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Black Cake and Browning

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#1 hummingbirdkiss

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Posted 20 March 2007 - 08:18 AM

I have a very strong history of Caribbean influence in my life/cooking

one of the things that is a very important part of my family tradition is a Black Cake or Heavy Cake as it is sometimes called...I make one for special holidays and events ...Easter is close and my friend is graduating with a second degree and it is time to pull the jar of fruits down and get busy on this...

if you don't know about this cake it is made from dried fruits soaked in booze (everyone has a secret combo they love to use) ground up and put into a plum pudding like cake base that has a touch of rosewater and browning in it

I think the secret to wonderful black cakes is the fruit ... the base fruit that I keep adding to every year is at least 10 years old at this point and it is a wonderful mother to the new fruits that join in...I have for the past few years used Trader Joe's dried fruits cut up pineapple, peaches, raisens of all types, dried cherries of all types, prunes, all kinds of fruits that I think will hold up in the jar then douse it with a bottle of Appletons dark rum, bottle of cherry brandy and bottle of port wine...

The browning is also a very important part of a great cake...and well...

I must confess always bought the browning in a jar...and suddenly I can not find it and ran out of what I had....


so my two questions for this thread would be

do you make a black cake and would you like to share your "secrets" or stories about them?

and please if you have made browning can you share with me the best way to do it?

#2 racheld

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Posted 20 March 2007 - 08:33 AM

I've never made the cake, and the only recipe I've ever known was the one for twenty or so cakes, recited by dear Julie Harris in Belle of Amherst.
She stood on the stage, naming off endless ingredients in enormous quantities, all the while stirring an imaginary bowl cradled in her arms. I would imagine that the REAL bowl would be the size of a bathtub, needing a canoe paddle to stir.

I'm glad to know a real person who carries on the tradition. Could you post a photo?
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#3 hummingbirdkiss

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Posted 20 March 2007 - 08:40 AM

absolutely I will post a picture

I dont have an exact recipe but if you want when I make it will take pics and try to give the recipe to you ..

Each person who does it ...adds to it I think and when the recipes go down in families the additions become pieces of history...my kids love my version of this cake because I use lots of fresh grated ginger in it to give it a nice edge to the sweetness of all the fruits and brown sugar...

I love this cake myself . and can always tell about families when I taste others .....

#4 alanamoana

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Posted 20 March 2007 - 03:32 PM

check with eG member Lindacakes as her avatar is a west indian black cake. she'll probably have some information for you.

#5 Abra

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Posted 20 March 2007 - 04:46 PM

I made a black cake once, but as I recall, the fruit was only soaked for half an hour or so, and the result was a lot like a regular fruitcake. I'd love to hear more about how you make it, and what the elusive "browning" is. That sure wasn't in the version I made.

#6 Kerry Beal

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Posted 20 March 2007 - 05:35 PM

Searching online brought me to a recipe for browning. Take 1 lb brown sugar, caramelize until burned. Add 1/2 cup hot water very carefully as it will splash up. Let cool.

Recipe here

Quite similar to the pumpernickel colour I make, but that uses white sugar, cooked until burned and water added.

#7 sugarseattle

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Posted 20 March 2007 - 10:05 PM

Searching online brought me to a recipe for browning.  Take 1 lb brown sugar, caramelize until burned.  Add 1/2 cup hot water very carefully as it will splash up.  Let cool.

Recipe here

Quite similar to the pumpernickel colour I make, but that uses white sugar, cooked until burned and water added.

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Sounds a lot like caramel coloring, very easy to make, but you can also just buy it.
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#8 Cadbury

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Posted 21 March 2007 - 12:53 AM

Australian fruitcake recipes that need to be dark make use of "parisian essence". Perhaps you may be able to find some?

#9 mukki

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Posted 21 March 2007 - 08:13 AM

Saveur's Dec. 06 issue had an interesting blurb on black cake. I was surprised to see that the piece pictured looked almost like a flourless chocolate cake or wet fudge, not at all like fruitcake. Sounds like you want to make the browning yourself, but the article mentioned that Kalustyan's in NYC carries both burnt sugar syrup (which sounds the same as browning) and "mixed essence".

