Black Cake: Part Two

23 Dec

Back in September, I looked on as my friend Deborah poured half a liquor store’s worth of alcohol into a jar of dried fruit to start off her first ever black cake. Over the weeks since then, she has been topping up the jar with rum, port, sherry and the likes to keep the fruits inside moist and saturated to bursting point with flavour. Last week the time finally came to make the cake.

Deborah’s mom, Carmen, came into town for the occasion to oversee her daughter’s efforts and make sure the family reputation stayed intact.

The women in their family take their black cake very seriously. They have bake-offs every Christmas, with everybody taking that basic recipe and adding an extra dash or spoonful of what they think it might need to nudge it up to the next level and get them crowned black-cake maker of the year.

(I’m nibbling on a slice as I type for inspiration, by the way. It’s crazy how the intense, boozy flavours develop from the moment you pop a piece in your mouth till long after it has hit your belly.)

This has to be the most labour-intensive cake-making I’ve ever seen–lots of beating, sifting, blending and testing happened along the way. The Brewsters even remove the little white knots from their egg yolks, one by one, to ensure perfect smoothness.

Deborah’s mom was quiet throughout most of the process, which came as a surprise to me, since her daughter is one of the most exuberant people I’ve ever met.

Carmen lent a hand now and again, offered advice and occasionally suggested we quit taking photos of everything and get to work.

When all the ingredients were finally combined, she popped a spoon in the bowl and scooped a little mix up to try.

Long pause.

“Batter tastes good,” she pronounced.

Then a smile.

“You did good, kid.”

*     *     *     *     *

The Brewsters shared some great tips–see below.

And find their recipe here.

1) Bring the eggs out the fridge early to get them to room temperature before you start: they’ll whip up better.

2) Cut an oversized piece of parchment paper to line the sides of the tin, then put the batter in the tin before you trim it down–the weight of the batter will hold the paper steady.

3) If you have leftover fruit and alcohol in your jar once you’ve measured out what you need for your cake, keep it for next year and just add extra fruit and alcohol. The earlier you get the fruit steeping, the better your cake’s going to taste.

4) Use a very, very large bowl for mixing, or your biggest (non-Teflon) saucepan at a pinch.

5) When everything is combined, stand a wooden spoon in the batter. If it stays standing, it’s perfect. If not, add a little extra flour and burnt sugar to stiffen the batter.

5) Add water in a metal tin for extra steam in the oven, but don’t ever use a glass baking dish–it will lose its sheen.

6) Pour an extra half cup of sherry and rum to the cake as soon as it comes out of the oven for extra punch.

7) Do not feed this cake to young children, or all hell will break loose.

Happy holidays!

19 Responses to “Black Cake: Part Two”

  1. December 29th, 2011 at 8:17 PM #

    That looks like so much fun!

    • Valerie Howes January 1st, 2012 at 6:44 PM #

      It really was, Mira!

  2. Maisie November 6th, 2012 at 1:50 AM #

    It looks delicious. I have a question. If you’ve already got fruits already soaked, but have forgotten the weight before soaking. How many cups should you add to your recipe to make 2 cakes. I’ve got soaked fruits but I was looking for a recipe that I could manage. Thanks for posting the pictures, as it shows how it’s done.

    • Maisie November 11th, 2012 at 4:55 PM #

      Hi Valerie,

      Have you been able to find out the amount of soaked fruit to use (in cups) for the recipe.

      Kind regards,


      • Deborah November 13th, 2012 at 11:56 AM #

        Hi Maisie,

        Like a lot of recipes passed from one family member to another it is hard to break it down to exact measurements.
        The recipe above made one large and two medium sized cakes and I have fruit left-over for this year’s cake (which I mixed with some new soaked fruit).
        My suggestion is that you make less cake batter (perhaps 2/3 the quantity) and add cups of fruit one at a time stirring with a wooden spoon. Once you are able to stand the spoon up in the mixture without the spoon falling over, you’ve added enough fruit.
        I hope that helps.
        What do you think Val?

