West Indian Black cake.
It wasn't always like that though. The first time I ever had a slice of black cake, I was a young girl and I hated it. It was much too dense--not light and fluffy like all the other cakes I've eaten previously, it had that alcoholic burn from all the wine in it, and it had this deep caramel flavor; so deep, it almost borderlines burnt. I did not find this appealing at all.
As I got older, I came to love the flavors associated with black cake for exactly the same reasons I hated it when I was a kid.
The only times we would ever get to eat black cake was when a special occasion came up--like a wedding for example. My mom always wanted a recipe for it for years, but nobody would ever give her one. I have a cousin who can make a really nice black cake, but she refused to share the recipe. She however had no problem with us placing an order with her and paying her for a cake.
My mom told me she once long ago tried to make a black cake herself with no recipe; trying to guess what went into one based on what it tasted like and the vague details she was given by various people. She said it came out alright, but my older sister said it just didn't taste like the black cake she knew and loved at all.
One day, I decided to do a regular old Google search online on Black Cake. There had to be a recipe online somewhere--someone willing to share the secret to the cake my mom always wanted to know how to make.
I found several recipes. All of them varying such as what kind of alcohol to use or mixtures of fruits to be added, but the key points were always the same. Soak dried fruits in alcohol for several days at least and the use of something called browning--a very dark caramelized sugar thinned out with some water. One can make their own browning, but you can also buy it in a west indian grocery store. My mom luckily keeps a bottle of the stuff around.
I quickly wrote down some versions of the recipe and presented them to my mom, telling her we should make one this coming weekend. So on Thursday, my mom brought a bottle of red wine, a box a prunes, a box of raisins, and a jar of maraschino cherries. We threw all the fruits into a half gallon Mason Jar and poured in the whole bottle of wine for it to soak until Saturday. Some recipes I saw called for rum or a mixture of rum and wine, but mom claims St. Vincent (where my family is from) uses just red wine, so that's what we went with.
After soaking in its wine bath for about 2 days, we put the fruits and wine together into the blender to pureed everything into a smooth mixture. We followed everything according to the recipe and then we came to the last step: adding the browning. All of the recipes I've read said to just add browning until desired color is reached, so that's what we did.
We added a tablespoon of browning, but the batter didn't seem to change any color. Mom and I looked at one another and shrugged. We added a couple more teaspoons, but it just got a smidge darker. We were getting concerned. Wasn't this supposed to be black cake? Why wasn't the batter getting black? The recipes I obtained offered no tips on whether the batter should be getting black or would it remain a brown color. After adding what I believe to be about half a cup of browning, we decided to stop in fear of ruining the recipe. We also decided to take a leap of faith and put the now medium brown batter into cake pans and bake them anyways. We figured maybe all the sugar in the batter would make the cakes darken when we put it into the oven.
After half an hour in the oven, mom decided to take a peek to see if our theory was right. It was.
The cakes darkend up beautifully and looked just like the black cake we've eaten so many times before. We finnished baking the bakes and took them out to cool. When they were properly cooled, we had our first slice.
It was exactly how black cake is supposed to be: dense, smooth, boozy and delicious.
We won't be placing any orders with my cousin anymore.
2 sticks of butter
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
12 oz pitted prunes
12 oz raisins
8 oz maraschino cherries
1 liter bottle Red wine
1 lb brown sugar
1/2 cup boiling hot water
(or just buy a bottle of browning from a west indian grocery store)
Have on Hand:
1 more bottle of red wine
At least Two Days Before:
Place prunes, raisins and cherries in a Mason Jar. Pour in Red wine. Leave in a cool corner, covered, to soak up the liquor.
On the Day Of:
Blend Fruit Base:
Pour the soaked fruit and juices into a blender and blend until thick and still a bit chunky (like tomato sauce)
If you want to make your own browning, burn sugar until caramelized, add hot water gradually. Mix well and leave to cool.
Please be extra careful at this stage as a ‘browning’ burn is NOT a fun thing!
Once that is done…
1. Preheat oven to 300F (no that’s not a typo)
2. Cream the butter and sugar.
3. Add eggs one at a time, mixing to incorporate
4. Add vanilla essence
5. Mix and sift flour, baking powder, cinnamon and nutmeg.
6. Gradually add sifted ingredients to creamed mixture
7. Mix in fruit base puree and ‘browning’ The batter will only become a medium brown color. This is ok.
8. Pour batter into greased tins that have been doubly lined with brown paper or parchment paper
9. Bake for 1 1/2 hours
10. Once removed from the oven soak the tops with additional wine. Don’t be surprised if the top of the cake starts to look pale and ‘weird’. (We skipped this step because we were impatient. It still came out good)