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harmac’s Recipes

Quote harmac Replybullet Topic: Cayman Baking by friends of mine
    Posted: 17 Dec 2006 at 7:36am
This article appeared about 2 families  who are great friends of mine.

Excerpt from Christmas Joy: Mrs. Linda Ebanks’ Old Time Cayman Bakery

By Barbara Dailey, Cayman Net News

For years, I’d looked for real homemade Cayman coconut bread, when serendipity intervened. I was entering a George Town shop right behind a young lady delivering three huge loaves of bread so fresh and fragrant it took my breath away. There was no mistake what it was: coconut bread, the real yeast kind. It made me giddy and rude: I tried to buy a loaf right out from under her customer, and then practically begged the woman for her phone number. I had been looking too long to let this information get away.

That young lady was Christine Ebanks, and she said her mother, Mrs. Linda Ebanks, baked the bread and offered her number. When I called, babbling with excitement over the discovery of that lost recipe, Miss Linda laughed. She said she was “busy busy” finishing up an order of 200 wheat dinner rolls for a church group who wanted them that evening, and she and her husband Astor were getting ready to bake the first batch of Christmas fruitcakes the following morning.  The coconut bread was finished, she apologized, but I was welcome to place an order –or come visit while she worked. And so I did.

The Ebanks’ family home at 531 Linda’s Road in George Town is just off Crewe Road at the end of a quiet cul de sac. Their kitchen is the nearest thing to an old time neighborhood bake shop, where traditional recipes are made to order—and literally, made by hand. In today’s age of gadgets and instant everything, what Astor and Miss Linda create there isn’t just impressive—it’s remarkable.

Last Saturday was a typical December afternoon for the couple, who have been married 53 years and been baking together for many of those. Astor was checking a 15 gallon bucket of chopped fruits soaking in cake wine, ready for the next batch of fruitcakes. “That’s my job. I make up 30 pounds at a time—5 pounds each of cherries, prunes, dates, raisins, mixed peel and mincemeat, soaked in three and half bottles of J. Wray & Nephew Cake Wine. We use only Robertson’s mincemeat, the best, which I have to special order from England by early summer,” he said. Even though Astor works weekdays assisting daughter Seneca in her messenger and delivery service, he helps Miss Linda with the baking after work and on weekends.

On racks nearby, a dozen foil-wrapped 5 pound fruitcakes and an order of 108 warm white dinner rolls were waiting for customers to pick up.  A large cream of wheat heavy cake and two 12 x 17 inch pans of rich, cake-like macaroni and cheese-oozing cheese were ready for a wedding reception that evening—the towering, three-tiered Caymanian wedding cake left that morning, to be iced and decorated by a friend of the bride.

The delicious aroma of a pineapple upside down cake baking filled the air. Miss Linda sat at her kitchen table stirring a big bowl of batter for Custard Top Cornbread, an order for her sister in West Bay, to pick up later that evening.

“I don’t use canned coconut milk. My recipes just don’t come out right. We still make our own coconut milk but since Ivan, we can’t always get coconuts though, but we have friends in Cayman Brac with some good coconuts. We’ve brought the meat back and froze what we didn’t use right away. Astor makes up the milk in a blender as we need it,” Miss Linda explained.

Her cordless phone doesn’t stop ringing with new orders as she stirs. “I do wheat bread and rolls every Friday,” she tells a caller, then takes an order for 10 dozen rolls. “I only bake coconut bread when a customer orders it.”  A few minutes later, another fruitcake order comes in—this time for 8 five pound cakes a customer wants to take overseas the following week.

“Well at least we had a few days notice on that one!” she laughs.

And they take all this in stride. Not even several serious surgeries and painful arthritis stopped Miss Linda, who turned 76 this year (Astor is 77), for long.  Last Christmas season they baked 216 rich dark hand made Cayman fruitcakes (which come in 3, 4 or 5 pound sizes) with the last cakes picked up late on Christmas Eve. In between, they filled orders for heavy cakes, old fashioned Duff, Custard Top Cornbread, pumpkin cake and other Caymanian favorites. That was along with regular weekly orders for white and whole wheat breads. Last Christmas Eve, the final customer arrived at 11:30 p.m. to pick up 600 rolls for a holiday party.

What is even more remarkable than the quantity of delicious baked goods and traditional dishes they turn out is they do everything by hand.  There are no state of the art commercial ovens or standing mixers with dough hooks; industrial dishwashers or other conveniences and gadgets you would expect, considering how much baking goes on here. Other than a blender for making coconut milk, the Ebanks’ kitchen is low tech: an old fashioned Caymanian bake shop run on love and elbow grease—and a real Joy of Cooking.

From mixing heavy yeast bread dough to creaming the butter and sugar and stirring the thick batter for dozens of  fruitcakes,  Miss Linda beats and stirs her recipes with a large spoon or spatula with Astor’s help, especially in preparing and organizing ingredients —and clean-up, often a sometimes dawn to dusk baking marathon.

Christmas time is “busy, busy!” with orders for fruitcakes and catering for parties, but Miss Linda is busy year- round baking fresh breads and rolls every week, and other goods to order. Friday is the day for her popular wheat bread, which draws regular customers from as far away as East End. She is one of few Caymanians still baking real coconut yeast bread made with homemade coconut milk; Duff, an old fashioned steamed pudding-like dessert with a rich sauce, and “every kind of heavy cake you can think of, including cream of white and cornstarch.”

Miss Linda’s fruitcake is not just a Christmas season treat: people call her year round with orders, especially for weddings and parties when only traditional dark Caymanian fruitcake will do. So a supply of fruit is always made up, marinating and aging in a 15 gallon “plastic covered bucket in the cool part of the pantry. This is Astor’s specialty. His special mix includes six kinds of fruit and lots of Wray & Nephew Cake Wine—not rum, brandy, sherry or anything else. Most of the time, the cakes are for special occasions like weddings and anniversaries. But, other times, she suspects, people just long for this rich, comforting old time sweet and the memories it brings.

