Bake

Black Cake

December 19, 2018
4.5 Stars
Photo by Ty Mecham
Author Notes

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

Test Kitchen Notes

Featured in: A Spiced Caribbean Black Cake for Christmas, Aged in Rum & Memory. —The Editors

  • Prep time 72 hours
  • Cook time 4 hours
  • Makes 3 (9-inch) round cakes
Ingredients
  • 1 pound pitted prunes
  • 1 pound raisins
  • 1 pound dried currants
  • 1 pound dried cherries, deseeded
  • 4 ounces mixed dried citrus peel
  • 2 cups cherry brandy (Manischewitz Concord Grape Wine is an apt substitute)
  • 1 quart dark rum
  • 2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 1 pound unsalted butter, plus more for preparing the pans
  • 1 pound dark brown sugar
  • 10 eggs
  • 2 limes, zested
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla essence
  • 1 teaspoon almond essence
  • 1 teaspoon Angostura bitters
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
In This Recipe
Directions
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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).
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Adi Mendelowitz
    Adi Mendelowitz
  • Christy Avery
    Christy Avery
  • Regine
    Regine
  • Louise Gray
    Louise Gray
  • FrugalCat
    FrugalCat

33 Reviews

Adi M. March 3, 2021
If I want to bake only one cake, how long to bake it? Same as the three all together?
 
Arlene March 4, 2021
Adi, I baked all 3 in the time and heat called for in recipe.
Everyone who ate the cake absolutely loved it.
Good luck
 
Adi M. March 5, 2021
That's nice, but I'm making only a third of the amount and wanted to know how long to make for just one cake
 
Arlene March 5, 2021
I too only did a half portion of ingredients, but the yield was quite a bit. Per the instruction, it was recommended to keep it fairly shallow and I had smaller cake pans. Followed time as per recipe.
 
Arlene December 19, 2020
My first try at baking a Christmas cake. Followed step by step instructions. Now have come to adding browned sugar to the mix and it hardens as soon as it hits the mix. What do I do to avoid or does it melt once baked. It does not look like I have enough browning. What do I do? I hope I have not lost my effort to now.
 
Christy A. December 20, 2020
Hi - This happened to my fourth batch. I think I added the browning when it was too hot. I went ahead and mixed it in and the cakes still looked nice. Good luck!
 
Arlene December 20, 2020
Thanks for the feed back Christy. Yes, I carried on and baked with hard caramelized browning and cake looks good. When I waited for it to cool down, it hardened.
Another thing I noted was that it was best to make browning after all ingredients were mixed.
 
Christy A. December 18, 2020
I'm pretty bold when it comes to make-it Christmas presents, so I raided the liquor store and quadrupled the recipe, hoping it would be a success. Thank goodness it was! Make sure to plan for length of time it took to bake the cakes and how much the browning smokes. For the first two batches I used 9” pans and for the second 2 batches I used 4 6” pans and ~8 small tart pans. Both turned out great, although I did add 1.5 tsp salt to the later two batches to help brighten the flavor. Tasty!
 
Christy A. December 18, 2020
I'm somewhat bold when it comes to make-it Christmas presents, so I raided the liquor store (seriously!) and quadrupled the recipe before testing the recipe first. Thank goodness it was a success! The only impediment to getting the cakes out the door quickly after the 2 -week marinade was the length of time it took to bake the cakes. For the first two batches I used 9” pans and for the second 2 batches I used 4 6” pans and 8 or so small tart pans. Both turned out great, although I did add 1.5 tsp salt to the later two batches to help brighten the flavor a bit. Tasty!
 
Christy A. December 18, 2020
I'm somewhat bold when it comes to make-it Christmas presents, so I raided the liquor store (seriously!) and quadrupled the recipe before testing the recipe first. Thank goodness it was a success! The only impediment to getting the cakes out the door quickly after the 2 -week marinade was the length of time it took to bake the cakes. For the first two batches I used 9” pans and for the second 2 batches I used 4 6” pans and 8 or so small tart pans. Both turned out great, although I did add 1.5 tsp salt to the later two batches to help brighten the flavor a bit. Really yummy!
 
Regine April 23, 2020
Best black cake ever. So so delicious. A few things. I could not find currants
so I skipped them, but i added about 1/4 cup of maraschino cherries which were
looking at me in refrigerator. I was not sure how much of the browning sauce to use other than the 1/4 cup (4 tbsp) but i ended up adding two more tbsp. My cake, however, was not as dark as in picture so maybe next time I could add a total of 1/2 cup (8 tbsp) instead of 6 tbsp. Note that the browning sauce yields a lot (maybe 1 1/2 to 2 cups based on my eyeballing). Cakes also took about 3 1/2 hrs to bake @ 225F after the one hour @ 350. The remaining 1 cup of rum, I split it among the 3 cakes ( 5 tbsp + 1 tsp on each cake). This is a super
delicious cake. Thanks for sharing.
 
Regine April 23, 2020
Best black cake ever. So so delicious. A few things. I could not find currants
so I skipped them, but i added about 1/4 cup of maraschino cherries which were
looking at me in refrigerator. I was not sure how much of the browning sauce to use other than the 1/4 cup (4 tbsp) but i ended up adding two more tbsp. My cake, however, was not as dark as in picture so maybe next time I could add a total of 1/2 cup (8 tbsp) instead of 6 tbsp. Note that the browning sauce yields a lot (maybe 1 1/2 to 2 cups based on my eyeballing). Cakes also took about 3 1/2 hrs to bake @ 225F after the one hour @ 350. The remaining 1 cup of rum, I split it among the 3 cakes ( 5 tbsp +
1 tsp on each cake). This is a super
delicious cake. Thanks for sharing.
 
