Musing about fruitcake--as who doesn't this time of year?--I realized that I do, in fact, have a tried-and-true recipe for Black Cake, aka West Indian fruitcake, in my files. The recipe was originally posted on Chowhound, as part of the annual Laurie Colwin Black Cake discussion, and the poster swore she made it every year, following the method of her husband's grandmother, the inimitable Aunt Flossie. Have I made it myself? Well, at the risk of adding to the pantheon of mythical Black Cakes, no. But Aunt Flossie's granddaughter-in-law has, and that's good enough for me to pass her rule along to you. I've still never, ever seen burnt sugar essence in a grocery store, but many New Yorkers swear they have, all over the city. So, a belated Christmas gift from Aunt Flossie to you, posted exactly as it was written.
Note that the fruits have soak for at least a month before using, which pretty much blows the idea of making this in 2006 out of the water. Get started now anyway, and before you know it, it will be a miserable sleety day in February and nothing will sound better than a slice of fruitcake and a hot cup of rum-spiked tea.
Aunt Flossie's Fruitcake
This is an authentic West Indian fruitcake. The recipe was brought to the USA by my husband's grandmother, better known as "Aunt Flossie" at the turn of the last century. It is fairly labor intensive and you need a full day and must follow the recipe exactly or it won't taste the way it should. Note that you can cut this recipe in half.
1 lb dried pitted prunes
1 lb. raisins
1/2 lb dried cherries
1 lb currants
1/2 lb candied citron
1/4 lb candied lemon peel
1/4 lb candied orange
In a large ceramic jar (or you can use glass but never metal!) add all the fruits and pour over these:
1 quart medium (not cream) sherry
1 quart ruby (gallo) port
1 quart stout
1 quart dark rum
Cover and soak for at least a month before using. These fruits can keep forever -not a surprise considering the amount of alcohol- and I always have fruits soaking in a big ceramic jar that I keep in a cool pantry. If you do this just check on the fruit every few months to make sure all the liquid hasn't evaporated.
When ready to bake the fruits have to be ground. I use a Cuisinart and grind them using the pulse button. You want the fruit ground but not turned to paste or mush, so do it a little as a time, and don't strain the liquid.
To bake the cake:
1 lb. sweet butter (use a good brand - I like the imports from France)
1 lb. all purpose bleached white flour
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp. allspice
1 TBL cinnamon
1 tsp. mace
1 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
1 TBL vanilla extract
1 TBL almond extract
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 pint heavy cream
1 lb. light brown sugar
1 dozen eggs
Soaked fruits, above
1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F
2. Cream the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy - about 10-12 minutes
3. In a separate bowl sift the flour and spices
4. Put vanilla, almond extracts and heavy cream in a bowl and set aside
5. Beat the butter mixture once more to make sure its still fluffy and add 1/2 tsp salt
6. Separate the eggs, setting the whites aside. Beat the yolks into the butter mixture ONE AT A TIME
7. Using a wooden spoon beat in 1/4 of the flour mixture to butter. Then alternate adding cream and flour to butter until all is incorporated
8. Add in burnt sugar for coloring the batter - you can make this by literally burning sugar and then adding a little water to give it a more liquid as opposed to sticky texture- or look in the west Indian/import section of your grocery store and you'll see bottles of burnt sugar- so add until get the color you like
9. Add mixing with the wooden spoon 8 large cooking TBL (by this I mean the large metal cooking spoons used to stir large pots) of soaked ground fruits. Now here's the part which calls for your own judgement. Taste the batter after you have added those first 8 cooking TBL of fruits and see how you like it - If you like it "darker" meaning more of a taste of fruits keep adding fruits - the more fruits you add the denser it will be.My family likes it pretty dark (dense).
10. With an electric mixer beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry - like for a meringue
11. Fold egg whites into mixture
12. Grease with Crisco two deep cake pans - 8-10 inch diameter and 4-5 inches deep. Add batter
13. Bake at 300 degrees for 35 minutes and then lower to 200 degrees and bake 4 hours. Check after 2 hours to see how its doing. When done inserted toothpick should emerge relatively clean. When taken out of the oven sprinkle with more rum (this is optional)
Aunt Flossie always made one or two tester cakes to see if she needed to add more fruits to batter.In a very tiny pan - I use small ramekins- I bake a tester cake - I actually do it at 350 degrees and it takes less than an hour - then I taste and add more fruits to the batter if I need it. Or sometimes I bake a dark and light cake. I bake half of it as is and then add more fruit to the other half.