Sunday morning is reserved for services at the Church of God Full Gospel Hall in George Town and family time after. Most of the time. “Can you imagine that last Sunday morning before Church, a woman called and wanted us to cater her dinner for that night? Well, I admit we did it for her…then we drove to Miss Vivine’s Kitchen East End late for our own Sunday dinner!” Miss Linda said.

Miss Linda “keeps thinking she will retire from all this baking,” since she suffers from diabetes and has undergone several surgeries. Painful arthritis has also slowed her down. With a characteristic cheerful smile, she says “But people just won’t let me. And  I couldn’t just sit here all day long with my hands folded. I like to be busy. We had to stop catering complete dinners, which I used to do, but I’m not ready to give up my baking.”

There’s another reason for that. To Miss Linda, baking is a gift she inherited from her beloved mother, Daisy Jackson of East End. “No one else in the family took after my mother that way. Because of that, working in my kitchen brings special joy to me.”

Mrs. Linda Ebanks’ Old Time Caymanian Fruitcake

“We don’t grind our fruits—our customers don’t like their fruitcake that way. And we use only 15.5% J. Wray & Nephew Cake Wine—no rum or brandy, no browning, and no nuts. I make every cake by hand. We use a very large bowl for this recipe, but you can cut it down for a smaller batch if you want. This recipe will make about 20 cakes, in 8-inch round pans. You do not need to refrigerate the cakes— but you must use butter, not margarine, or they will spoil.”

The soaked fruits, to be made up ahead of time:
5 pounds cherries  5 pounds prunes
5 pounds dates  5 pounds raisins
5 pounds mixed peel  5 pounds Robertson’s English mincemeat
3-1/2 bottles J. Wray & Nephew Cake Mix wine

The cake:
5 pounds flour
10 teaspoons baking powder
3 teaspoons baking soda
3 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons allspice
4 whole nutmegs, freshly grated
1 teaspoon ground cloves
5 pounds Anchor butter
6 cups white sugar
5 dozen eggs
1 - 12 ounce can cream (evaporated milk)
1/2 cup vanilla flavoring
1/2 bottle Cake wine for basting top

Cream together butter and sugar until smooth and well blended. Add the eggs gradually, mixing well after each addition, then stir in the eggs, one at a time, blending after each, and then stir in the cream and mix well. Slowly stir in the soaked fruits. Now stir in the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices and mix until all ingredients are blended well. Stir in the vanilla.

Heat oven to 300 F. Line 8 inch round pans, or whatever size you are using, with aluminum foil.  Spoon batter halfway up pan sides and arrange on top and bottom racks of oven. You will have to bake the cakes in batches with this recipe. Bake for one hour, then rotate cakes from top to bottom racks and vice versa, and bake another hour, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  As you remove cakes from oven, pour a little of the remaining cake wine over the top of each cake while hot.

Let cool 10 minutes in pans, then remove and let cool another hour. Wrap tightly in foil and store (the longer the stronger) until ready to eat. These cakes will keep a long time and do not need to be refrigerated.


Freda Mitchell’s Fruit Cake( also great friend of mine)

Mrs. Freda Mitchell of George Town wrote and shared her original fruitcake recipe, one she has been making for “many, many years.” Mrs. Mitchell, originally from East End, is 75. She bakes about 14 of these delicious rich cakes every year as gifts for her family and friends and has never sold her cakes.

She likes to have them done by November, to allow enough time for them to soak in brandy or wine-soaked cloth before presenting them.  Although Mrs. Mitchell likes to let her cakes age longer, she says that two weeks will do if you are running late with your Christmas baking. She doesn’t ice her cakes:

“Too much sugar! I let my people decide if they want icing.”

1 pound almonds, chopped
3 pounds seedless raisins
2 pounds currants
2 pounds pecans, chopped
2 pounds mincemeat
2 pounds glace cherries
1 pound diced citron
? pound candied lemon peel
? pound candied orange peel
2 – 8 ounce cans crushed pineapple
6 cups sifted (all-purpose) flour
1 pound butter
3 cups brown sugar, packed firm
13 eggs (separated)
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons mace
2 teaspoons ground cloves
2 teaspoons ground allspice
2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
3 teaspoons baking soda
1 cup brandy or Cake Wine

Additional brandy or Cake Wine for soaking

In a container or bowl large enough, combine nuts and fruits and stir well, then sprinkle with 1 cup of flour and mix well.  In a large mixing bowl, cream butter until light, then add sugar and beat until creamy. Gradually add the egg yolks and beat until well blended. In separate bowl, combine remaining flour with spices and baking soda and stir with a fork or whisk to blend.  Gradually add floured mixture to creamed mixture, alternating additions with the brandy or wine, until mixed. Stir in the fruit and nut mixture until evenly mixed. Beat egg whites until stiff and gently fold into batter. Line desired size pans (8 inch cake pans with 2 inch high sides work nicely) with waxed paper and fill half full.

Preheat oven at 275F. Place cakes in oven and bake for two hours, baking in batches if necessary, depending on your oven size. Remove pans from oven and let cool on racks for 10 minutes, then remove cakes from pans and remove the wax. When cakes are cool,, wrap individually in cheesecloth soaked in brandy or cake wine, then wrap tightly in foil and let stand at room  temperature for at least two weeks—better if you let them age longer. If the cakes dry out, open and saturate with more brandy or wine, then re-wrap tightly.

Edited by Scott - 05 Feb 2007 at 2:36pm
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