More than two months of love and attention – and an unexpected ingredient – goes into making a special cake that’s changing the lives of young people across Australia.
A great-grandmother’s recipe, used by four generations of a Queensland family, is behind Youngcake, a blonde, fruity, gently spiced Christmas cake (with curry powder in the mix!) that now raises funds for Youngcare. The not-for-profit is a leading mover in the push to create better opportunities for young people with high care needs.
“We’ve always had a blonde Christmas cake and it started because my great-grandmother didn’t like the stodgy, traditional Christmas cake. So, they came up with this blonde Christmas cake recipe,” says Bronwyn*, a resident at the Youngcare Wesley Mission Queensland apartments, who has fond memories of making the cake with her father while growing up.
Just before Christmas in 2006, Bronwyn’s life changed dramatically during a hospital visit.
Even after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1998, Bronwyn had led a full life, including pursuing her passions for painting, craft and cooking for friends and family. But in 2006 Bronwyn’s doctor said her condition had become so severe that she couldn't live at home anymore. Instead, she needed 24-hour care.
The options available then for someone in her situation were dire: the accommodation suggested for Bronwyn was a room in a dementia unit in an aged care facility, to cater to her increasing care needs. Bronwyn was only 44 years old.
“One day I was not too sick at all, to the next day being told that I couldn’t go home, in that 15 minutes my whole life had changed … I had a full life which went to a zero life.
“It [living in aged care] was one of my saddest times. Being unable to bake our family Christmas cake with my Dad but also the realisation that where I was living was not a place that family and friends wanted to visit. I have always loved cooking but that’s the last thing I could do living in a bedroom.
“We all have special memories of Christmas, things we do with family, and baking the cake with my Dad each Christmas was a family tradition.”
But Bronwyn was given the opportunity to live at the Youngcare apartments at Sinnamon Park, where she was able to continue her passions for cooking, writing and painting, and now her family recipe is helping Youngcare help other young people, too.
Since 2016, Brisbane bakery Vanilla Pod has been using Bronwyn’s family recipe to make Youngcakes, which are sold by Youngcare with proceeds invested in housing and grant programs.
“Youngcare is a wonderful charity that is successful in progressing with their vision around Australia to support young Aussies with high care needs and we are all very humbled to play a small and delicious part in that journey,” says Vanilla Pod owner and creative director Carla Burns.
“The Youngcake is a more-ish cake with a secret ingredient, curry powder, that adds a warmth to the palate. Curry powder was included in Bronwyn’s recipe and it works surprisingly well!” she says.
“We soak the fruit in rum for about eight weeks before we begin baking to ensure it maintains the richness of a traditional fruit cake. With ingredients such as almonds and orange juice, this blonde fruit cake maintains a festive feel, although the traditional ingredients of cinnamon and cloves aren’t featured.
“We are happy to share our skills to replicate a family recipe that thousands of people will enjoy this Christmas and hopefully take a few moments to realise how fortunate they are and how buying a Youngcake can help make such a difference to Aussies like Bronwyn,” Burns says.
“For a young person with a disability living in places like aged care, the loss of choice and independence is one of the hardest things they have to face. When Bronwyn was suddenly moved into aged care in her early 40s, all of life’s simple pleasures, like baking her Dad’s famous Christmas cake, were taken from her,” says Youngcare CEO Anthony Ryan. “Sadly, more than 12,000 young Australians are living this reality every single day – isolated in places like aged care. So, this Christmas why not give a gift that is meaningful and will create real change? Proceeds from the Youngcakes go towards building better lives for people like Bronwyn – investing in Youngcare’s High Care Housing and grants programs so that NO young person with high care needs has to call aged care ‘home’.“
Bronwyn says sharing her recipe is a way of giving back to the organisation that has helped her. And, she says, “I think by sharing this cake I am sharing a part of my life, so people out there will realise that people with disabilities are real people.”
* Bronwyn asked that only her first name be used in this article.
Orders for Youngcake close Wednesday December 12; find out more or place an order here. Find out more about what Youngcare does here. See what other festive bakes Vanilla Pod has on offer – including Christmas llama cookies and gingerbread beach houses – here.