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Christmas Black cake (Rum cake)


Late in November I felt like being sad and doing nothing, so I set down with a random cookbook from my bookshelf and it randomly opened on Christmas chapter. It was saying that late November is exactly when one is supposed to make English Christmas cakes, so that they have time to mature before the big day. That's how I came to making those for the first time. That felt somehow proud to undertake this kind of month long baking venture. It turned out to very enjoyable and rewarding too, so I well might continue with it next year.

This year I started from the more or less classic Christmas fruit cake, but then I thought of trying something else and made the Black cake (it seems that it is also known as Rum cake), the steamed Christmas pudding. And though all the three are extremely beautiful the Black cake feels most urgent to write about.

I happen to be a first texture then flavor person and this might be the reason why I so much prefer Black cake. It is moist. The fruits are processed, so there is no bite. Only melting blackness. It feels light and dense at the same time. It looks luxuriously dark under its white icing blanket. The blackness comes from dark rum, dark brown sugar, molasses and prunes. And its flavor is no less sophisticated than all said about it already.

Classic Christmas cakes (picture above) are normally made the following way. You soak mixed fruits overnight in brandy or other flavorful spirits. Next day you prepare cake batter (with flour, sugar, eggs, butter etc as well as Christmas spices) and mix the soaked fruits in. Then you bake. And then you pack the cake airtight and let it mature at room temperature for about a month. This month is exactly when all the flavors from fruits, brandy and spices can marry and get fully absorbed by the cake. It's not that it tastes bad right after baking. But it is nowhere close to that magical sophistication it reaches with maturity.

Black cake is made in a different way. You start from processing the fruits to almost puree and soaking them in dark rum. Then you let them marinade for at least two weeks and at most six months before adding them to the cake batter. I did three weeks this time and would love to try six months next year. In any case though, the flavor of fruits and alcohol inevitably changes a lot during this period and it seems to be the key to all the difference in how the cake tastes later.

Though the process from start to end seems long (you have to start at least five weeks before you want to eat the cake), it isn't actually at all difficult or time consuming. You soak the fruit, set an alarm in your calendar for the next month and forget about the cake till then. You bake, pack and forget again till you want to ice it. Then you ice, slice and done - you make yourself a cup of tea and bite into.

The recipe calls for molasses (picture above), natural vanilla extract, marzipan and ready-to-roll icing (сахарная мастика). These are now quite easily available in Moscow from online stores. I use this one, but I don't insist it's the best one.

It might seem that making two big cakes as suggested by the recipe is too much. However this kind of cake is that stores safely for months, never bores you and a nicely packed piece of it serves as a lovely little Christmas present for anyone you'd like to greet. You are more likely to regret making less than more.

Christmas Black cake (Rum cake) (recipe adapted from How to be a domestic goddess by Nigella Lawson)

makes 2 round cakes, 24 cm (9 inch) in diameter and just under around 1.6 kg each

Marinated fruit mixture (makes enough for two cakes):
270 g (1 cup plus 2 tablespoons) raisins
270 g (1 cup plus 2 tablespoons) prunes
270 g (1 cup plus 2 tablespoons) currants
270 g (1 cup plus 2 tablespoons) glace cherries
100 g (1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons) mixed candied citrus peel (lemon, orange etc)
350 ml (1/2 bottle or 1 1/2 cups) Madeira wine
350 ml (1/2 bottle or 1 1/2 cups) dark Rum

Cake (the fruit mixture described above is enough for two cakes like this one):
260 g (1 cup plus 2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
220 g (1 cup plus 2 tablespoons) dark brown sugar
1/2 marinated fruit mixture (described above)
1/2 tablespoon natural vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 large eggs (or 7 medium size eggs)
250 g (2 cups) all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
round spring form or cake pan 22-24 cm (9 inches) in diameter, parchment paper for baking

Icing (enough for one cake described above):
125 g (1/2 cup) marmalade, orange or any other (I use quince or apricot)
300 g (10 oz) marzipan, I use one which has 30% almond content
300 g (10 oz) ready-to-roll white icing (белая сахарная мастика)
icing sugar for rolling, cutters of your choice for decoration (holy-leaf are classic)

Step 1: Marinate the fruits

Start at least five weeks (up to 6 months) before you plan to eat the cakes, i.e. somewhere around the middle of November. Process the fruits in a food processor till you get very small pieces, but not puree. It is better to do one fruit at a time, so that they don't get crowded. Place the processed fruits in a large airtight plastic container (should be around 2.5 liters in volume). Pour in Madeira and rum. Give a little stir. Put the lid on. Leave to marinate at room temperature, away from light (dark colored plastic bag may be useful here) for two weeks to six months before you move to baking the cakes.

Step 2: Bake the cakes

At least 3 weeks before you plan to eat the cakes, bake them. It is better to first make the batter for one cake and bake it. Then repeat the process with the second cake. In an ordinary home oven you will hardly be able to properly bake two cakes simultaneously. And given that they bake for a long time, mixing the batter in advance won't work too.

Preheat the oven to 175C (350F). Line a round spring form or cake pan 22-24 cm (9 inches) in diameter with two layers of brown paper / any wax paper. Then line with one layer of baking paper. That many layers are needed to prevent the cake from scorching.

