The tale of India’s first Christmas cake begins 1880 in the coastal town of Thalassery in Kerala.

Mambally Bapu, a businessman who learnt the art of biscuit making in Burma, decided to set up a little borma (bakery). Image: mamballys.com

He wanted Malayalis to enjoy baked goods and started baking 40 varieties of biscuits, rusks, breads and buns, naming his bakery the Royal Biscuit Factory.

Since yeast was not being imported then, he made the bread dough using local toddy for fermentation.

In 1883, Murdoch Brown, a Britisher, brought a rich plum cake from England and asked Bapu if he could bake one like that for Christmas.

Bapu took up the challenge and Brown gave him some ingredients like cocoa, dates, raisins and other dry fruits to bake the cake.

He suggested French brandy to soak the dry fruits, but Bapu wanted to add a desi flavour to the cake.

He sourced spices from farms and used a local brew made with cashew apple and kadalipazham, a variety of banana. Image: mamballys.com

On December 20, 1884, Bapu presented his creation to Brown, and created culinary history!

The Britisher loved it and called it ‘one of the best cakes he had ever had’ and placed an order for a dozen more.

Soon, it became a favourite with locals and also set the trend for bakeries in the state. Today, one can find 25-40 bakeries in every panchayat in Kerala.

KR Bakes in Ernakulam, Cochin Bakery in Kochi, Shantha Bakery in Thiruvananthapuram, Modern Bakery in Kozhikode and Best Bakery in Kottayam are some of the bakeries that Bapu’s family eventually set up in Kerala.

Thalassery remains the Mecca for cakes in the country, with huge orders for Christmas cakes coming from the USA & UAE.