Thursday, 19 December 2013

Bajan Christmas Fruit Cake - "Black Cake"

Yesterday I made my Christmas fruit cake.
One of the traditional delicacies of the Christmas season here on the island is our Bajan Christmas fruit cake.  It's not Christmas without Christmas fruit cake.
It's not a cake that can be made on the spur of the moment either.  It takes some planning and preparation, especially if it is to taste like the traditional Christmas cake.
My fruit cake began several months ago when the dried fruit and the liquor were purchased.

 Raisins, currants, prunes, cherries and mixed citrus peel.
Some folks also use dates but they don't seem to like me, so I leave them out.
The fruits were then minced in an old fashioned meat grinder.

Yes, I know it's easier to process in a blender or a food processor but it just doesn't taste the same.
My daughter has been hinting that she wants to make the fruit cake every year, but when she sees me grinding the fruit, her usual cry is, "Isn't there an easier way?" I usually tell her, "Yes daughter dear, but that's why the manufactured cakes do not have the same taste as when it's done this way....the old school way."

The minced fruit then becomes very GOOD friends with copious amounts of liquor, spices, Guinness, essence, nutmeg and sugar, before they are "put up" in a covered glass jar and stored away safely for months or even years sometimes.
One must remember to open up the jar and add more liquor as time goes by, so that the fruit will continue to feel comfy.
As a child I can remember my brother and I "stealing" little dribbles of this manna from my mother's stash until one year she announced that she did not have enough to make a cake, and we were punished with a store bought cake, much to our dismay.

Yesterday was the "the" day to make my Christmas fruit cake.  I have a ritual of making it one week before Christmas.  This way when friends come by they are welcomed with a slice and there is lots of time to lace it with more liquor.

 Ingredients: Butter, Sugar, Eggs, Flour,Minced Fruit, Almond and Vanilla essence, Nutmeg, Spice, Pineapple Jam, Peanut Butter and Crosse and Blackwell Browning which is now Sarson's.

Funny thing about the browning.  Myself and a few other ladies who only use Crosse and Blackwell browning as well, were searching the supermarket shelves for our favourite browning and all we were finding was the Sarson's that had the same packaging label.  I didn't want to take a chance, so I came home to google it....then to find out that Crosse & Blackwell no longer makes the product, so it has been taken over by Sarson's.
I think the supermarkets should put a little sign up notifying the customers that it's the same product but under a different name.

Our local Glow Spread margarine comes in 250g blocks, not in sticks like in the US and other parts of the world.

Mix the butter and sugar, and add the eggs (Break them into a bowl and blend with a little essence separately and then add).
Then add the liquored-up minced fruit.
Mix well. Add the flour. Mix well. Add the browning stirred into a little water. Mix and mix until blended to perfection.
Please don't put in the electric mixer....the cake must be dense and hand mixing is the right way.

Line the cake pans with cut-rite paper, trimming off unwanted portions....this makes clean-up very easy.

Use a ladle to scoop the dense cake mixture into the prepared pans.

All ready for the oven
Bake in a 300 degree oven for 2-1/2 -3 hours with a bain-marie (pan filled with water on the bottom shelf of oven) until done.  
Water in bain-marie will need to be refreshed at intervals during baking.  Cake is finished when knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

You are rewarded with a nice dense cake full of liquor and what I lovingly refer to as my figgy pudding. Some of the alcohol is baked off during the process, so it's necessary to smother the cake in more rum, falernum and wine.
It goes quite quickly.
The cakes came out of the oven at 11.30am and by 12.45pm the first one had died a natural death.

My girlfriend came by for a quick visit and I gave her a slice to travel with.  I received a text later as follows:
"Oh Lord, had a bite of your cake (on an empty stomach) and feel a bit heady now! You need a warning label.  Don't eat and drive."
I responded that the warning labels had not arrived from the printers as yet.
 My lovely Isabella Cake stand by Anchor Hocking - an early Christmas gift from my daughter.
The cakes have been portioned out for the "regulars" who enjoy my Christmas cake.

This fruit cake is what is used for wedding cakes adorned with lots of beautiful icing designs.

