Famous for its uniquely dense texture, dark color, rich and robust taste; this is the cake that takes the cake. This beloved rum soaked fruit cake is highly revered and sought after during Christmas time as well as weddings and celebrations. If you’ve never had this cake, at first glance it may resemble that of a chocolate cake, but the deep dark color comes from the main ingredient- dried macerated fruits. Prunes, currants, raisins, and glaced cherries are chopped finely then soaked in port wine and dark rum for months and years on end. The fruit mixture is added to cake batter along with aromatic flavorings and warm spices. When baking, my home is fragranced with the cake’s citrusy notes. It smells like Christmas is in the air.
Growing up, I remember having black cake at weddings and Christmas time. The black cake made for weddings always had a layer of almond paste and royal icing on top, then adorned with little silver sugar beads. I especially loved the piece of black cake that was right under the almond paste. Mmm! Whenever we baked it during Christmas time, we never iced. Nowadays, I think people make it the way they like.
About The Recipe
Texture is the word to use when discussing black cake. I can’t tell you how many times people refer to how the consistency of a black cake makes it a good one or bad. Recipes and techniques for black cake vary according to country and personal preference. Personally, a pudding-like texture is what I prefer. It’s smooth and just melts into your mouth. Mmm, again.
I can’t say this recipe is solely my mom’s or grandmother’s or anyone in particular. It is actually a combination of 5 or 6 people and my mom’s old 1973 Guyanese cookbook, What’s Cooking in Guyana. If you know someone who is a master at making this cake, you better hope they are kind enough to share their tips. It’s one of those cakes where no one wants to tell you their recipe, and if they do, they don’t tell you all the other crucial steps like how important a low baking temperature is, or how to make the burnt sugar to color the cake.
Mom and I have discovered so many tips over the years from people who were willing to share. When I told her that I want to share the black cake recipe this year on my blog, she said, “gyal, yuh give way all meh recipe dem.” I laughed so hard, but she was happy to contribute.
Special thanks to the following people for sharing their tips and strategies with us:
- Marlene – the Bajan woman who made the black cake for my wedding 5 years ago, also my aunty Mala’s long-time friend. Her tip was to bake the cake at least 3-5 days before serving for optimum taste.
- Pearly – My husband’s grandmother. “Soak the cake with cherry brandy and good (quality) rum.”
- Miss Joan – My old co-worker. “Cover the cake with plastic wrap right after brushing with rum.”
Do you have any tips for making a good black cake? Feel free to share in the comments below.
About the Fruit Mixture
We use a mixture of prunes, currants, raisins, and glaced or maraschino cherries. I think most dried fruit would work well in this cake. One year we even tried dried figs, but we ended up chewing the seeds throughout the cake. Needless to say we omitted it the following year :). My dad usually grinds the fruit for us, he prefers to use a traditional food mill even though there are faster ways. I use a ninja blender. It has the grinding power to get the fruits to a smooth paste texture and it gets it done quickly. We grind our fruits then soak with rum and wine. An alternative method is to soak the fruits whole and grind when ready to bake the cake. Avid black cake makers will swear by soaking the fruits for at least a year, while 3-4 months is good enough for others. No method is wrong here; just different, and based on preference.
Know Your Oven
This is not a crumb type cake, it resembles more of a pudding so a high temperature is not needed to cook the cake. Some people bake this in a bain marie (water bath) to steam the cake. I have not tried this method, though. We’ve baked this cake anywhere between 275-300 degrees. My mom’s oven heats very fast and can even overheat. Whenever I’m using her oven I have to reduce the temperature slightly because my baked goods seem to brown up faster than I’d like. I bake this cake at 275 in her oven for almost 2 hours, but if baking in my kitchen, it goes in at 300 for 90 minutes.
Mom’s old Guyanese cookbook, What’s Cooking In Guyana. This book has seen better days, but a little cake splatter here and there gives it character.
Make the coloring for the cake. This step can be very tricky. It is easy to burn the sugar to the point where it is bitter. I recommend practicing this step until you get it right or if you are not as comfortable, store-bought burnt sugar will work just fine. Let sugar cool before adding to cake.
After creaming the butter and sugar, add eggs then fruit mixture. Once fruit is combined, add flour. The batter will lighten in color again after adding flour.
After adding flour, add burnt sugar to the cake. Add as much as you like until desired color is achieved.
I like to bake my cake in parchment paper. It works very well in keeping in the liquid when having to pour rum over the cake.
Bake cake at 300 degrees for 90 minutes.
As soon as the cake comes out of the oven, pour the cherry brandy + dark rum mixture on top. Brush to distribute.
How we like our black cake:
- It must have a pudding like texture, not stiff, rubbery, or dry
- It must have just enough rum, not overpowering where you can’t enjoy the cake
- The cake must be baked at least 3 days ahead so it has time to dry for best flavor/texture
- It must have a good height, we want a piece of cake, not a sliver
- Royal icing for weddings and birthday parties; no icing for our black cake baked at Christmas
- Eggs and butter must be room temperature to help with even mixing.
- 8inch pan is the perfect size for me, it yields a thicker cake. Danish butter cookie tins are perfect for this recipe. The batter will fill two tins exactly. 9in pans may be used, but will be slightly thinner- make sure to adjust baking time. Bigger the pan, the less time needed to bake.
- I like to line pans with parchment paper. It keeps the bottom of the cake moist and also ensures the cake absorbs all the alcohol mixture when poured on top.
- When grinding fruits, make sure it is not lumpy. It should resemble a paste texture. Lumpy fruits will cause breaks in the cake.
- If using store-bought browning/burnt sugar, make sure to taste it first to ensure it is not salty.
- You will have macerated fruit mixture remaining, this recipe only calls for 3 cups of the mixture and makes two cakes.
- You will use up most, not all, of the port wine when macerating/soaking the fruit.
- If you are not comfortable making your own burnt sugar, practice a few times. It can burn very quickly, so as soon as it gets very dark brown, remove from heat and add wine. Taste when cool to make sure it is not bitter. If too bitter, it will ruin the taste of the cake! Here is a great video on how to make your own burnt sugar – http://bit.ly/2AzGqFC
- After brushing cake with rum/brandy mixture, let it cool a few minutes then cover cake with plastic wrap. Make sure plastic wrap touches cake. This helps to seal in the moisture. Leave plastic wrap on cake and once ever few days, add more rum/brandy mixture.
Non-alcoholic Black Cake
Another blogger friend of mine wrote a great post on non-alcoholic black cake. Check it out here: Halal Trini Black Cake