If you’re someone who can’t wait to plan Christmas every year, it’s never too early to start preparing the Caribbean holiday treat known as black cake. To make this dessert, islanders soak dried fruit in rum and cherry brandy for up to a year before baking.
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 or its cousin, fruitcake, but it does include a combination of cherries, raisins, prunes, currants, and dates. Where traditional fruitcake makers leave the pieces of soaked fruit intact, black cake bakers pulverize them into a sweet paste. The finished product is a rich, smooth cake that may be iced, but more often stands alone.
Regional flavors punctuate the uniquely Caribbean confection. A combination of extracts, called “mixed essence,” adds notes of vanilla, almond, and pear (though on Trinidad, home of Angostura, recipes may use bitters and vanilla). A homemade burnt-sugar syrup called “browning” contributes a caramel flavor. And the rum-soaked fruit offers a bit of bittersweetness. 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 one is a deeply affectionate gesture. Someone devoted months of preparation and more than four hours of baking to each cake, along with lots of love, liquor, and expensive fruit. Digging in should make you feel like a slice of the sweet itself—warm and more full of rum than you appear.
Need to Know
Some Caribbean and West Indian establishments sell black cakes during the holiday season. If you'd like to try your hand at making black cake, but don't have year-old, booze-soaked fruit at home, fret not—many recipes say three days of soaking works just fine.
Where to Try It
Taste the Tropics1839 Nostrand Ave, Brooklyn, New York, 11226, United States
This bakery, located in the Flatbush region of Brooklyn, is a go-to source for black cakes before Christmas.