To make the batter, cream butter and sugar. Beat in the fruit and rum mixture. Add the vanilla, nutmeg and cinnamon. Beat in the eggs.

Stir the flour with baking powder and add to the batter. Stir till everything is just combined and there are no big lumps of flour, but no longer. Stir in the molasses.

Pour the batter in the prepared pan.

Bake at 175C (350F) for 1 hour. Reduce the oven to 160C (325F). Cover the cake with a sheet of foil or baking paper (to save it from burning) and keep baking for 1 - 1.5 hours till a wooden stick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean.

Take out of the oven and let cool to room temperature in its pan, on a cooling rack. Take the cake out of the pan, remove the paper. Pack the cake in several layers of plastic wrap or in an airtight container. Leave to mature at room temperature, away from light (dark colored plastic bag may be useful here) for three to four weeks.

Step 3: Ice the cakes

Before serving, ice the cakes. Unpack a cake and set it on a serving dish. Heat the marmalade. If it has any solid fruit pieces in, either process or strain it. Brush the top and sides of the cake with marmalade to make it wet and sticky.

Dust your working surface with icing sugar and roll the marzipan around 3 mm thick. You need to get a round large enough to coat the top and sides of your cake plus extra 3-4 cm. Cover the cake with marzipan. Press the marzipan slightly to make sure it sticks to the jam and there are no air holes. Trim the excess.

Dust your working surface with icing sugar again and roll the icing the same way as marzipan. Slightly brush marzipan with cold water and cover with the icing. Press the icing down to make sure it sticks to marzipan. Trim the excess.

Roll the remaining icing and cut out some leaves or other shapes of your choice. Brush slightly with cold water and place over the cake. Roll little "berries" with your fingers and sprinkle over the cake. Now it's ready to be sliced and served. If you want to make the slices look perfect, use hot knife and clean it after each slice.

Sticky toffee pudding
Carrot cake with cream cheese icing
Hot and spicy mulled wine
Ginger bread house
Cinnamon roll cookies
Steamed lemon puddings


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 8th, 2013 06:11 pm (UTC)
Very good, I rarely see this out side of my husbands Jamaican fam (they do 2.5 cups prunes a half cup of the others and a bit less citron.this makes a darker cake really almost black. and its soaked in port wine then when baked and sill a bit warm rum is poured on and aged) but thats fam variation

your icing is lovely

Ok this is more than you need to know but here gos

My Mum (british) LOVED fruitcake, and my grandmother always had the housekeeper make the christmas cakes in May. When Mum came home for the summer and was pregnant with me she asked grandmother for a favor if she could have a little of the matureing cakes, grandmother said she could and had Mrs Janes the Houskeeeper cut her some. COme Christmas Mum is talking to Grandmother and Grandmother is unhappy with Janise becuase there are only 9 cakes and she told her to make a dozen. My mother fessed up that she ended up eating three fruit cakes in a month. Grandmother wanted to know how there was space in side Mum for both me and three fruitcakes.
Jan. 9th, 2013 02:04 am (UTC)
Hope you don't mind my asking: given your exposure in utero to massive doses of fruitcake, is that something that you now crave?
Jan. 9th, 2013 02:33 am (UTC)
I wouldnt say crave I like it and it is very much a comforting thing more than a dish of flour, raisons and rum should be.
Jan. 9th, 2013 06:28 am (UTC)
oh, wow, this is such a lovely story! should be included in a good cookbook one day

for me it is also very much comfort food...
Jan. 8th, 2013 09:06 pm (UTC)
wow, good job! the cake looks delicious!

also, nice job with such a thorough post / pictures

i'd like to try this recipe next holiday season

thanks again :)

Jan. 9th, 2013 06:29 am (UTC)
that's great! thank you and good luck :)
Jan. 10th, 2013 07:11 pm (UTC)
I usually make my christmas cake (British that is) in september, the fruit is soaked overnight in cold tea (or brandy). Once the cake is cooked and cooled it is packed in paper to mature. To help with the maturing it is opened and 'fed' once a week by poking holes in it and using a teaspoon pouring brandy into the holes, it's re covered and then the following week I open it, turn it over and feed the otherside. I do that for about 6 weeks. Icing the cake takes around 2 weeks to a month depending on the kind of icing I'm using. But in anycase the cake is brushed with apricot jam and covered with marzipan and then left to dry for a week. If I'm using fondant icing then i just roll that out and put it on the cake and polish it and leave to dry for a week before putting any decorations on it.

If I'm using royal icing then once the marzipan has dried a thin layer of icing is put on and left to dry, then a few days later another layer is added and so on until the icing is quite thick, usually 4 layers is enough to get the cake perfectly smooth. Once the last layer is dried then the final decorations can be put on. It's time consuming but has a better finish I think than the fondant icing, it does it does set really hard.

Over here it is tradtional to have the same sort of cake for a wedding though it would be in tiers, and it is traditionl to keep the top tier to be re iced for the first babies christening.
Jan. 11th, 2013 06:45 am (UTC)
wow, that's fascinating
I heard about 'feeding' before but never in detail
will try all these next year, thank you!
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )


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