#10 hummingbirdkiss

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Posted 21 March 2007 - 08:24 AM

Saveur's Dec. 06 issue had an interesting blurb on black cake. I was surprised to see that the piece pictured looked almost like a flourless chocolate cake or wet fudge, not at all like fruitcake. Sounds like you want to make the browning yourself, but the article mentioned that Kalustyan's in NYC carries both burnt sugar syrup (which sounds the same as browning) and "mixed essence".

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I checked out that recipe and it is exactly the same as what I do ..but completely different if you know what I mean?

my combinations of spices are different and so is the flavoring....but the cake looks quite the same actually ..I have molds I like to use in shapes as well to give them away

I have steamed and baked this cake and love both so now do half and half each year ...

I am excited and going to post the recipe the best I can ..but honestly the fruits ...start them a year before you want to make a cake!!! or at least a few months ..this one hour two hour thing ...they will taste harsh and raw...

the longer they sit the smoother the flavors ...my friend puts cheap passover wine in her fruit jars ..and I am thinking of doing that after the last batch of her cake I tried...

it is kind of a "chain" cake! you can give part of your fruits to other people to get them started ...like sourdough!

I do grind all my spices and use vanilla beans ....
I am going to make it this week and will share all the steps

thanks so much for the browning advice!!! I think I will do a batch this morning and test it out...

I can not find the right browning here ..even in the Caribbean markets ..they will order it ..but I want to make the cake now ....

Edited by hummingbirdkiss, 21 March 2007 - 08:30 AM.


#11 hummingbirdkiss

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Posted 21 March 2007 - 09:09 AM

how on earth did I miss someone with a black cake on their avatar!!! how cool is that??/

#12 Abra

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Posted 21 March 2007 - 02:44 PM

Hey, the timing is good. I'll start some fruit when you post the recipe, then it will have all the way until December to rest. I love long cooking projects. Passover wine, eh? Timing's good for that too.

#13 hummingbirdkiss

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Posted 21 March 2007 - 03:26 PM

the way to start this is just at any time you feel like it get a big gallon at least glass jar with a plast lid..as you go to the store buy some dried fruits of your liking ..just a few bags to start ..(If you have Trader Joes they have a great selection at a perfet price)

then fill the jar about half way with the dried fruits cut up into bite sized pieces and then pour a small bottle of dark rum a small bottle of apricot, cherry or other flavor brandy and a bottle of port wine over it ..wait a month ..then add more fruits rum, brandy and wine unti the jar is about 3/4 full cover and let sit another month ..if it is not to the top then just put a few more dried fruits in..

I keep two of these going at all times you can do this anytime and the sooner you start the better ..because the longer they sit the better as well ...

these fruits only get better with age and are really good on top of ice cream later as well as in this cake ...so it is good to have more than you need on hand

#14 hummingbirdkiss

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Posted 23 March 2007 - 05:23 AM

addendum to the above ...I use only unsweetened untainted dried fruits...and the soaking is so important (and you may of course know this already)...because it is more than the fruits filling with the alcohol it is also the reverse in that the fruits let off their flavors into the alcohol and this takes a lot of time...but the cake is so worth it in the end ...
I don't think there is any other fruit cake in the world that tastes as wonderful as this one ...

of course right now I am under the influence of 10 year old fruit!

Edited by hummingbirdkiss, 23 March 2007 - 05:28 AM.


#15 Lindacakes

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Posted 23 March 2007 - 08:04 AM

Here I am! Funny this topic comes up right now because I have it on my calendar to start my fruit.

I am very curious about your recipe, if you care to share, Hummingbirdkiss. I've been making black cake for a few years now, and gave my new boss one this year for Christmas. He was floored because he's Trinidadian and hasn't had black cake in ten years and didn't know anyone in the states had even heard of it. He says it tastes the same as the ones his grandmother made. With one exception -- I grind my fruit to a paste, grandma's was chunky.

I'm curious about chunky but afraid to change because I love the texture of my cake so much. It's sort of like a pudding -- smooth in its finish, which I think adds to the exotic taste.

I buy my burnt sugar at Kalustyan's -- someone I've talked to tried doing their own sugar and felt it didn't taste the same. It's a hard enough cake to make, so I don't complicate it by doing my own sugar.

