Black Cake is a rich, alcohol-soaked fruitcake found all over the Caribbean, but it is in Trinidad that I feel it reaches its ultimate form. Trinidad black cake uses two uniquely West Indian ingredients: mixed essence, which is a combination of vanilla, almond, and pear extracts and burnt sugar syrup (I provide sources for both in the recipe).
Unlike the U.S. version of fruitcake, the fruit is ground up and the burnt sugar is used to stain the cake a deep rich brown or black. The dark fruits used in the recipe are also used to make it even blacker and even if you don’t like fruitcake – trust me Citizens, you will LOVE this! 🙂
Traditionally served at Christmas, you might wonder why I am posting the recipe in late Spring. That’s because – at least to Trinidadians – you should be soaking the dried fruits in booze for MONTHS to make the cake truly delicious and I agree with them wholeheartedly. You don’t have to soak the fruits for months – weeks is fine, even a day or two would be adequate.
Rum is used in making Black Cakes all over the Caribbean, but the Trini versions also includes 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. The cake is typically baked just before Christmas and eaten at Christmas dinner and afterward, in thin slices, for as long as it lasts. You can leave it out and just pour more alcohol on it when the top gets dry, effectively preserving the cake.
Citizens – my version of this cake is very close to traditional, though I’ve replaced sultanas with dried cranberries (which I think add better flavor) and adjusted the spicing to my own personal taste (less cinnamon, more complexity).
Battle on – The Generalissimo
1 lb prunes, seeded and chopped
½ lb golden raisins
½ lb raisins
1 lb currants
1 lb dried cranberries
¼ lb candied mixed peel
½ lb dried cherries, chopped in half
¼ lb chopped almonds
1 ½ 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
3 tsp grated lime zest
2 tsp PA Benjamin Mixed Essence – buy from Amazon
1 lb or 4 cups flour
4 tsp baking powder
½ teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ cup (or more) burnt sugar browning – I like this brand
1 cup mix of equal parts of rum, cherry brandy and sherry
A few days, weeks, or months before baking, combine prunes, raisins, currants, dried cranberries, mixed candied peel, cherries, almonds, cherry brandy and rum. Let the mix soak for as long as you can allow. Purée in a food processor when ready to bake the cake, add some rum or sherry to loosen the mixture up if needed.
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 mixed essence.
Combine flour, baking powder and mixed spices, then fold into creamed mixture gradually. Add your soaked fruit purée and enough browning to achieve the desired color (which should be seriously dark), stirring well all the while.
Now, pour your mix into the baking pans, filling them about ¾ 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.