Monday, November 26, 2012

An attempt at Guyanese Black Rum Cake

Recently I encountered a Caribbean Black Cake at a restaurant. It immediately brought back memories of my childhood growing up in Guyana. Since my later start at cooking Guyanese food, it dawned on me that I did not know how to make a Guyanese Black Rum Cake. So I set out to research and ask around, in the hopes of having Black cake this Christmas.

Black Cake as any West Indian descent should know, is a heavy dense cake made with fruits and liquor. Every island in the Caribbean have their version of this specialty. Since my interest lies in the Black cake of my childhood, I am focusing on the Guyanese version. If memory serves me right, I recall Guyanese rum and sweet red wine, in our recipe. This specialty of the Caribbean is very popular at weddings and Christmas.

My earliest recollection, being the only boy in a house full of girl cousins was to assist in the cake mixing. During the late 70s throughout the 80s, we did not have the luxury of an electrical powered mixer. I am not sure many households have a mixer even today. We mixed in a big enamel bowl and a wooden spoon. Of course, as any one knows the payment for slaving at the bowl was to lick the spoon and bowl clean. My aunts were gracious in turning a blind eye to my finger dipping or maybe they knew. In any case, I was too young to learn or remember recipes and ratios. Underage labor was tolerated.

During my research for this recipe I consulted with those same aunts. Who would you believe they still don’t have a recipe?  However, an older cousin sought to try and master her mom’s recipe. In as much as there was no fixed standard recipe to pass on, there was enough knowledge of little particulars that can only be learned from years of practice. Just talking to my family about Black Cake brought back memories of childhood, a simpler time, in rural Guyana. I can clearly remember my grandmother reaching for an overhead hung basket with a rod. That’s where she stored our Black Cake and other sweet goodies.

In this day and age of computers and the internet there is a wealth of knowledge to be found. Several websites and personal blogs depicted and offered information, recipes, tips, pictures, and step by step instructions. Some sources were particular to Caribbean Fruit Cake, while others identified individual islands. There are several schools of thought and views. However, since I really wanted to bring back a childhood memory I had no other option but to assemble a recipe taking the best of all sources. My black cake recipe is based loosely on Jehan Can Cook Blog, with some modifications.

The essence of Black Cake is in the fruits. I remembered growing up people would dry local fruits and then soak them in rum and/or wine. Not having the time to dry local Guyanese fruits I opted for already dehydrated fruits from my local West Indian Supermarket. One such major supermarket in Orlando repackage their fruits in house with very limited information on the labels. One label said “keep refrigerated” and the product was left on a shelf. The American supermarkets carry most of the same dehydrated products, well packaged and stored accordingly. But I found a different West Indian Supermarket, in Clermont, that package in house but stored all of their products refrigerated. So I decided to support this supermarket. One huge West Indian liquor store, in Orlando, was out of stock for El Dorado 5 yr Old Rum, but carried El Dorado Gold Rum. Another Indian owned liquor store, in Clermont, had ample supply.

¾ lb pitted prunes
1 lb currants
¾ lb raisins
¾ lb cherries
¾ lb golden raisins
¾ lb mix candied fruits
1 bottle of El Dorado 5 yr Rum
1 bottle Sherry Wine
1 bottle Port Wine

With my little stick food processor, I finely chopped each container of fruit and then put them all in a huge baking pan. This gave me room to hand mix all the fruits together. After they were well incorporated,  I added 1/4 bottle of rum and sherry. The semi liquid mixture was then placed in an airtight container. Periodically, over the next two weeks I checked and topped up the mixture with rum to keep it moist.

Dry Ingredients
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp ground cloves
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 1/2 tsp mace

I passed the flour through a sifter to ensure all the grains were loose and the same size. Then used a whisk to gently combine all the dry ingredients in a bowl.

Wet Ingredients
1 lb or 4 sticks unsalted butter
2 cups brown sugar
8 eggs
5 tbsp burnt sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 tsp mixed essence

I started out by creaming butter and sugar until all sugar grains were dissolved. This is the part that finger licking is allowed. Maybe add a little more sugar and butter. Or be a disciplinarian and stick with the original measurements. Me, I tipped the sugar spoon. Crack and add one egg at a time while continue mixing. If you are using a table mixer, this part is easy for one person. If you are using a hand mixer, like I did, get help. As the mixture gets fluffy, add vanilla and mixed essence. 

I added 3 cups of fruits and continued mixing. Then place a spoon in the middle of the mixture to check for consistency. The mixture was a little loose so I added 1 more cup of fruits. A little more mixing and the spoon fell slowly. Time for Dry ingredients. Slowly add dry ingredients in one cup at a time until the spoon almost stays vertical but still falls. Add burnt sugar to your color preference. I added 5 Tbsp. Be careful this step could turn the whole thing bitter with too much burnt sugar.

I divided the mixture into two pans lined with parchment paper. With a little slamming on the counter and smacking on the sides to ensure all the air was gone, I placed the pans in a pre heated oven at 275 degrees for 2 hrs. I started to check the center with a tooth pick. When the tooth pick came out clean the cake is done! Every oven has it’s own characteristics, so this is a crucial step. Keep checking. Time to let the cake take cake a swim, I poured rum and port wine over the cake until all was absorbed. The next day I brushed on more port wine. This brushing will continue every so often to keep the cake moist. Or until it’s all done!

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All of the above was done with a recipe of 3 1/2 cups of flour, 1 tsp of spices, and 10 eggs; baked for 2 hrs. The result: a dry cake with very little flavor. So I adjusted the recipe for 2 cups of flour, 1 1/2 tsp of spices, 8 eggs; baked at 350 degrees. Then dropped to 275 degrees. The result: moist, flavorful, memories of my childhood.