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Taste of the Caribbean: It’s Also Just Not Christmas Without Black Cake

Taste of the Caribbean: It’s Also Just Not Christmas Without Black Cake
Mmmmm… Black Cake!/SBPR

So, as we alluded to on Friday, it’s just not Christmas for many West Indians without Ponche de Creme and Black Cake. The super-moist and decadent treat pictured above is the quintessential dessert du jour in much of the region this time of year. Not having some on-hand and at the ready to share with family, friends and assorted others who might happen by during the Holiday Season is tantamount to some serious disrespect. And whereas its close cousin, Fruit Cake, is seen as one of the least desired gifts one might expect to receive here in the States, getting a Black Cake back home in the Caribbean is always a Christmas dream come true!

A big part of the Black Cake’s allure is due to the copious amounts of booze (mostly rum) used in its production. I’ve heard of people in Trinidad, Grenada and elsewhere who soak the fruit used in their Black Cakes for months… sometimes even a whole year!

Not only is rum used in the recipe, but it’s also employed by many to keep the cake moist throughout the season. Just pour a bit over top of the progressively dwindling delight each day to retain its uniquely rumlicious flavor. No wonder the last slice of Black Cake is often the most coveted – wring it out and you could probably pour a few shots!

Rum is used in making Black Cakes all over the Caribbean, but the Trini versions I’m used to also include cherry brandy and sherry, likely a nod to the colonial British tradition of soaking cakes in brandy to preserve them for long journeys across the sea.

Either way, the alcohol also helps to make the fruit in Black Cake more appealing than that found in American Fruit Cakes. Soaking the fruit in rum, or a mix of rum, cherry brandy and sherry, softens it a bit. The fruit is also often ground down or pureed prior to baking making it a more seamless part of the cake’s consistency than the larger fruit bits found in American Fruit Cakes, which stand out for all the wrong reasons.

Ingredients:
  • 1 lb prunes, seeded and chopped
  • 1 lb raisins
  • 1 lb currants
  • 1 lb sultanas
  • 1/4 lb mixed peel
  • 1/2 lb cherries, chopped in half
  • 1/4 lb chopped almonds
  • 1-1/2 cups cherry brandy
  • 2 cups dark rum
  • 2 cups or 1 lb butter
  • 2 cups or 1 lb brown or granulated sugar
  • 10 large eggs
  • 2 tsp grated lime peel
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 lb or 4 cups flour
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup (or more) browning
  • 1 cup mix of rum, cherry brandy and sherry

Black Cakes are usually baked just before Christmas Day and enjoyed for the first time during Christmas dinner. As my Dad said on Friday, you only eat a little at a time so it lasts the whole Holiday Season. For us growing up in St. Croix, that meant the Black Cake had to last all the way to Three King’s Day! (This probably explains why us kids never got to enjoy too much of it…)

Just the smallest taste or whiff of a Black Cake’s rum-soaked goodness is enough to fill even the grumpiest grinch with the Christmas spirit. Here’s a recipe from the cookbook no Caribbean-loving kitchen should be without

A few days, weeks, months or a year before baking, combine prunes, raisins, currants, sultanas, mixed peel, cherries, almonds, cherry brandy and rum. Let the mix soak for as long as you can allow.

When baking day arrives, line three eight-inch round cake pans with double layers of wax paper. Now cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time, then add lime peel and vanilla.

Combine flour, baking powder and cinnamon, then fold into creamed mixture gradually. Add your soaked fruit and enough browning to achieve the desired color, stirring well all the while. Now, pour your mix into the baking pans, filling ‘em about 3/4 of the way. Bake in preheated oven at 250°F for one hour. Then, reduce heat to between 200 and 225 for another 90 minutes, or until tester comes out clean.

Finally, prick the hot cake and add more of your rum, cherry brandy and sherry mix. Cover and set aside. As the alcohol soaks in, add more periodically for at least another 12 hours.

Now, try to eat just a small piece!

Bon appetit!

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