I’m so excited to share this West Indian classic with you. We have rum cake aka black cake at least once a year. It’s tradition. Every year for as long as I can remember, we’ve had rum cake at Christmas. I’m half Nigerian and half Dominican and it’s something that the West Indian side of my family are awesome at making. In my household it was called rum cake, though as I was looking for recipes as an adult, rum cake threw loads of lightly coloured, rum cakes which resembled a sponge. It’s only when I changed my search to ‘black coloured rum cake’ that the search results produced the classic Caribbean cake that I’d grown up with and loved so much.
Black cake is the jollof of the West Indies in that it doesn’t belong to any one country and everyone has their own unique twist on the recipe. My grandma sadly passed away in 2020. She would make masses of black cake every Christmas. I never managed to get the recipe from her. What I do remember is that hers called for treacle. My recipe doesn’t but I did find some that did need treacle or molasses. It took a few weeks of scouring the different recipes available online to find one that would work for me. I cook with my heart more than my head, so the recipe had to speak to my gut.
In the end, I used this recipe by Alica’s Pepper Pot as a basis for my black cake, though I wasn’t able to find all of the ingredients listed on hers so adapted it to suit. I also decided that there needed to be more rum than the recipe asked for, so I adapted it and kept on pouring until my ancestors eyebrows started to rise and encouraged me to stop!
When do you traditionally eat black cake?
Black cake isn’t just eaten at Christmas. It’s also common to see this rum filled Caribbean cake at weddings and birthdays too. In my household, we buy a black cake for milestone birthdays (21st, 30th, 40th etc) as well as eat it at Christmas.
Is black cake the same as fruit cake?
I hate fruit cake. Yes, on a basic level, they have many of the same ingredients, but they are very different in taste and texture. A fruit cake is a much drier, almost crumbly consistency when compared to black cake. Although called a cake, black cake is almost pudding like in its consistency. It is dense, moist and very indulgent. Imagine a gooey brownie soaked in rum. Also, fruit cake is normally finished off with a layer of marzipan and icing. You can have this decoration on a black cake, but it’s just as likely to be left naked, showing off all it’s delicious cake glory.
Things to consider when making your rum cake
You want your cake to have height. The first time I made this recipe I poured it between two cake tins and they cake out too shallow. Although the cake will rise, it won’t rise by much so fill the cake tin a little over 3/4s full.
The cake develops flavour as you leave it to sit. So you should make it a few days before you want to serve it. You can wrap it in cling film or foil to keep it moist between baking and serving.
You won’t need all of the fruit mix to make one cake. We made one tall cake and two smaller versions out of the mix, so in theory it should yield two decent height rum cakes.
It’s not unusual for people to start soaking their fruits for the cake from January for the following December. I soaked mine for a month and it was still very rich and booze filled!
If you live outside of a major city you might not find Red Label in your local supermarket or off-license. I ordered my bottle online via Amazon because I absolutely love the flavour and it to me it makes the cake taste most authentic. You can of course, substitute it for other brands though I can’t attest to the flavour. The same goes for mixed essence and the browning – all essential flavours for the cake that you may have to find online if not in your local shops.
Fruit mixture for soaking
1 lb prunes, pitted
1 lb currants
1 lb raisins
8oz red glace cherries
4oz mixed peel
750mL bottle Red Label (or port wine)
3-4 cups white or dark rum
Keep one extra small bottle rum on hand
250g unsalted butter
1 lb demerara brown sugar (2 cups)
Zest of one lemon
Zest of one orange
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp almond extract
3 tsp mixed essence
3 heaped cups of the blended, pre-soaked fruit mixture
2 1/2 cups plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground allspice
Alcohol mixture to pour on top
1/4 cup dark rum
1/4 cup cherry brandy
Months / the year before – blend the fruit±
- Add the fruits to your blender or food processor and add the rum and Red Label. Blend until the mixture is a smooth paste.
- You may have to do this in batches in order to make a smooth mix.
- Transfer the mixture to an airtight glass container and leave in a cool, dark place until ready to bake.
- Preheat oven to 120 degrees celcius.
- Line 2-8 inch/ 22cm cake tins with baking paper.
- Mix dry ingredients together in a bowl and set aside.
- In a separate bowl, cream butter and sugar together until mixture is pale and fluffy.
- In another bowl, beat lemon zest, eggs, mixed essence, vanilla essence and almond essence together then add to the butter and sugar mixture, a little at a time blending well.
- Add 3 heaping cups of the rum soaked fruit mixture the butter and egg mix a little at a time, blending as you go.
- Gently fold in the flour mixture, a little at a time.
- Add your browning and mix well.
- Pour batter into lined cake pans.
- Bake for 60-90 minutes. Prick with a toothpick to double check consistency.
- Let the cake cool for 10 minutes before pouring rum and Red Label on top.
- Once the cake has cooled, cover in cling film or foil and let it sit for a few days before eating.
Enjoy this recipe? After you pin it, why don’t you try out these super easy Nigerian puff puff for a quick treat?