A few months ago I got a request for a Halaal Trini Black Cake recipe. Those of you familiar with the permutations of the traditional Caribbean Christmas black cake (whether you call it black cake or great cake) will know that this cake is generally viewed as inextricable from its alcohol content. In fact, a visitor to this photo on Flickr felt compelled to tell me “the call it rum cake because theres some rum in it“. Grammar and spelling notwithstanding, I understood the sentiment although I had never called Mom’s Black Cake “Rum Cake” for obvious reasons…but maybe some people will think it’s sacriligeous to make this cake any other way than reeking of rum or other spirits That’s ok – I just won’t eat it that way. And this cake that Mom makes, which she agreed to share the secrets, is so rich, and moist that it is appreciated by rum cake lovers and Muslims alike.
The traditional way of making Black Cake involves mincing and soaking the fruits from up to a year before baking. Soaking in alchohol. People pride themselves on getting the fruits together earlier than their neighbours so they get the right flavours and textures. No alcohol ergo no need for soaking. We’re not fermenting anything here. The cake is supposed to be moist, dense and dark. The fruits get the moistness into the cake and Mom’s secret, from her mother, is the addition of condensed milk, which maintains helps maintain the right texture. There are NO leavening agents used in the cake – the eggs will do the necessary – and bake on low heat. With plenty browning, the cake is supposed to be black, remember.
The other notable difference between a regular Black Cake and the halaal version is the timing of its baking. We (my family) don’t celebrate Christmas, so we don’t make the cake for Christmas. (That’s not to say that there aren’t Muslims who might make it around Christmas time, just not us). Mom will make it for special occasions indeed (it is a rich cake) such as Eid, or to send with me to Guyana so I have a taste of home. In fact, we still have some cake that she baked for Eid ul Fitr a month ago, that stayed, just like the alcoholic version, in the cupboard, getting moister and lovelier by the day.
Without further ado, onto the recipe.
Halaal Trini Black Cake Recipe
8 ounces margarine/butter
2 ounces shortening
8 ounces brown sugar
14 ounces flour
14 ounces condensed milk (1 395 gm tin)
1.5 cup browning
Minced fruits – 8 ounces each of prunes, raisins, dates and black currants; , 4 ounces mixed peel, 2 oz cherries
1 tsp cinnamon
1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease cake tins with shortening and line with parchment or waxed paper – line bottom and sides. Mom likes to use the old Danish Butter Cookie tins, since they have covers for storage after baking.
2. Mince fruits in blender or food processor until as fine as you like it (I like it almost to a paste – I don’t like discernible bits of fruit).
1. Cream butter, shortening and sugar till fluffy.
2. Add eggs one at a time, beat well between additions.
3. Add fruits, mix well.
4. Add browning, condensed milk and cinnamon, mix well.
5. Add flour, about 2 ounces at a time, mix between each addition.
At this point, Mom will put a tablespoon of the cake batter on a saucer into the microwave to cook. Taste this to test for sweetness and of course look at the colour. Determine if you need more condensed milk or browning, or if you are in a really humid place (more than here? whew) more flour. If you think it has too much flour, addition of a little condensed milk or more browning can help balance it out.
6. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pans.
7. Bake in the oven for about an hour – until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Notes on Soaking the Cake
Traditionally, the Black Cake is soaked in alcohol after baking and “topped” up ever so often, which keeps it edible and moist long after the normal shelf life of cake. Mom used to soak her cake in grape juice or apple juice to mimic this process and texture. However, this won’t keep the cake. You’ll have to store it in the fridge.
However, this cake is naturally moist and it tastes better and moister after a few days. In fact, without soaking it stays moist and keeps out of the fridge for weeks. Mom currently has the cake from Eid (whatever’s left) in a container and it hasn’t been refrigerated yet. For safety, you could choose to refrigerate and then just bring to room temperature before eating (if you microwave it before eating it gets a little soft and the sweetness can be a bit over the top – but maybe you like that).
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