Before I write the recipe, I must tell the story of how I got it in the first place.
Back in my banking days when I was working at a very busy out-of-town branch, I had a very nice supervisor.  One day during the festive season, she brought to work slices of cake for a few of us. After my first nibble, I knew that I had to have the recipe.  The thing was, she was a baker like my mum, no measurements, just handfuls of this and dashes of that.  I made her spend her lunchtime recreating the measurements until she came up with these measurements just for me.  Isn't it good to have a nice supervisor?  Thanks Stephanie!!!
Here is the recipe:

Bajan Christmas Fruit Cake also known as Black Cake/Great Cake
1lb butter/margarine (2 pkgs 250g)
1lb dark brown sugar (2 cups)
6 eggs
1-1/2lb all purpose flour (3 cups)
almond essence (1 tablespoon)
vanilla essence (1 teaspoon)
mixed essence (1 teaspoon)
1/2 cup water
Browning - 6 tablespoons
2 small flasks of rum (200ml each) -or just pour in as much to suit your taste like I do
1 small bottle of Port Wine (200ml)
1 small bottle of falernum (200ml)
1 bottle of Guinness or Royal Stout
6 heaping tablespoons pineapple jam or other tasty jam
4 tablespoons peanut butter
1 small grated nutmeg (about 3 teaspoons)
Spice - 2 teaspoons
Fruits: raisins, currants, cherries, prunes, mixed citrus peel (1lb of each fruit)
Method: Mince fruit and set up in rum, falernum and port wine, along with Guinness, nutmeg, spice, essence and a little sugar.  Store in a covered jar until ready for use.

Mix all ingredients together as above and bake at 300 degrees until done (2-1/2-3 hours)

This cake (a steamed pudding really) is so decadent and intoxicating.....please be careful.
I don't drink alcohol, but I've been told by many of my friends that I eat my alcohol in my cake....hahahaha....I have some "very funny" friends.


  1. Wowwwww. That is some cake Virginia. It must rank as one of the most complicated and expensive cakes too.

    1. It is one of the culinary highlights of the season.....lots of folks look forward to Christmas just for this cake. It is expensive to make but well worth it in the end.

  2. You omitted to say how much pounds of fruit mixture in total for this recipe?

    1. Hello Deborah, sorry my response is so late.
      The fruit here on the island is sold in packages of various weights.
      I usually purchase the 1/2lb sizes.
      Two packets of raisins (1lb)
      Two packets of currants (1lb)
      Two packets of cherries (1lb)
      Two packets of pitted prunes (1lb)
      You may also use mixed peel and dates but I don't.
      So for me it's roughly 4lbs of fruit in all. It can be more too if you want, it's not an exact exact amount, more to your liking.
      Hope this helps.

  3. Hi vigorous one, I will be traveling for Barbados December 5th. Do you sell your cakes

    1. Sorry for my extremely late response but I do not sell my cakes. I hope you had an enjoyable visit on the island.

  4. Hi vigorous one, I will be traveling for Barbados December 5th. Do you sell your cakes

    1. You can get your cake from me 8370284/2369506 Dee's Bajan kitchen.. Thanks

  5. Hi VirginiaC,

    Please can you specify the amount in grams or lbs of each type of fruit you use;
    whether the flour is plain (all purpose) or self raising,
    the type of sugar (granulated, caster, soft brown) etc,
    and the amount of ml or cl in a small bottle of port wine and falernum, as I can only find 70cl bottles or 1 litre bottles.

    All the best

    1. Hello Tiamaria,
      So sorry for my late response.
      The fruit here on the island is sold in packages of various weights.
      I usually purchase the 1/2lb sizes.
      Two packets of raisins (1lb)
      Two packets of currants (1lb)
      Two packets of cherries (1lb)
      Two packets of pitted prunes (1lb)
      You may also use mixed peel and dates but I don't.
      So for me it's roughly 4lbs of fruit in all. It can be more too if you want, it's not an exact exact amount, more to your liking.
      The flour is all purpose flour.
      The sugar is brown sugar (the denser and darker the better)
      I use two bottles of 200ml rum, about 200ml of falernum and about 200ml of port wine.
      It depends on how liquored up you want your cake to be, so it's a matter of taste.
      Hope this helps.

    2. Hi VirginiaC, thanks for your response.

      The measurements make it a lot easier for people like me who are not experienced bakers. I'll be making this cake over the weekend. Thanks for the recipe.

