This year, I am not making the traditional British Christmas cake, but instead am making black cake, which hails from the Caribbean. Instead of making the cake in advance, and then feeding it with alcohol, you soak the fruit for the cake in alcohol, for somewhere between 2 weeks and 6 months, and then mix it into the cake batter. The alcohol in question is different too, instead of brandy you use a mix of dark rum and sweet wine.
As I mentioned, this is a traditional Caribbean recipe, but I first heard of it in Nigella Lawson's How to be a Domestic Goddess, and she in turn got it from Laurie Colwin- a wonderful writer who I discovered a few years ago- if you like reading about food, I can really recommend her books.
It's quite hard to make Laurie Colwin's recipe, as it requires burnt sugar essence, which is not an expensive ingredient, but a very elusive one. Nigella uses treacle, but according to my internet sources, it's not really the same. I'll probably have to make do with treacle though.
In terms of soaking the fruit, I used rum, madeira, and also added a few dashes of bitters, which I saw suggested online, and liked the idea. The soaked fruit makes enough to make two cakes. I am planning on making one cake with half the ingredients, and leaving the remaining boozy fruit mix to macerate for the maximum six months, to see the difference.
Here is Nigella's recipe and here is a photo of some of the soaked fruit. There is loads of it- about 2 kilos of it- but a spoonful of brown pulp makes a slightly better photo than a tub of brown pulp.
So far, I have just got to the fruit soaking part- I will report back in few weeks when the cake is made!
23/11/15- Baking the cake
After about 6 weeks of soaking the fruit, I baked the cake. I stuck to Nigella's recipe, but added 2 spheres of grated stem ginger. The cake isn't as dark as the photos of black cake that I have seen, but I think without the elusive burnt sugar essence, it was as dark as I could have gotten in. I am leaving the cake now until Christmas, but tasting the cake mix, and the half baked bit of cake that clings to the knife when you check if it is ready makes me feel pretty confident that it is going to be a success. It has a complex, caramelly flavour, that hopefully will mature between now and Christmas. I am undecided whether or not to ice it. I don't especially like royal icing, but it does make it feel more festive- I shall see how I feel in December.
|And finally! The difference between black cake (right), and the more British Christmas cake (left)|