Bizarrely, Trinidad is one of the most Christmassy places I’ve ever been to. Christmas songs start on the radio months and months before the big event, malls and shops go crazy on decorations (think car park support pillars wrapped like presents), and people start cooking. Trinis like their food, and quite rightly. Influenced as it is by old European, African, Chinese, South American and East Indian heritage, this scrummy mix really comes into its own at Christmas. In particular, I love black cake. It’s like a really thick, dark fruit cake, and family recipes are closely guarded secrets. In lieu of the real thing, I thought I’d give Nigella Lawson’s version a go. It calls for the chopped, dried fruits to be marinated in madeira and rum (naturally) up to 6 months before the cake is made. I started steeping mine 3 months before I wanted to make it. Um, 15 months ago. I didn’t make it last year. So my fruits are… strong.
Undeterred, I ploughed on. You get enough fruit for two cakes, so I divided it up and went about lining the tin with two lots of greaseproof paper. Lacking brown paper for the outside of the tin, a quick google seemed to suggest foil would be a fine substitute. These fruit cakes need to cook for an eternity, so you don’t want the outside to scorch while the inside cooks.
Well, scorch it did. And crack on top, suggestive of a too-hot oven. I have consulted a number of fruit cake makers, and Black Cake Take 2 will have the following revisions: use brown paper, as well as two discs of greaseproof paper on top of the cake from the start, with holes in them the size of a 50p piece; set the oven temperature at 140 degrees C, not 180 as Nigella suggests; and buy an(other) over thermometer. In fits of well-meant cleanliness, Oli has so far succeeded in washing and breaking two oven thermometers.
I will report back. Cake 1 will be trimmed of its slightly burnished exterior and eaten with tea by Oli and I, in the name of research and product development. Such hardship!