I've found the greatest influences on my cake are the booze and the length of time the cake ages -- I use 750 ml of Myer's dark rum and 750 ml of 25 year old Port. Regardless of the recent news in the Times that the quality of booze doesn't matter in cooking, I think it matters in fruit-soaking. I grind my fruit and I use raisins, plums, cherries, citron, orange peel and lemon peel. I allow this to soak in the booze for at least four months. Once I bake the cakes, I allow them to age for four months before I give them away. I've found that if you eat them earlier, they taste too boozy and have too much of an alcohol effect. I like my cakes to elevate the mood without making you knock over the glassware . . .

I use orange marmalade in my cake, and am curious about the rosewater. Too bad they take so dang long to make, and cost so much, a person could do a little bit of experimentation.

If you like, at Christmastime, I'll swap you a piece.
I like to bake nice things. And then I eat them. Then I can bake some more.

#16 hummingbirdkiss

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Posted 23 March 2007 - 09:48 AM

OMG I love reading your post Lindacakes!!! thank you ...

I am taking pictues and documenting each step as best I can ...I dont mind sharing this tradition at all ..in fact I love to share it!!!...making this cake is kind of like making a meatloaf it morphs as you go along

#17 Lindacakes

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Posted 23 March 2007 - 11:03 AM

Most excellent, I'm looking forward to the documentation! There's another thread with some of this in it, I think it got called The Fruitcake Thread. I think we should start The Fruitcake Club since there are so few of us . . . Also, if you do King Arthur Baking Circle, there's a thread in there I started about plastic buckets (I ended up using plastic but I'd love to have a crock for this) that got quite lengthy and involved some Islanders. I got inspired by Laurie Colwin's Black Cake recipe, which is where most of us non-Islanders get the bug. I used a Baking Circle member's recipe, which is mostly Laurie Colwin with a couple of changes based on other recipes.

My eternal question -- do you ice your cake? How do you serve it? I don't ice mine, but I've tried various things with it, I think the most successful being mascarpone.

Did you know you can buy them on eBay? I can't imagine denying myself the fun of creating the cake, or gifting the delighted, or controlling the contents, but you can indeed buy a black cake on eBay! Of course shipping a three pound cake adds up!
I like to bake nice things. And then I eat them. Then I can bake some more.

#18 Abra

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Posted 23 March 2007 - 11:46 AM

Perfect - 4 months to soak, bake, 4 months to rest and then it's Christmas! So even though that will be minimal soaking, it's a start.

Hummingbirdkiss, do you let your baked cakes cure that long as well?

#19 hummingbirdkiss

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Posted 23 March 2007 - 11:47 AM

I don't ice ..I just pour rum over it when it first comes out of the oven and then wrap it right up really well and ignore it for a couple of weeks ...

it I like to serve it sliced topped with some grated lemon rind and sweetened whipped cream ..and a really good cup of coffee ..

oh as far as chunks go I like mine medium ground kind of like fine mincemeat maybe? ...I will take a pic and show you ..in the end it gives just a hint of textural distinction to the cake!

I think a fruitcake club is perfect!!!

I have been told I resemble one anyway!

#20 hummingbirdkiss

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Posted 23 March 2007 - 11:48 AM

oh I must confess I do eat a piece as soon as it is cool enough I love that first warm bite before the cake firms up!!!

#21 Luckylies

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Posted 23 March 2007 - 02:40 PM

Last year I didn't age mine nearly enough :wacko: booze city.

this year I'm starting my fruit this weekend and ageing the cakes 4 months (at least) I'll also "water" them with some fruit soaking liquid.

I like serving them with icing made just with 10x and water...mmmm
does this come in pork?

My name's Emma Feigenbaum.

#22 hummingbirdkiss

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Posted 25 March 2007 - 07:52 AM

these are my fruits
Posted Image

I keep two jars this size going all the time I got the jars at a Korean market for about $2/each

when I want to make a batch of cakes I take one of the jars and use the whole thing (less what I eat when I make the cake! see the plate ...yummm I am not sure I have even done this sober btw! the fruits sneak up on you!) then split the second jar of fruits between the two jars ..use it as the mother...and add fresh fruits, rum, brandy and port wine...

in three to six months I can make another batch ..it is such a wonderful cycle!!!

I think in my heart the age of the fruits matters more than anything else with this cake ...they should be mellow before you bake the cake and then the cake only needs a coupld of weeks of age to be perfect...
I have aged my cakes longer but really when the fruits are perfect ..so will your cake be I think

Edited by hummingbirdkiss, 25 March 2007 - 07:54 AM.


