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22# Black Cake: a Caribbean tradition

2 min read

If you’re among people who can’t wait to plan (well in advance) Christmas every year, it’s never too early to start preparing the Caribbean holiday treat! Known as black cake or Christmas cake, to prepare this dessert the islanders soak dried fruit in rum and cherry brandy for up to a year before baking. Before baking, the fruit soaks in rum and cherry brandy until it’s so plump and intoxicated, that only good things can come from it!

After British colonists introduced plum pudding, which is more like cake than it sounds, to Caribbean islands, locals adapted the recipe with available ingredients.
Black cake may be a far cry from the original pudding, but it does include a combination of an expensive array of dried fruits, like cherries, raisins, prunes, currants, and dates and topped off with a bit of nutty crunch. Where traditional fruitcake makers leave the pieces of soaked fruit intact, black cake bakers pulverize them into a sweet paste and the finished product is a rich, smooth cake.
A combination of extracts, called “mixed essence,” adds notes of vanilla, almond, and pear (though on Trinidad recipes may use bitters and vanilla). A homemade burnt-sugar syrup called “browning” contributes a caramel flavor, while the rum-soaked fruit offers a bit of bittersweetness.
The version of the cake that ends up on your fork depends on what island your plate rests on, although most will agree that grinding up the boozy fruit is a must. This, along with a dose of molasses and brown sugar give the cake it’s deep brown coloring.
The New York Times describes the resulting cake as “darker, deeper and altogether more absorbing” than its fruitcake relatives.

Families across the islands and their relatives in the United States, especially in New York, reserve baking and eating black cake for Christmas. Whoever’s making black cake bakes only a few, so giving a whole home-baked black cake as a gift is a sign of great affection and intimacy. Someone devoted months of preparation and more than four hours of baking to each cake, along with lots of love, liquor, and expensive fruit.

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