  6. Dear VirginiaC
    Your blog on how to make a black cake has been really helpful with my plan to bake one for the first time ever, for my husband's 65th birthday in December 2017. I prepared the fruits and alcohol in January and have been topping this up and I am now planning the purchase of the ingredients. Your information on Gravy Browning is really helpful as it is not a regular ingredient here in the UK.

    I have also been following your blog which I have found entertaining and amusing.

    Best wishes and many thanks

    1. Hello Glyn,
      Thanks for popping by my glad that you have been enjoying my posts.
      I hope that your cake came out well for your husband's 65th birthday....Happy Birthday Hubby!!!
      I thought that Crosse & Blackwell/Sarsons browning was a British product and could be easily found. It's not labeled as gravy browning just Browning, but we use it here mainly for our gravies.
      Hope this helps.
      Take care and best wishes for the season.

  7. Hello Virginia
    Your Bajan Rum cake has inspired me to make a rum cake for the first time as a Bajan living in Virginia USA! I am really excited to pursue this as my latest project and I am sure it will be successful. Best wishes and keep up the good work!

    1. Hello Devere,
      How is that rum cake coming along?
      Happy to hear that I have inspired you to make your first rum cake.
      Virginia USA is my favourite state, that's where my best friend
      Best wishes to you for the holiday season!!

    2. Hi there Virginia,
      I actually checked back and noticed that you replied! yes I am in mid-preparation with my black cake and it's going well; best wishes to you on this Christmas season and always. Cheers!

  8. G'Day Virginia, from a Bajan (by descent) now living in Australia. Sourcing some of the ingredients here,(falernum,port wine and surprisingly, pineapple jam), has been a task, so I've had to improvise! I'm using Grand Marnier and Muscat instead to ferment the fruit. Also using apricot jam. llb of butter is listed, which I see is equivalent to 450g. Is this correct, as your images, within, your informative, and very humorous article, show a 250g pack of butter/margarine?

    Looking forward to making this reminder of a Bajan Christmas my family shared, when I lived in London, UK.

    Keep up the good work

    Kind regards


    1. Hi Andy,
      Any liquor will do, use whatever you have on hand.
      Grand Marnier and Muscat is perfectly fine.
      Apricot jam is also a perfect choice...actually any yellow coloured jam like mango, apricot or pineapple would do. I think red jams like strawberry, raspberry, grape etc would throw off the taste but could be used in a pinch.
      I use 500g (2 pkgs of 250g) butter/margarine which is roughly 1lb of butter.
      Let me know how your cake turns out. I plan to bake my cakes today.
      Thanks for stopping by my blog and for your kind words.
      Happy Bajan Christmas!!!
      Hope this helps.

  9. So glad my mom found your blog! This is the only one after numerous searches that is the exact to what she is familiar is. She was super excited to have the measurements and the confidence now in making this Bajan Great Cake. Thank you for sharing!

  10. Hello, Virginia! I just wanted to finally send my THANKS (months later) for the help you and your blog provided before I attempted my very first family fruitcake. My mother's family is from Barbados (but emigrated to Canada in the '20s, thence to NY), and always made this cake (especially as groom's cake, but at holidays and other times, too). The older generations are gone now, I didn't know how to contact my relatives still in Barbados, and all we had left was the recipe, which neither my sister nor I had ever actually tackled. SO -- you were so much help with some of the finer details and baking instructions and ingredients (our recipe differs slightly, but is fundamentally the same creature). I ground up the fruit (WITH grandmother's enormously heavy iron meat-grinder), let it swim around in the booze for six weeks or so, then mixed everything up, into the oven , and it was fabulous. Exactly as I remembered it -- what a beautiful memory from the past. And holy Moses, I'd forgotten how rich it is! Anyway . . . thank you again so much! You're a treasure. Next I'm trying your "bakes" recipe. That's something I've never had, but my Mom talked about how her mother made them all the time for her and her siblings.

    With my very best regards to you and yours (and bless you for your love and kindness to Girlie; I just read about her!),


  11. Hello Virginia
    I wanted to ask permission to use a few of your photos in a portfolio which I am preparing for a class called Writing about Food. I am current a student pursing a Masters and have written a number of essays on my bajan food memories. One of them speaks about great cake and I wanted some visuals to include. Would it be okay for me to use some of your photos?


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