Christmas Cake, Black Cake, Fruit Cake, Voodoo Cake Call it what you will!
I love how in just about any borough of New York City all you have to do is walk 3 blocks in any direction and you’ll find yourself in a completely different neighborhood. For instance in my neighborhood you’ll find mostly hispanic, namely Dominican folks. A few blocks north you’ll find a predominantly Irish neighborhood. The differences in population from block to block may not be as stark in all parts of the city like Little Italy and China town, but all the same I absolutely love the fact that these small cramped islands we all share make us tolerate each other even accept each other and help us to build our little niches in each community.
Thus this cake recipe became very interesting to me as I’d gotten this same recipe from some very diverse students. Some of my students come from the Caribbean. And I’ve been fortunate to taste many versions of a cake they hold dearest in their Heritage. Black Cake. Black cake is a rich, dense Fruit cake that take lots of preparation: soaking fruit in wine for weeks even months, and repeatedly dousing your baked confection with rum. Traditionally Black cake is then covered with royal icing, and finally a layer of almond paste, or marzipan rolled out over the top. This cake is a feat to make, and master and it is delicious, and that’s not just the rum talking.
Then I realized how cool it was that this gem of the islands was also held in great esteem on a very different island…England. Of course this seems like no revelation considering how the West Hemisphere was discovered, explored, and conquered by an array Europeans. So no, Christmas Cake, (as the Brits call), being a shared tradition, wasn’t that big of a surprise after all. But I still relish in the fact that food brings people together. It’s the reason I write this blog really. And when it comes down to cake, well you couldn’t think of a better food that is iconic of celebration. So with one year coming to an end and another beginning I’d like to dedicate this recipe to anyone who aims to live, rather Celebrate life, and all the great things that make us unique and all the wonderful and tasty things we share.
I made this cake for the first time, as a grooms cake for friends of mine who were getting married, See the drum cake under “Weddings” in the gallery. Murielle a native of Haiti wanted a grooms cake that would be special for her soon to be husband Paul. I carved the cake into a drum, and modeled after one of Paul’s hand drums. I think myself a good baker but was nonetheless intimidated at the thought that it would be eaten by a crowd of wedding guests who would be well versed in black cake.
Murielle later gave me the report that she and Paul not only loved the design and the delicious cake, but that it was devoured by their guests who loved it and refered to it as Voodoo Cake. This recipe originally came to me by a former student Deborah Levine. Its been somewhat modified.
2 cups butter
2 cup white sugar
1/4 Barbancourt Rum (Adding rum is optional and the original recipe called for white rum. I HIGHLY recommend getting your hands on WONDERFUL Haitian rum called “Barbancourt” Pronounced: Bar bahn Coo in french. )
1 tb lime juice
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tb almond extract
1 grated zest of lime
2 pounds chopped dried mixed fruit
2 cups red wine + apprx 1 bottle red wine for soaking
1 cup dark molasses
2 1/2 c all purpose flour
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground all spice
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
pinch of salt
At least 3 weeks ahead of time soak dried fruit in wine. Typically dark and golden raisins, prunes, cherries and currants are used. I highly recommend that whatever dried fruit you choose– you choose fruits that don’t contain sulfites as a preservative. It’s slightly more pricey, but I the preservatives added to dried fruit has a distinct flavor (YUCK) and in my opinion is TOTALLY UNNECESSARY!!! The point of drying fruit is to preserve it! In the health food aisle of most stores you will find organic dried fruits in many varieties. I used Mangos, Pineapples, Papayas, cherries, cranberries, raisins, prunes, figs, blueberries– well just about anything I could find. I think the sweet tropical fruits like papayas and pineapples add to the flavor of the cake. Chop or just rip the pieces of fruit with your fingers and cover with red wine of your choice. I think Layer Cake is a great wine, especially for cake making– I’m a fan of the Primitivo, or the Pinot Noir. Seal in a large tupperwear container and let soak at room temp for 3 weeks or more.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and Flour 2 9″ round baking pans.
In a large bowl cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs and add rum, lime juice, lime zest, vanilla and almond extracts. Blend fruit in a food processor. Stir in soaked fruit, wine, and molasses.
Sift dry ingredients: flour, baking powder salt and spices. Fold batter and pour into pans.
This batter was sooo fluffy and light, mousse like.
Bake for 80-90 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center come out clean. Cool for 10 minutes and then remove from pan and place on cooling rack to cool complete.
Brush on additional wine or Barbancourt rum after baking. I’m not a liquor drinking but if you are anything like me you might enjoy a small glass of Barbancourt on ice. Its got a hint of vanilla about it and is an excellent i to a rum cake. Continuously brush rum a few tablespoons at a time. Soaking cakes with rum in colonial times allowed cakes to be preserved throughout long journeys– especially overseas. I’ve had some students assure me that a black cake can last years…though I haven’t tried it myself. Paul and Murielle tell me they brush rum what they have left of their voodoo cake and plan to have it on their first anniversary.
Traditionally black cake is covered with royal icing. Add a tsp of glycerin to a recipe of royal icing to keep it from hardening. Roll out marzipan just as you would with Fondant– dusting work surface with powdered sugar, and cover cake. This is all a bit too sweet for me so I just go with buttercream.
I made a black cake this week for a holiday party in the costume shop at work, hence the buttons, notions, and other sewing accoutrements. It was a big hit!