Black Cake Cookies

November 23, 2021
3 Ratings
Photo by Julia Gartland. Prop Stylist: Alya Hameedi. Food Stylist: Anna Billingskog.
  • Prep time 3 hours 15 minutes
  • Cook time 45 minutes
  • makes About 3 dozen cookies
Author Notes

Flush with wine-drenched raisins, prunes, and currants, this Black Cake Cookie is a rich, chewy cookie perfectly in sync with the Christmas season. When looking for something to mark a special occasion, people across the British West Indies turn to black cake as a traditional staple. The key ingredient is burnt sugar browning, a Caribbean necessity used across savory applications like braised oxtail and brown stew chicken, as well as sweet uses in things like Easter buns. Typically baked in butter cookie tins, black cake is shared between family and friends, each swapping a unique family recipe.

The addition of a generous amount of alcohol preserves the cake, which is often reserved from a wedding until the newlyweds' first anniversary. It's also enjoyed with hot tea during the Christmas holiday and well beyond the New Year, and gets brought out to wow special house guests. This recipe turns the dense, pudding-like cake into a crispy-edged cookie with a chewy pool in the center and delightful hints of nutmeg and cinnamon. It’s a great bite to be enjoyed with hot chocolate, eggnog, or tea. Going lighter on the wine and rum makes the cookie more easily accessible and much easier to devour one after the other, as you’ll want to do.

Note: If burnt sugar browning is not used, the cookies will lose their namesake coloring but won’t lose out on flavor. Do not substitute with Gravy Master or Kitchen Bouquet browning or others without first checking the ingredients, as they often contain savory elements like garlic powder. I recommend the Grace or Blue Mountain Country brands. —Jillian Atkinson

What You'll Need
  • Fruit Mixture
  • 1 cup (180 grams) black raisins, divided
  • 1/2 cup (90 grams) pitted prunes
  • 1/2 cup (90 grams) dried currants
  • 3/4 cup tawny or ruby port wine
  • 2 tablespoons Wray & Nephew (or your favorite white rum)
  • Cookie Dough
  • 1 1/2 sticks (170 grams) unsalted butter, melted
  • 3 1/2 cups (420 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground or grated nutmeg
  • 1 1/4 cups (260 grams) brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 1/2 cup (100 grams) white sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract or paste
  • 1 tablespoon port wine
  • 1 teaspoon white rum (or rum extract)
  • 1 tablespoon store-bought burnt sugar browning (optional; see Author Notes)
  • 3/4 cup (75 grams) coarsely chopped walnuts (optional)
  1. Make the fruit mixture: Pulse ½ cup (90 grams) raisins, the pitted prunes, and currants in a food processor to make a coarse chop. If you don’t have a food processor, chop by hand until everything is about the size of whole dried currants.
  2. Add the chopped dried fruit to a medium pot along with the remaining whole raisins, port wine, and rum. Bring the pot to a boil for about 1 minute, then cover and turn down to a gentle simmer for 10 minutes. Stir occasionally and reduce the heat as necessary to keep from scorching. You’re looking for a moist near-paste, with all of the liquid absorbed. Transfer to a small bowl, then to the refrigerator to cool completely, about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. (Alternatively, whisk over an ice bath or transfer to the freezer to speed up the process.)
  3. When the fruit is cool, make the cookie dough: Melt the butter slowly on the stovetop over medium heat or in a microwave-safe bowl in 30-second increments, tipping or swirling the bowl at each interval. Do not allow the butter to sputter or brown. Transfer the melted butter to a large mixing bowl and set aside.
  4. Combine the flour, baking soda, salt, and spices in a medium bowl, mix well, and set aside.
  5. Using a hand mixer, in a mixing bowl with the butter, now cooled slightly, beat in the brown and white sugars until crumbly and combined. Beat in the eggs one at a time and mix until fluffy and lighter in color, 1 minute.
  6. Add the vanilla, port, rum, and burnt sugar browning to the mixture and beat until mixed well, scraping down the sides of the bowl to evenly combine.
  7. Add the dry mixture in 3 additions, alternating the flour mixture with the fruit mixture, folding to combine without overmixing and ending with the flour. Fold in the walnuts, if using. Cover the cookie mixture with plastic wrap and let rest in the fridge for at least 2 hours or up to overnight.
  8. Heat the oven to 325°F and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Using cold cookie dough and a medium cookie scoop, scoop 3-tablespoon-sized balls of dough (a little bigger than a golf ball) onto cookie sheets about 3 inches apart. Bake for 14 to 16 minutes, until puffed and dry-looking.
  9. Allow the cookies to cool for 3 to 4 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Use a cold cookie sheet to bake the remaining cookie dough and allow the cookies to cool completely before transferring them to an airtight container.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • dale.mcneill
  • li

2 Reviews

li November 26, 2022
These were last year's favorite cookies with the family and they're about to be made again. I'd never tried Black Cake but listening to Play Me A Recipe convinced me these would be wonderful. Not having access to burnt sugar browning, I used blackstrap molasses as per a couple of Caribbean websites. The cookies were absolutely delicious - no other alterations were made. Easy enough to make although it was surprising how many times i had to stop and replay the podcast to follow along. Glad to see the printed recipe!
dale.mcneill December 19, 2021
I heard this on Play Me a Recipe and immediately knew I wanted to make it. I couldn't find browning in San Antonio, so I had a friend ship me some from Queens (which is where I moved from). Every year in Queens I would try Black Cake from many friends and at many church fairs in December. I knew that when I tried the cookies, I would want them to be very dark. So I patiently waited on the mail.

Then it was a little hard to find currents. Who knows this year? The oddest things are hard to find. I already had a nice port on hand and the very white rum suggested (I have a nice selection, as that is my favorite spirit.)

I followed the recipe exactly as written. The brown sugar I had was dark brown, so I used that.

Completely delicious! Soft, a little chewy, more delicate than you might imagine. I made mine with the closest size cookie scoop I had to 3 tablespoons, knowing it was bigger. I ended up with 18 gorgeous cookies.

You do get the flavor of the Black Cake so nicely.

I'll for sure be making these again and again, without making a single change (though I might make the small investment in the scoop that is the recommended size, as having more of these could only be a good thing.)