Are you suddenly panicking that you haven’t got a Christmas cake? What if I told you that you could still make a homemade one and it’ll probably be the best you’ve ever eaten?
Here’s a recipe for a black cake which is a traditional Caribbean fruit cake made from dried fruit soaked in rum and then pureed up to make a moist textured cake. I soaked my fruit for 3 months but even 24-48 hours will be extraordinary. My cheat is to use tinned prunes for added moisture in the cake.
Adapted from Nigella’s recipe via Laurie Colwin, I baked several of these this year and was told it was better than a friend’s Jamaican granny’s cake so I’m feeling pretty damned smug about it. It doesn’t need decorating or icing or anything so you can soak the fruit today and make this over the weekend and impress everyone.
Fruitcake is traditional at Christmas throughout Europe and West Africa, but the most famous versions come from the Caribbean in the form of black cakes.
These cakes are special because you soak the dried fruit in rum for up to a year and then the soaked fruit is mashed up to make a cake that is very moist and sticky in texture. You can make it just before Christmas or a few weeks before and age it with more booze depending on your schedule. The blackness of the name comes from making a ‘black’ or burnt sugar syrup to add flavour and colour.
It’s a very easy cake to make but you will need to set an entire afternoon aside for it. Make a virtue of spending time round the house close to Christmas and reinvent the British tradition of Stir Up Sunday by getting everyone in the house to stir the cake and make a wish as they do. You could also add some rum cocktails into the mix and have an impromptu party, but I suggest lining the cake tins first…
Brixton Black Cake (makes one 23cm or 9 inch cake)
Adapted from Nigella Lawson’s recipe
- 500g raisins
- 250g currants
- 250g sultanas
- 200g prunes
- 150g candied peel
- 750ml dark rum
- 150g glace cherries, halved
- 250g butter, soft
- 250g brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon gorund ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg or mace
- 6 large eggs
- 275g plain flour, sifted
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 125ml burnt sugar syrup (see below)
- 75 ml ginger wine (or rum or brandy or sherry)
I started soaking my fruit for the cake in the summer because I quite genuinely had a spare bottle of rum. A minimum of a week will be fine if you aren’t quite as smug or organised as me. If you are soaking for a short period of time, use tinned prunes to add moisture.
Put the fruit, except the cherries, into a large tupperware container and cover with the bottle of rum. Yes, you read that right. Put the entire bottle of rum in there, put the lid on and leave to infuse for as long as possible.
When you are ready to bake your cake, take about 300g of the rum soaked fruit out of the tupperware, add the halved glace cherries and set aside. Use a stick blender or potato masher to turn the rest of the fruit into a cross between a pulp and a puree. You don’t want mush, so leave a bit of texture rather than making a smoothie.
Set aside while you preheat your oven to 180℃ and line your tin. Fruitcakes are dense and need long slow baking so lining and preparing your tin is not a step you can skip unless you want to burn the edges of your cake.
Grease the whole tin with some softened butter and then cut a strip of greaseproof paper that is about 2 inches longer than the circumference of the tin and about 3 inches taller than it. Fold the base of the strip up about 3 inches so it is double thickness and with the full depth of your scissors, snip into it at angles about an inch apart.
Put the whole thing into your tin with the snipped bits at the base so you can line the inside ring of the tin. Then use the base of the tin to draw a circle on another piece of greaseproof paper and cut it out, placing it into the base of the tin.
Take some brown paper or triple thickness greaseproof paper and cut a strip that will go round the whole circumference of the outside of the tin and be high enough to cover the sides completely plus about 5 inches. Set this crown of brown paper aside until needed, but check your oven shelves to make sure it will all fit.
Make your burnt sugar syrup at this stage. Put 200g of brown sugar in the biggest deepest saucepan you have that isn’t non stick and melt on a high heat, stirring occasionally so it doesn’t stick. Once it is completely melted and starting to bubble, stand well back and add 250ml of hot water. The syrup will boil furiously and spit and splash so make sure no one is standing close to it. Stir frantically and return to the heat to make sure any sugar crystals are melted and then take off the heat and allow to cool.
Put the soft butter and the brown sugar in a large mixing bowl and use an electric mixer to cream them together until they are as light and fluffy as possible and almost white in colour. This took about 5 minutes for me.
Add the pureed dried fruit along with any remaining liquid from the rum and mix in well along with the spices and the vanilla extract. Add each egg one at a time and beat it in well (I had a dodgy batch of eggs recently so it’s wise to crack each egg into a ramekin to check first so you don’t spoil the batter.)
Once the eggs are full combined, add the flour and the baking powder and the burnt sugar syrup. Just before they are all fully combined, add in the whole dried fruit and halved cherries you set aside and mix in completely without overworking the batter.
Spoon the batter into your prepared cake tin. It will fill it right to the very brim and you’ll think it won’t all fit, but it will. Smooth the top of the batter neatly and wrap the brown paper round the tin and tie it tightly with some string. Set it into the oven and bake for 1 hour, before turning the temperature down to 160℃ and cok for another 2 hours.
Cool on a wire rack for about 2-3 hours and then take the cake out of the tin carefully. Brush with the ginger wine several times to help give a glossy top to the cake. Once the cake is completely cooled, brush again with the ginger wine and store in a tin until needed. I like to feed mine a little more booze every day or so like an inappropriate pet owner.
The cake is very moist and almost squishy like a malt loaf in the centre, so use a very sharp knife to cut it. It doesn’t need any icing for serving but I do enjoy some kitsch Christmas decorations to enhance mine. You may be more able to restrain yourself!