The problem is that in order to get a really good black cake, you have to begin the process at least several weeks in advance, and who’s thinking about Christmas in September? (Okay, well, many of you probably start your Christmas shopping in July, but the way my life has been going the past several years, my thoughts about Christmas have had me on the brink of nervous breakdowns trying to find gifts on Christmas Eve.)
But this year, I was determined to make a black cake, so I marked my calendar for September. That’s when I was going to initiate the process. And so I did.
Black cake/Christmas cake is also sometimes called plum pudding because it is derived from the traditional British Christmas cake of the same name. Plum pudding is basically fruit cake and the addition of brandy was to keep it fresh on long voyages across the seas (plus it tastes good). (Plum pudding is traditionally lit aflame at presentation time. I suspect that this was done the first time by accident as a result of someone getting a little too close to it with a candle or something.) When the British began trading through the Caribbean, the plum pudding went with them. But rum, rather than brandy, was the liquor available on the islands, and sugar and molasses became the sweeteners. The addition of allspice and nutmeg are more Island touches on the old recipe.
It is said that the original recipe for plum pudding dates to Medieval times, when it called for 13 ingredients—1 for Jesus Christ and 12 for his apostles—and was to be made on Christmas Eve. Since then, it’s become a more elaborate affair. As other fruit cakes, a black cake contains various dried fruits that are macerated in rum and, sometimes, port wine for weeks. The ideal time to bake it is a couple of weeks before Christmas, and as the days go by, it is occasionally basted with more booze.
So, in September, I put my fruit—raisins, golden raisins, plums, figs, dates, and cranberries—in a large container with a cover and poured in a wee bit of rum and port wine and let that sit until December. About a week before Christmas (I couldn’t get around to it before then), I baked the cake, basted it a few times, and brought it for Christmas Eve dinner. It came out fabulous. It was moist and incredibly flavorful, and even though it was loaded with alcohol, the rum and wine had mellowed into a fruity liqueur-like flavor. It’s not like any fruit cake you’ve ever had, I guarantee it. Normally, black cake is served as is, but I wanted it to look a little more festive so I iced it with a basic powdered sugar icing (which eventually melted). The only thing was that my cake was not as dark as it should be (it is called black cake, after all). So, I increased the browning in the recipe. Browning is also known as burnt sugar and can be found in West Indian markets.
I share this with you now so that you can prepare ahead of time for next Christmas. Enjoy!
|Jamaican Black Cake (aka Christmas Cake)|
- 4 cups mixed dried fruit (raisins, currents, prunes, citron, cherries, dates, figs, etc.)
- 1 cup white rum
- 1 pint port wine
- 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons baking powder
- 1 cup butter
- ½ cup sugar
- ½ cup packed brown sugar
- 6 eggs
- 3 tablespoons browning*
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon almond extract
- 1 tablespoon molasses
- 2 teaspoon lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon allspice
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ginger
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 1 cup nuts
- Rinse the fruit under running water and drain well. Place in a sealable bowl and mix in the rum and port wine. Seal bowl and refrigerate and let sit for about 2 months. If the liquid gets completely soaked up, add more rum as needed.
- On the day of baking, drain the fruit over a bowl and reserve the liquid. Using a food processor or blender, grind half the fruit until it’s in small pieces (but not a paste).
- Grease a 10-inch cake pan; line it with parchment paper. (You can also use aluminum foil, but make sure to grease the foil.) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- In a medium bowl, whisk the flour and baking powder; set aside.
- Using a mixer, beat butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, and mix until batter is smooth.
- Add half the flour and mix in; add remaining flour and mix in.
- Add the browning, vanilla, almond, molasses, lemon juice, spices, and zest. Add 1 cup of the reserved liquid and beat until well blended.
- By hand, blend in all the fruit and nuts.
- Bake for one 1 ¼ to 1 ½ hours, or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Begin checking it at 1 hour.
- When done, place pan on a cooking rack and let it sit for about an hour. Invert it and remove the paper. Let cool completely. Baste every now and then with leftover liquor until ready to serve.
Makes 1 10-inch cake.
* Browning, also known as burnt sugar, is available in Jamaican/West Indian markets and sometimes in markets that have a wide variety of ethnic products. It’s used mostly for coloring. If you can’t find it, double up on the molasses.