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Black cake

Mon, 7 December, 2020

The best traditional British Christmas cake comes from the Caribbean. It is called, variously, Jamaican black cake, rum black cake or Trinidad black cake.

caribbean black cake

Caribbean black cake descends from British plum pudding which in turn, I believe, is the origin of British Christmas cake. There are many differences between the two cake descendants; the first and uppermost – I enjoy eating the one from West Indies.

Is it the same cake?

There’s booze. There’s more dried fruit that you could imagine packed into a single cake. The recommended start date for the cake proceedings is February. All that might lead you to think there aren’t any differences between the two, apart from my unreasonable bias towards one – but you’d be mistaken.

trinidad black cake

Spot the difference

The booze in British Christmas cake is port and brandy. The dried fruit is packed into the batter whole, against the logic of it. The spicing is mainly the booze, and the cake – just in case it wasn’t rich and sickly enough – is wrapped in not one but two layers of icing: marzipan and fondant. Just reading about it gives me heart palpitations.

The Trinidad black cake is made of dried fruit too but sensibly mashed into paste and stirred into the batter so the texture of the cake is smoother. The tipple of choice is dark rum and cherry brandy – I guess you always go for the local and available.

Here my recipe differs slightly, using port instead of cherry brandy. It’s just because I believe dried fruit soaked in port is simply gorgeous.

And the traditional flavouring is burnt sugar, sometimes homemade but oftentimes replaced by molasses.

caribbean rum christmas cake

How to make black cake?

It’s actually rather easy. Apart from soaking the fruit a year in advance (to be honest I think you can get away with a few days), it’s not complicated.

The fruit doesn’t need to be chopped – I soaked whole chunks of citrus peel, almonds and apricots. The fruit combination isn’t prescriptive as long as there are prunes, raisins and dried cherries. The additional fruit can be a mix of whatever hides in the cupboard, plus the peel and the almonds.

The boozy mass gets minced into a paste and I believe a blender will do the job if you haven’t got a food processor.

The cake batter is simple: butter, sugar and eggs beaten into smoothness, then flour with spices and zests, until just combined. All that fruit paste and enough molasses to make the batter dark brown (it’s never actually black) is stirred into it and into the tin it goes, looking rather unappealingly like a cow pat.

Don’t be tempted to leave it piled in, thinking it will find its space and settle in the oven – it won’t! Unless you smooth the surface as best you can, it will bake into a large cow pat in the tin so make sure you use a palette knife to spread the batter evenly.

jamaican black cake

How long to bake black cake?

It is famously a long bake in a low oven, but I upped the temperature somewhat from the prescribed in NY Times Cooking whose recipe I used and the cake was ready in just over an hour and a quarter. The temperature needs to be lowered for the second half of the baking time, otherwise the cake will be black indeed – on top.

The original recipe tells to sozzle the baked cake with more rum but I like to have my booze separate from my cakes. It’s optional, but instead of the rum I drown the hot cake in light orange syrup and it works beautifully. Any leftover syrup can be drizzled over whipped cream which in my view must be served alongside the cake.

black christmas cake from the caribbean

It keeps forever, of course; wrapped in parchment or waxed paper, in a cool place or the fridge. It wins hands down with its British counterpart in my view. But even if you’re dedicated to the latter, this is lovely to try just as a change.

Black cake

Servings: 12Time: 2 hours
Rating: (1 reviews)


  • For the fruit mix:
  • 100g (34 cup) raisins
  • 100g (34 cup) prunes
  • 100g (34 cup) dried sweet cherries
  • 30g (2 tbsp.) dried cranberries
  • 30g (2 tbsp.) dried apricots
  • 30g (2 tbsp.) dried figs
  • 50g (12 cup) mixed citrus peel
  • 50g (12 cup) whole blanched almonds
  • 100g (12 cup) dark rum
  • 75g (13 cup) port
  • For the cake batter:
  • 100g (34 cup) plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 12 tsp mixed spice
  • 12 tsp ground mace or nutmeg
  • zest grated from 1 lime and 1 lemon
  • 90g (6 tbsp.) unsalted butter, softened
  • 90g (12 cup) dark brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tbsp. molasses plus more as needed
  • butter, for the tin
  • For drenching:
  • 4 tbsp. dark rum or 200ml (scant cup) orange juice


1. Soak the fruit at least 24 hours before making the cake and up to a year (allegedly!). Place all the fruit, peel and almonds in a ziplock bag, pour in the rum and port and squash it to mix the liquor into the fruit. Leave at room temperature and squash the bag occasionally.

soaking fruit

2. When ready to bake, whiz all the fruit with the liquid into paste in a food processor.

mincing fruit

3. Preheat the oven to 180 no fan if available/350F/gas 4. Butter a 20cm round tin and line the bottom with a double layer of parchment.

4. In a small bowl stir the flour with baking powder, spices and zest.

5. Beat the butter with the dark sugar until smooth. Beat in the eggs one after another, then add the flour mix and beat until combined.

black cake batter

6. Add the molasses to the batter, then the fruit paste and stir to combine. The batter should be dark brown in colour; add another tablespoon of molasses if it looks too light.

mixing in fruit paste

7. Transfer the batter to the prepared tin and smooth the top – it won’t even out in the oven but pretty much come out as it went in. Bake for 40 minutes, then turn the oven down to 160C/325F/gas 3 and bake for another 40 minutes or until the top springs back when lightly pressed and a skewer inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean.

black cake before and after baking

8. If you choose the orange drenching option, by the end of the baking time boil the orange juice down to reduce it by half in volume.

9. Drench the hot cake in the tin with the orange syrup or the rum, spooning the liquid over the top and the cracks in the cake. Any leftover syrup can be served with whipped cream alongside the cake.

drenching black cake in orange syrup

10. Cool the cake completely in the tin. To store it up to a month, wrap it in parchment and then in foil and keep in a cool dry place.

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Your comments

Anna @ CuisineFiend
Hi Elaine - this cake is really delicious, and thank you for verifying authenticity!
3 years ago
Elaine Bainbridge
Just like we used to make, up to February 2020 we had lived in Tortola, the British Virgin Islands for 30 years and this was a very sought after cake at Christmas with the elders making the cakes and selling them, some (the best ones) would be priced at $25 to $30 for a medium cake. Yummy, I may have a go at making this myself now. Thanks for the recipe.
3 years ago

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Hello! I'm Anna Gaze, the Cuisine Fiend. Welcome to my recipe collection.

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