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Eatymology: Black Cake

Eatymology: Black Cake
Written by Margaret Loftus | Photo by Gabrielle Geiselman

Black Cake


n: a holiday cake made with rum-soaked fruit popular throughout the Anglophone Caribbean

For the English-speaking Caribbean, black cake is as part and parcel to the holidays as the assorted cookie plate is to America. Call on a home in Jamaica, St. Vincent, or another formerly British island around Christmastime and chances are you’ll be offered a sliver of the rum-rich fruitcake. Not to be confused with the much-lampooned American doorstop variety, this boozy confection is traceable to the brandy-doused puddings and cakes brought to the islands by the colonizing Brits. The cake traditionally gets its signature color and complex flavor from dark rum and browning (a burnt sugar syrup) or molasses. Recipes vary from island to island—Bermudian cakes are lighter; Jamaican, denser—but the custom surrounding it is unwavering. “Christmas is not just a day back home, it’s a month,” explains New Orleans chef Nina Compton, who grew up in St. Lucia. “It’s very social. You have Christmas lunch with your family and then you just house-hop, starting with your relatives first. When everybody comes over, you cut them a slice.” Guests may be offered a dram of rum too, but in Compton’s family, her father’s milk punch is a must. Now, the chef plans to introduce the Christmas tradition to her adopted hometown—after all, New Orleans has been called the northernmost Caribbean city. Find the cake on the menu this month at her restaurant Compère Lapin, or make your own. Hint: Start soaking the fruit now.

Nina Compton’s Caribbean Black Fruit Cake

Caribbean Milk Punch

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