The Gifts of Time and Black Cake
There’s a cake recipe that has been on my mind for 10 years. I’ve been thinking about the cake—not about baking it—because the key ingredient is time, something that I cannot buy.
But that will all change this year, as the week after Thanksgiving is the perfect time to make Laurie Colwin’s black cake, and this year I’m ready.
The story of black cake is part of the last chapter in Colwin’s well-loved collection of stories, Home Cooking (Harper, 2000). It is a West Indian fruitcake, and before you stop reading because you think you hate fruitcake, let me borrow from her description:
“There is fruitcake, and there is Black Cake, which is to fruitcake what the Brahms piano quartets are to Muzak. … Black Cake, like truffles and vintage Burgundy, is deep, complicated, and intense. It has taste and aftertaste. It demands to be eaten in a slow, meditative way. The texture is complicated too—dense and light at the same time.”
Nigella Lawson has a similar obsession with black cake, as does Diana Burrell of the Boston Globe. I am not crazy, or at least, I am not alone in my obsession.
It’s a fuss to make: macerating the fruit takes between two weeks and six months. But it’s the holidays, the time to make fusses, and thus the perfect time to start the process.
Though it’s easy to find Colwin’s recipe, I humbly request that if you prepare this cake, you do the late Ms. Colwin—and yourself—a favor, and purchase her book. At $12, it’ll cost you less than the bottle of rum you’ll use in the maceration, and with chapters like “Bread Baking without Agony,” “Stuffing: A Confession,” “How To Avoid Grilling,” and “Easy Cooking for Exhausted People,” you just know that Colwin is the type of writer you want to invite into the kitchen with you.