My mum can't bake.
She really won’t mind me saying so, either. She can deliver a baby, grow healthy fruit & veg, save your life, chop down bananas or put up a shelf, but she cannot bake to save her life. Long before I was born, I'm told, my mum once attempted to make a fresh pastry tart to serve after dinner. She placed it proudly on the table, instructed her guests to serve themselves, then returned to the kitchen for something or other. When she came back, everyone was silent and the tart was apparently untouched. "What's the matter?" says my mum. Deadpan, my aunt turns to her and asks, "Do you have an axe?" Everyone erupted with laughter, the rock-hard tart went in the bin, and with it most of my mum's baking ambitions.
There's one exception to every rule, of course, and that is Black Cake. And when she gets it right (recipes aren’t her forte), my mum’s Black Cake is the stuff of legend. If you’re unfamiliar with it, Black Cake is Jamaican Christmas cake, made with rum-soaked dried fruit and dark soft sugar, and often molasses too. I think it's pretty much universally consumed across the Caribbean, so most islands will have a version to claim as their own. Think a little bit like British Christmas pudding, but cake-ier, using rum not brandy, and none of this lighting it on fire and wasting perfectly good alcohol business.
There is always an ice-cream tub filled with dried fruit and rum somewhere in the kitchen at my mother's house. When you wrestle off the lid, your face may melt off with the rum vapour released from that thing. I am now a complete lightweight for most alcohol (thank, kiddos), but I'd argue that the reason I can still sup rum all night without passing out is the tolerance built through years of smelling those soaking fruits. The tub at my mum's has been soaking since forever, since as soon as she takes out whatever is being used for that year, my mum tops it back up with more dried fruit and more rum. Black Cake is what the Christmas of my childhood memories smells like, warming spices and rum wafting deliciously up the stairs.
I've never liked bits of dried fruit in my cake, so I blend my rum-drunk fruit into a paste for my Christmas cake. I'm also not mad keen on the texture of puddings, so my version really is a cake you can plough into, not a stodge-fest that takes you down for a nap after a small slice. I don't use additional wine like most traditional recipes, so I add extra rum instead.
And you can't be shy on the rum after the bake either - you'll need to top up the cake with a few generous pours, so it needs to be made at least three days before you plan to eat it. If you fancy making the traditional version yourself next year (if you're a hardcore fruit-soaker like me!), check out the recipe in this blog post.
If that sounds too much like hard work, it's never too early to put in your pre-order with me for next year....
*...or the best Christmas cake in my world, at least. I will grudgingly concede that there is no empirical proof of my statement.