The critical difference between a Caribbean fruitcake (or black cake, or wedding cake) and a North American fruit cake is the way the fruit is handled. Whereas we bake the fruit into the cake, then age the cake, they age the fruit first. And boy do they age it. Up to several years in some cases, which strikes me as extreme, though I’m not the expert here. Three months is plenty by most lights. I’ll squeeze in only two, but I still think I’ll have a fine cake in the end.
So what do we need here? First a bunch of dried and/or candied fruit. Me, I’ve come to prefer more dried fruit in Christmas cakes (especially in stollen) in recent years. And indeed, quite a few of the recipes I browsed used all dried fruit. Others used all candied fruit. Still others used a mix. My original thought was to use mostly dried fruit, but add in a proportion of candied citrus peel for flavor. Sadly, the contemporary grocery store neglects the needs of the modern-day fruitcake devotée. I couldn’t find any candied fruit at any of the three stores I visited. It doesn’t come in until just before Thanksgiving these days I was told. And they call this civilization.
So fine, it’s the dried fruit route. I’m good with that. I’ll make up the citrus notes in the batter. No problem. I’m planning on make two 9″ round cakes, so I need 2 3/4 pounds (44 ounces) of dried or candied fruit. You can use just about any type you want, in almost any proportion. That said, most recipes I saw began with a solid base of small berries: currents and raisins. So I used about a pound of those. Prunes were another go-to (understandably so, considering that this cake is a descendant of plum pudding) so I added a pound of those. The last three quarters of a pound I made up with dried cherries. I roughly chopped the prunes and cherries, and threw the whole mess into a rising container:
To that I added the full contents of a pint bottle of port that was given to me as a gift somewhere along the line. I never drank it because, well, I guess the truth is that I can’t stand port. However I was very glad to receive the stuff, just as I’m glad to receive every bottle of gifted — or re-gifted — sweet wine, cheap wine, or mead that comes in the door when we host a party. It all goes into the cellar where it waits to be used on some interesting baking or cooking project. So God bless you I say, oddball grog givers! You’re welcome at my house any time.
But back to the action. Port is one of the traditional soaking/pickling liquids for these sorts of cakes, but any sweet, dark wine will work here. Manischewitz wines pop up regularly in Caribbean fruitcake recipes, especially the Concord Grape, however inexpensive sweet wines are among the most readily obtainable wines a baker can find. Even the most poorly stocked corner grocery wine section has them. So don’t feel hemmed in.
Here’s a great example of what I’m talking about: a house wine made at a nearby, I’d guess you’d call it a tourist farm. They market this stuff as a sweet red wine and they aren’t kidding even a little bit.
In it goes, about two more cups, on top of the two cups of port.
Now the hard stuff. This is important not just for flavor, but as a solvent and an anti-microbial. Several very reputable recipes I found — including one by the aunt of a Jamaican friend of mine — specifically called for Appleton. I didn’t understand until I opened up a bottle and tasted it. Quite fruity for a rum. Suddenly it all made sense. So I tasted it again.
Glug, glug, glug…another pint or so, at which point the fruit was covered.
Overall you want a total of about 6 cups, about 1/3 spirits and 2/3 wine, however you can boost the spirits to 50% or more if you wish. I’ve seen recipes that call for 100% spirits, though that to me is excessive, mainly because it’s a waste of good booze, but also because the all-spirits approach misses the opportunity to introduce the sweet/fruity flavors that cheap wines have in abundance. Also I’m not completely sure I want that much alcohol in my cake. The odds are excellent that I do of course, but I’d rather have the option to adjust the alcohol level later on my own. Last thing, a stick of cinnamon:
Close that puppy up, put it in a semi-cool, semi-dark place, and we’ll see it in December! Oh, but check it sometime over the next few days as the fruit will have plumped and perhaps risen above the grog line. Submerge whatever has risen in more rum.