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Caribbean Fruit Cake: The Drunken Fruit

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.

17 thoughts on “Caribbean Fruit Cake: The Drunken Fruit”

  1. The timing of candied fruit in the supermarkets is not just annoying, but nonsensical. I’ve asked market managers about that from a culinary perspective and all they can do is say they are creatures of habit and victims of corporate whim. So I buy at Thanksgiving and store for the following years. That stuff has a shelf-life of years. I’ve even put open containers of candied fruit in the freezer. Didn’t seem to change the quality.

    P.S. in paragraph 3 I think there’s a typo: fried fruit should be dried fruit. Or perhaps there a new episode in the works for something very innovative!

    1. Brian, that’s great advice. And yet another reminder that fruitcake isn’t merely a preference, it’s a lifestyle. I shall stock up this year.

      And I’ll also make a note to try the fried fruit angle you suggest. Who knows, it could be genius!

      – Joe

    2. has candied citron, lemon peel, orange peel, and cherries available year round. They have numerous baking and food items in addition to old time candies–e.g. red hots–that are not common in stores these days.

  2. Hey, Joe!
    Lemme tell you a tale about a teetotaler named, er, Charm, who wanted to make Caribbean fruit cake.
    I, too, am one of those weirdos who like fruitcake, but proper fruitcake: dark and moist and barely sweet and boozed up over months of lavish attention. Unlike my mom who loves those dried out bricks you get at the CVS which are full of strangely brightly colored pieces of candied ‘fruit.’ What I really like about making my own fruitcake is the macerated fruit. One year I didn’t get around to making the actual cake because I had eaten too much of the fruit, one teaspoon at a time. Schnockered dried fruits are awesome!!
    But back to my story. I was excited to try your recipe. I rounded up the fruit, including some pretty non-tropical ones like dried blueberries and cranberries. Because I’m not as brave as you, I only put a few ounces of prunes, but followed your instructions for the raisins, golden raisins, cherries. I bought a bottle of Appleton. And taking you at your word, I bought a bottle of blended red. At Target.
    On sale. Under $10. I got home, mixed up the fruit. And hit an insurmountable brick wall.
    Remember that part about ‘teetotalers’? Yeah. No corkscrew. I’m going to have to return to the big box store. But in the meantime, I poured half the bottle of rum over the fruit to at least get things started.
    Wish me luck! Maybe this gets all the bad fruitcake juju out of the way? And the rest of this project will be a dream?

    1. Yeah that’s one of those “ooh dang” moments. Fortunately it’s only a speed bump. You can always try one of these if you’re really desperate:

      I’ve done both the car key one and the screw with the fork. The shoe one is legendary. I’ve never done it but have always wanted to try it. So far Mrs. Pastry has prohibited the experiment for fear of what it might do to the rugs. However this video offers a nice outdoor twist. I’m definitely doing it.

      Oh, do you want me to put up the full recipe now or later?

      – Joe

      PS – And you can’t be Target for a cheap red. Excellent choice, madam.

  3. Put up the recipe at your pace, Joe. I’m assuming nothing much is going to happen with the liquored up fruit for a bit?
    Anyway, it’s teacher luncheon season in these here parts. I’ve been tasked with 100 cookies for Thursday. Triple chocolate chip. Tahini chocolate chip. Oatmeal raisin. Salted peanut butter domes. Brownie bites. Brownies with a brandied ganache. White chocolate cranberry bars. I’m elbow deep in sugar and chocolate. I may need a glug or two of dried fruit soon to cleanse the palate….

    1. Wow, send me some!

      OK, maybe I’ll wait a bit. It depends on how quickly I finish it of course…


      – Joe

  4. Several years ago I made a rumtopf. It was quite an experiment, but it turned out nicely. I started at the beginning of the summer and served it at Thanksgiving. It was very nice, but I had A LOT left over. It sat in the fridge for a while (it would never have spoiled with all that sugar and alcohol) but eventually the fruit became too strong with the alcohol, it was unpleasant (to me). So I strained the fruit out and made a fruitcake with it. It wasn’t like the type of fruitcake you’re doing since I started out with fresh fruit in the rumtopf, but it was very good. And the fruity rum? Still sitting in a jar in my fridge! I have to find a use for it. Suggestions? (Besides drinking it straight!)

    1. Wow, any number of things, Chana. Strained, it would make a great syrup for baba au rhum. You could bake it into all sorts of simple cakes. Turn it into a sauce. Sprinkle it on fruit cocktails…the potential uses are endless. Have fun with it!

      – Joe

    2. Funny you should mention that – I have almost half a gallon of last year’s rumtopf left. The liqueur is good in mixed drinks; I’ve made a very nice kir variant with rumtopf and white wine or prosecco.

      Using the fruit in fruitcake, though…that’s a possibility I hadn’t considered. Hmm….

  5. Very exciting to see other black cake enthusiasts join the journey! I have read that if one is a little late in getting the fruits into the wine and spirits, you can warm up the fruits in the alcohol until it is a little bit warm. Then let it cool to room temp and continue as if you had started in the summer. I am going to do that. The last time I made this cake, over 30 years ago, I made the batter and then had to mix the fruit into the batter in the 2 largest bowls I had. I did not have a container huge enough to hold everything. Scrounging the cupboards, I have discovered high quality candied citrus peel that is dried out. No matter because the long soak will plump! (A hoarding lottery win.) I found it makes a difference to get the peels that do not have preservatives. That means mail order here in New Mexico.

    1. Ah yes! Makes sense that there’d be a recipe specific for leftover rumtopf. I may have to try this one day!

      Thanks Chana!

      – Joe

  6. Is there a reason you couldn’t you have used homemade candied citrus peels if you wanted to use them? Your recipe for it is what I’ve used myself when I tried my hand at candying fruit for the first time!

    1. No reason whatsoever, Ken!

      Why the heck didn’t I think of that? I just made some a couple of months ago! 😉

      Could have done lemon and lime peel too. Good grief!

      – Joe

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