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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - How to make a Christmas cake: Khmer style

How to make a Christmas cake: Khmer style

I can forego most of the Christmas staples except one: cake. I really, really enjoy a slice of Christmas cake about two to three times a day leading up to and beyond Christmas Day. The cake I like best is not the traditional sickly kind but a boiled fruit cake, un-iced; not too sweet and not completely packed with fruit, but dark and caramel-y with a malty aftertaste of Christmas liquor.

My cake of choice is my mum’s: a recipe she adapted from a book. I usually make one of these every year and this year was to be no different – if I could find the ingredients. My mum’s recipe goes something like this: a kilo of mixed dried fruit including currents, raisins and sultanas; mixed peel and glace apricots. In true Australian style, she adds a tin of chopped pineapple and the juice, which gives it a good flavour along with brown sugar and treacle. Grated orange and lemon rind add a spiced citrus note and rum – or whisky, as mum uses- gives it that alcoholic depth.

This cake needs five eggs, so I began my cake shopping an egg-stall at Psar Boeng Keung Kong, stocked with good golden-yolked eggs.

With no lemons in sight, I decided lime and green-skinned oranges will have to suffice for the citrus rind. Green-skinned are not as sweet as navel oranges, but I hope the flavour will still be suitably bitter-sweet.

Rather than tinned, I bought a fresh pineapple and try to preserve the juice, which leaked into my plastic shopping bag.

My search stopped dead when it comes to the glace fruit and brown sugar, so I headed to the cavernous wonderland of Orussey market, which I figured would have a whole floor dedicated to dried fruit.

Orussey does have a ground floor selling desiccated items, but fruit isn’t one. Squid, chilli, shrimp and beef abound in the aisles of dry goods stalls, but a current couldn’t be found. Realising I would have to modify, I decided to forego the sultanas and currents and just use raisins.

The biscuit and sweets shops at Orussey sell 312 gram boxes of imported California raisins – a 500 gram tub costs $5. I bought two boxes and some fresh coconut to add. The search for brown sugar took me to Central market, where I decided on using local palm sugar, sold wrapped in bamboo.

Up until that point I had resisted Lucky supermarket but I gave in and headed there for butter, whisky and treacle and also found some Cambodian glace papaya (instead of the apricot) and a jar of Chinese glace cumquats.

The recipe requires boiling all the fruits, butter, sugar and juice to a dark glossy mass before stirring in the flour, rinds and egg. The mixture smelled a little more tart than usual, and the palm sugar has turned an interesting reddish colour. I dipped a finger in to taste – and the flavour was good: caramely and strong, but with a Cambodian tropical fruitiness. Oven for its three hour bake and waited for it to live up to the demands of tradition. It did.

To contact the reporter on this story: Rosa Ellen at

Follow Rosa on twitter at: @rosaellen
Reviews by: Rosa Ellen, Soo Jin Kim, Stephanie Ip, Poppy McPherson



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