Months before Dec. 25, hundreds of thousands of home cooks throughout the Caribbean combine pounds of raisins, dried cherries, currants, and prunes, and subsequently drown them in a boozy bath of local rum and fruit-forward brandy. This dried fruit—saturated in liquor—is then pulverized to a smooth paste that gives black cake its remarkably moist texture. This ground fruit also rids the cake of the dense, stone-like chunks that afflict many versions of fruit cake. The color (from which its name derives) is attributed to the addition of burnt sugar essence, or browning, which is the last ingredient added to the batter. And while there are myriad tweaks and tricks to this recipe, black cake will always retain its relevancy from the backwaters of Caribbean history. —Brigid Ransome Washington
In a large, air-tight container combine the prunes, raisins, currants, cherries, and citrus peel, all of the brandy, and 3 cups of the rum. Stir to combine and set aside for at least three days and up 3 months.
When ready to bake, working in batches, place the alcohol saturated fruit in a food processor. Slowly pulse to a rough paste, ensuring that some of the fruit remains somewhat intact. If needed, add more brandy to thin the consistency. Continue this process until all of the fruit has been processed. Set aside.
Next make the "browning." In a heavy-bottomed pot over medium high heat, add the granulated sugar and stir with a wooden spoon until it has melted. Continue stirring until the sugar darkens. It will indeed smoke. Don’t panic. When the sugar is almost black, carefully stir in the boiling water. Take caution, because it will splatter. Turn off heat.
Prepare cake pans with butter and a double layer of parchment paper. Preheat oven to 250°F. (Note: Because this cake is so dense, it seldom rises. As such, employing relatively shallow baking pans are necessary).
In a stand mixer or by hand, cream the butter and brown sugar until fluffy aerated. One at time, combine the eggs, then the lime zest, essences, and bitters. Transfer this mixture to a very large bowl. Then, in a separate bowl combine the dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, cinnamon and nutmeg. Gently fold the dry ingredients into the butter mixture. Stir in the fruit and a 1/4 cup of the browning. The batter should be dark brown; if it's too light add in more of the browning, a tablespoon at a time.
Divide batter among prepared cake pans. The batter will not rise very much, so fill pans a hair off the top. Bake for one hour, then reduce heat to 225°F. Continue to bake for 2 1/2 to 3 hours longer. Check for completion using a tester, which when inserted should come out clean. Allow the cakes to cool on a wire rack.
10 minutes after the cakes have been retrieved from the oven, and they are cooling on the wire rack, brush the top of the cakes with more rum and allow it to soak in. Continue this process about every 30 minutes while the cakes cool.
The cakes can be served one small slice at a time, as is custom in the Caribbean. To store, wrap them in wax paper first, then wrap in foil. These cakes keep for up to a month in a cool dry place.