Every year in August Ruth Pretty’s commercial kitchen gets into the mid-winter Christmas spirit. It’s the start of a festive ritual which ends with more than 4000 Christmas cakes despatched for celebrations far and wide by the special December day. The never-published Christmas cake recipe arrived hand-written after Ruth asked her staff for contributions for end of year client gifts. Thirty five other recipes were tried but fell short of the magical combination.
Long-time Ruth Pretty staff member, Carla Carkeek bakes 74 cakes a day several days a week from August until December. One year 17,000 Christmas cakes were made as staff gifts when two banks merged (Carla had extra help for this one). The cake won top prize in Christchurch’s 2007 Royal A&P Show commercial bakery section and at least one cake a day heads offshore, delivered mainly to expats in Asia and as far as soldiers in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
The fruit is first soaked in sherry and after the cakes are cooked they get doused in brandy, ensuring a long life.
One cake in 36 is cut and tested, with the slices then devoured by visitors to Ruth’s shop. Made by Carla’s steady hands, the testing seldom finds errors. Although one year the team did pick up a change in the potency of Hansell’s essences after the company changed hands.
Watching her handle 23 different ingredients to make 74 cakes and prepare mis-en-plas for the next day’s 74, it’s easy to see why Carla is referred to as the Christmas Cake Queen.