear friends or family. My favourites are a delicious Sri Lankan curry crab recipe from the mother of a close friend and Teochew pomfret porridge that my housekeeper makes very well. For me, food is about comfort and sharing with friends and family. I have been fortunate enough to have a close group of foodie friends who make it a point to hunt down new venues and even travelling overseas for food junkets. They have added such colour to my palate and life, for which I will always be grateful.
Ingredients (two medium size cakes; serves 15)
1 kg mixed dried fruits
2 cups sultanas
¾ cups unsalted butter (chopped)
8 tablespoons black treacle (Lyle’s)
1 cup caster sugar
1 cup chopped almonds
1 cup chopped walnuts
2 cups self raising flour
1 teaspoon mixed spices
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
Peeled and unpeeled almonds for topping
Red and green glazed cherries
- Soaked dried fruits in brandy for two days
- Preheat oven to 300 oF
- Spray or slather the baking pan with butter
- In a bowl, mix together sugar, butter, eggs and flour
- In another bowl, mix the rest of the ingredients – mixed fruits, sultanas, black treacle, almonds, walnuts, mix spice, cinnamon and nutmeg
- Combine the flour mixture and fruit mixture
- Bake for 45 minutes, cool down on a cooling rack then remove the cake from the baking dish
- Decorate and serve
(All images: Caroline Lim)