Mally September 10, 2019
So let me clarify right now.. West Indian black cake/fruit cake/ rum cake is like no other cake you have ever eaten. So any fruit cake with almost similar ingredients is an attempt to duplicate it.. It's one of the hardest if not the hardest cake to make.
 
Louise G. February 24, 2019
Somewhere in my archives, I hve the original recipe and srticle by Laurie Colwin as printed in Gourmet magazine. I pulled out those pages to keep and maybe waited a while before making it. ( I was saddened to hear that she had passed away not too long after.). I did make her version and being that it was so long ago, I am trying to recall certain things. I remember that there was a frosting on the cake, which I believe added something. Then there was the addition of, and I am just recalling, silver almonds to be placed on. top of the frosting. It was an interesting cake to try to make and eat. Fruit cakes have a bad reputation. There are fruitcakes and then again, there are other fruitcakes. Unlike many people, I do lkke fruitcake. Upon reading some of these comments, I am wondering if perhaps the expectations were not in keeping with what Black Cake actually is. I loved the article and perhaps I will buy a nice big bucket to prepare my fruit mixture; especially since my 90 year old Aunt Rosie gifted me 7 or 8 yesrs ago with several bottles of that supersweet Manischewitz wine. Now I can put them to good use. 2019 will be year of the Black Cake for me!
 
Swaki September 16, 2019
I've made the Black Cake from Gourmet magazine since it was published. It's a fabulous cake. The original recipe has royal icing but I use a layer of marzipan and fondant over that. Silver dragees for decoration. Can't recommend it enough! Makes 2 cakes.
 
Sarah D. October 4, 2019
I think when black cake has frosting it's known as wedding cake?
 
Zadi November 12, 2019
Yes that's exactly right! Black cake featured at weddings or the occasional birthday party is iced with hard white icing and decorated with silver candy balls and sometimes hand crafted flowers.
 
sahara.gonzales December 5, 2020
Hey! I am following an old recipe from when my grandma lived in Barbados, it calls for marzipan on top but I’m just wondering how the cake stores if you coat in marzipan?
 
Swaki December 6, 2020
You don't store it with the marzipan. You put the marzipan on it when you're about to serve it. Does it have a layer of fondant on the marzipan?
 
Robyn December 9, 2020
Ms colwins cake is from a woman she met while in Jamaica. She added the almonds they were not in the original recipe.
 
Maresa December 25, 2018
This looks a lot like Nigella Lawsons black cake adapted from Laurie Colwins recipe. I made it this year and was sorely disappointed. Read so many rave reviews about the cake. I went to a lot of trouble. Made my own glace cherries and mixed peel etc. The final result is so boring I really am sorry I bothered. In saying that, i do question my preparation of the tin. I lined it well on the inside but feel not linning it on the outside may have dried it out. I just don't know. Its so bland. Waste of time and money.
 
ZephyrWind December 27, 2018
just looked at the Nigella recipe, absent are key steps which are critical to "black cake" so I have to disagree this has any resemblance;

1) Nigella's recipe does not call for the fruits to be grinded into a rough paste.
2) Nigella's recipe doesn't include "browning".
3) Nigella's recipe only requires fruits be soaked for a day.
4) Nigella's recipe doesn't include all the spices and essences in this black cake.
5) Nigella's recipe includes nuts ( this one doesn't)
 
Maresa December 28, 2018
Nigellas does grind the fruit. It contains the same spices as the cake above and doesn't contain nuts. Are you maybe looking at a different recipe? https://millyskitchen.co.nz/recipes/seasonal-recipes/nigella-lawson-s-black-cake.html#.XCY1asv7TeQ
 
Sarah D. October 4, 2019
I made two versions of this cake last year and the biggest difference for me was the brown sugar. For one, I used a regular every day type of brown sugar and for the other I used dark Demerara-brand dark brown sugar (can't seem to find it online). It was very dark sugar. (it was not Demerara-style, aka bigger crystals, it was just very very dark).
 
Reblou December 10, 2019
Sounds like molasses sugar, aka barbados molasses sugar. Billington's is the brand its sold under in Britain. Not sure if it is the best option to be used entirely in a cake. Maybe half and half with dark brown muscovado.
 
t July 7, 2020
Nigella's cake is NOT a TRUE West Indian Black Cake.. THIS recipe IS a REAL BLACK CAKE 🇹🇹🇱🇷🇯🇲

 
Anu December 21, 2018
Wish this recipe had been shared earlier in the year! Next year though!
 
CalamityintheKitchen December 24, 2018
Ditto! Food52 crew, can you pretty please repost this article next October?
 
FrugalCat December 21, 2018
I'd like to make this next year. Do you think it would work in cupcake form?
 
CHeeb December 19, 2018
When baking this, what is the initial temperature ? I hope I haven't missed this reading the recipe, but you reference turning down the temp to 225 degrees, but on what do you start out with the oven?
 
Lolita R. December 19, 2018
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Drop the temperature to 225 after baking for 1 hour.
 
Eric K. December 19, 2018
Thanks Lolita!
 
CHeeb December 20, 2018
Thank you, Lolita. It seemed critical since this cooks for so long...ch