        • Maisie November 13th, 2012 at 7:04 PM #

          Deborah, thank you very much for your reply. This is going to be me first attempt at making a Christmas cake and I want it to be a success. I was impressed with the way Valerie documented the procedure and methods in photographic steps with you and your mom, that it inspired me to give it a go. I bought and soaked dried fruits last year but I couldn’t find a recipe that stated how many cups or weight of soaked fruits were needed in a particular recipe. I didn’t make one in the end. I’m in the UK and of Jamaican heritage, but my mom doesn’t bake. So I was looking for an authentic recipe with photos (I’m not a baker), which was detailed and easy to follow. I’d like to thank you, Valerie and your mom for the posting. I’ll let you know how I’ve got on and may even post a photo of the finished cake(s).

          Kind regards,

          • Deborah November 14th, 2012 at 10:12 AM #

            Good luck with your cake, and yes please let us know how it turns out. Don’t let it intimidate you.

          • Valerie Howes November 14th, 2012 at 10:54 PM #

            We would love to see photos, Maisie. Good luck!

  3. Maisie November 6th, 2012 at 1:41 PM #

    Hi again, another question. Did you use plain or self-raising flour in your recipe?

    • Valerie Howes November 6th, 2012 at 10:30 PM #

      Hi Maisie,
      It was plain flour. I’m waiting for an answer on the fruit.

      • Maisie November 7th, 2012 at 5:45 PM #

        Hi V,
        Thanks for the flour clarification.

  4. Shelley November 15th, 2012 at 1:01 PM #

    I have my fruit – but I have a question about part 1. There is orange peel and rum in the list of ingredients, for part 1. But, you don’t have these added to the fruit to soak. Do you add this in part 1? Or only for part 2?
    Thanks – love the pictures – gives a good idea what everything should look like.

  5. Deborah November 19th, 2012 at 11:15 AM #

    Hi Shelly,

    There must have been an oversight because I certainly add the rum to the soaking fruit mix. The grated orange peel I add the day I bake. Sorry about that!


    • Valerie Howes November 19th, 2012 at 1:28 PM #

      Hi Shelly and Deborah,
      Apologies for the missing rum. I’ve fixed the instructions now.

    • Shelley November 20th, 2012 at 3:15 PM #

      Thank you – my fruit is soaking – I will go and add some rum to it!

  6. Maisie December 10th, 2012 at 1:33 AM #

    Hi Valerie and Deborah,

    Just to let you know that I made the famous “Brewster” black cake last night I should really say cakes, as I fully followed part 2 of the recipe . It was a labour intensive task but I finished it. I’ve just wrapped them up, I must say that they are pretty heavy!!! They weren’t that heavy when they went into the oven!!! I’ve taken photos, but I’m not sure how to download them to the site. Could you let me know how to do this? Deborah just for future reference, I added the eggs one at a time, mixing inbetween after eliminating the white string in the egg. I noticed that the mixture went a bit curdly after the 10th egg. Is that normal? As stated before I’m a novice christmas cake baker (a “newby”). Thanks again for the posting and I look foreward to sending you some of the photos. I took a photo of nearly every stage to remind myself the next time I attempt this.

    I hope you both and your families have a great Christmas and fantastic new year.

    Kind regards,


    • Valerie Howes December 12th, 2012 at 8:52 PM #

      We are delighted that you’ve made it! Would love to see pics. I sent you an e-mail with details of where to send them.

    • Deborah December 19th, 2012 at 12:20 PM #

      Hey Maisie,

      Regarding the eggs, don’t worry about it. That is totally fine. It happens because you use so many of them.

  7. Maisie December 23rd, 2012 at 8:01 PM #

    Hi Val,

    Did you receive my email with the downloaded photos?

    Kind regards,


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