#23 Abra

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Posted 09 April 2007 - 10:05 PM

I have my fruits, rum, and port, and am ready to go. Except: I can't see the picture and can't tell from the descriptions so far - do I grind the fruit before or after soaking?

I also have some brandied (fresh) plums left from a batch I picked and soaked last summer. Do you think they'd be good in the mix? Or does it have to be 100% dried fruits?

#24 hummingbirdkiss

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Posted 10 April 2007 - 05:06 AM

I have my fruits, rum, and port, and am ready to go.  Except:  I can't see the picture and can't tell from the descriptions so far - do I grind the fruit before or after soaking?

I also have some brandied (fresh) plums left from a batch I picked and soaked last summer.  Do you think they'd be good in the mix?  Or does it have to be 100% dried fruits?

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where did my pic go :(

leave them whole in the jar and then grind them when you are ready to make the cake I will replace the pic I am sorry!!!
I dont know about the fresh plums to be honest I have always used dried fruits since the water is out and the brandy and rum can get into them they may be too mushy

I will post a pic of my cake as well later it was a HUGE hit!!!
the best ever!!! (we say that every year!!!)

#25 hummingbirdkiss

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Posted 10 April 2007 - 05:08 AM

perfectly soaked fruits here you go I ate that plate full :)
Posted Image

if you look closely you can see that there are some old soaked fruits (my starter per se and some newer ones ..thet difference of saving some for the next batch is what makes this so good)

Edited by hummingbirdkiss, 10 April 2007 - 05:09 AM.


#26 Abra

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Posted 10 April 2007 - 04:35 PM

Wow, I went a bit overboard with the fruit! After I dumped pineapple, apples, peaches, apricots, pears, cherries, raisins, prunes, and some dried berries plus a handful of good citron into my jar, one bottle of port and one of rum didn't begin to cover it all.

Posted Image
This provided an excellent opportunity to dump all the odds and ends from my liquour cabinet into the jar. It's amazing how many little bits of port, brandy, and even some Triple Sec the fruit jar was able to handle. But only hours later the fruit is already popping up as it absorbs the booze. Do you think I need to keep it totally submerged, or should I just stir it from time to time?

Edited by Abra, 11 April 2007 - 09:04 AM.


#27 hummingbirdkiss

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Posted 11 April 2007 - 06:31 AM

Abra that looks perfect!!! just keep adding to it ..I usually make two of those jars and keep adding fruits and booze until they are crammed packed!

the fruits taste good over ice cream later as well I think I mentioned?

#28 Luckylies

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Posted 11 April 2007 - 03:17 PM

Here's the thing, my recipe calls for 4 pounds 12 ounces of dried fruit. I'd like to marinate the whole batch together insted of lots of jars (I'm tripling the recipe this year) How much soaked fruit do you guys use per recipe?

Also will you post your recipes? Please?


I'm so psyched. I ordered from Economy candy this year, and will be picking my browning from klustians..yipee!
does this come in pork?

My name's Emma Feigenbaum.

#29 hummingbirdkiss

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Posted 11 April 2007 - 05:21 PM

Here's the thing, my recipe calls for 4 pounds 12 ounces of dried fruit. I'd like to marinate the whole batch together insted of lots of jars (I'm tripling the recipe this year) How much soaked fruit do you guys use per recipe?

Also will you post your recipes? Please?


I'm so psyched. I ordered from Economy candy this year, and will be picking my browning from klustians..yipee!

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I will absolutey post my recipe for you but I have to sit and think about it first so I can make it as accurate as possible ...I am in the midst of a heavy work week so early next week I will ...(hold me to it please I am exhausted!)

I do use rosewater in mine and have not seen that in any published recipe ..it is absolutely a must for me other than that other things should be simple to find ...

#30 Abra

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Posted 11 April 2007 - 05:59 PM

Oh good, I'm looking forward to the recipe too. Will you be able to express the fruit in soaked weight? I have no idea what it all weighed before immersion. And since I love rosewater, that's definitely going in mine.

Emma, when you get your browning, please tell us whether it's just caramel syrup that we could be making ourselves, or some secret elixir.

I'm really stoked about this too. Next weekend I'm making cassoulet with duck confit that I put up last November, so having the fruit on the opposite cycle makes life seem more balanced.





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