A story about becoming a baker of the traditional ‘Black Cake’ – a Christmastime rich, dark fruit cake typical of the Caribbean and certainly a Lucian favourite…with or without the extra rum! Join us as Alison Belizaire Mitchell of Sweeter Things Bakery, tells us her story.
The Sweet Smell of Home – Where It All Began
I grew up in a home, where food was one of the ways we showed our love. Not just the actual food itself, but the family helping in the kitchen, setting the table, and the joy of a house full of children, not all related by blood and dogs. One of my favourite times, as with most persons, was Christmas. My mother who was a great self-taught baker and chef, seemed to make this time of year extra special, especially with her fruit cake. I remember large glass jars filled with fruits soaking in a mixture of sherry and rum, and well, as for the fruits, it was a mixture of prunes, raisins, sultanas, mixed peel and cherries. These jars of soaked delights were not to be used for anything other than the Christmas fruit cake called ‘black cake’.
These jars were always kept in a cupboard protected from light and the odd troublesome child’s hand. Throughout the years, the only time the jar seemed to not be filled to capacity, was after Christmas. Somehow by early January of the next year, the fruit fairy seemed to replenish the depleted stocks. Growing up I noticed that due to the fact that these jars were never emptied, the sweet perfume of these fruits seemed to become more pungent every year, and by pungent, I mean don’t breathe too hard or you may be knocked out or find yourself gasping for air. So, when I started baking, I found myself doing the same thing, as most Caribbean homes do, I just kept adding fruits to a jar, or in my case bucket, to create a flavour that is distinctly my own.
First of all, ensure you have a clean solid container to put the fruit to soak in. A bucket or large mason jar works well. Once that is in place then you can start the process. You can either purchase the dried fruits you like from the local supermarket, as well as copious amounts of liquor.
I find that strong white rum and a mixture of sherry works well. The white rum acts as a preservative and the sherry adds a richness to the fruit mix. Most dried fruits can be put to soak whole, with the exception of prunes, which I usually mince fine. Mix all dried fruits together before placing them in the prepared container. It is at this point, if you choose, you can add some large cinnamon sticks, which is what I do. Over time, the fruits become infused with the flavours of the spices.
Once that is done, mix the sherry and white rum together and then add it to the container of dried fruits. Ensure that the container is not filled more than ¾ way, as the dried fruit will expand as it absorbs the alcohol. Once you are done, ensure to cover the container tightly so that the alcohol doesn’t evaporate. Always keep some extra alcohol on hand, as you may need to add more to the fruit within 2 to 3 days, as the fruits expand. The fruits should always be covered by about an inch of alcohol, to ensure it doesn’t dry out over time, especially if you will be using it often as each time you open the container, alcohol will evaporate.
One Two Three and Bake
So, your fruits have been soaking and you are ready to bake. A little advice before you light your oven. Always use a good quality heavy cake pan. A fruit cake is very rich and usually takes longer to bake than most cakes. Also line your cake pan, which means grease your pan, but instead of just flouring the pan, line it with wax or parchment paper. It makes it a lot easier for the cake to come out after baking.
After the Oven Comes the Loving
Hopefully all has turned out well with the fruit cake, and now you are truly ready, to make a good fruit cake great. In other words, time for the soaking. As a good rule of thumb, as soon as the cake comes out of the oven I generously pour some of my extra alcohol, either rum or sherry on the cake. In order to achieve the best flavour and intoxication from your fruit cake, it’s best to leave the cake in the pan for at least 2 days.
During this time, you can continue to add a bit of alcohol every day. Once you are satisfied with the quality of the fruit cake you have made, you can take the cake out of the pan and you are ready to serve. A well baked fruit cake will last for months out of the freezer and years in the freezer.
A bit of advice though, if you are keeping the cake out for an extended period of time, the cake should first be wrapped in wax paper and then foil. This helps with ensuring your cake stays nice and moist. You can also pour some alcohol on it every few weeks to help preserve the cake and to add that traditional St. Lucian flavour.
- 10 ounces butter
- 10 ounces sugar
- 12 ounces flour
- 6-8 eggs
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp freshly ground nutmeg
- ½ tsp salt
- 2 lbs soaked fruit mix
- Gravy browning
- Cherries for decoration
- 10-inch cake pan greased and lined
- Sift flour, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt together in a bowl and set aside.
- Cream butter and sugar together until light in colour.
- Slowly add eggs to the butter and sugar, one at a time while they are creaming.
- After all the eggs have been incorporated, slowly add sifted flour mixture.
- Ensure that the flour mixture is fully incorporated after each addition.
- Add soaked fruit to mixture and mix until fully incorporated
- Add gravy browning until desired colour is achieved.
- Place batter in prepared pan and decorate with cherries
- Bake cake in a 300F oven for approximately 1 ½ hours or until done.
Get in touch with Alison to order your own Caribbean Christmas Blackcake here