'Each family brings with them their ingredients -- flour, sugar, crates of eggs, cut dry fruits, essence and their very own secret ingredients.'
'The extent they go to to keep these ingredients a secret is amusing.'
Abhijit Masih on the tradition behind Christmas cakes.
My family has been getting Christmas cakes baked at an old Patna bakery for years.
This year I went along and spent a fascinating afternoon looking at the giant earthen oven the size of a UFO-like room and men beating flour, eggs and dry fruits like a magical symphony.
"This is the biggest festival of yours, the maha festival. The only time I do an all nighter in the entire year is during Christmas. So don't bargain for the baking charges," 'Mamu,' the grand old owner of the Jugnu bakery, wryly tells a bargaining customer.
The bakery with no name or signage is located at the end of a narrow lane near Bans Ghat in Patna. It is popular for biscuits all year round, but come mid December, all other baking is halted and the massive wood and coal oven is only used for baking Christmas cakes.
Mamu jaan is most popular amongst the workers in the bakery. He is in charge of the all important ingredient -- the baking soda. The portions of baking soda going into each and every cake batter is measured and added by him and him alone.
He is also the guardian of the extra ingredients required by customers -- if they have forgotten to bring along any of the cake ingredients with them.
So the extra eggs or the burnt sugar syrup used for the colour is also Mamu jaan's responsibility.
People start queuing up at the bakery from around the 20th of December.
Each family brings with them their ingredients -- flour, sugar, crates of eggs, cut dry fruits, essence and their very own secret ingredients. The extent they go to to keep these ingredients a secret is amusing.
It is a Christmas tradition which adorably is very dear to many Christians.
To spend days preparing the ingredients, chopping and cutting the fruits, dry fruits themselves, and then hovering over the poor fellow mixing the batter at the bakery, adding each ingredient themselves and at timed intervals, surreptitiously putting their magic potions, attaching impressively creative labels to the baking mould and endlessly waiting for the oven to produce their works of magic.
The big talking point between Mamu jaan and the customers this year is the lack of rum soaked fruits due to the alcohol ban in Bihar.
That notwithstanding, the oven at the bakery and the soda man will continue doing all nighters as long as this tradition of baking Christmas cakes is kept alive by the secret recipe holders.
It is a Christmas tradition that remains central to the festivities and is charming as ever.
IMAGES: Top: Christmas cakes set to be baked at Patna's Jugnu bakery.
Bottom: Christmas cakes all set to be devoured! Photographs: Abhijit Masih