Jamaican Christmas Cake
Rich, boozy, and loaded with nuts and dried fruit, this festive dessert is at the heart of the Caribbean holiday season.
This Jamaican-style Christmas cake is an adaptation of author Vaughn Stafford Gray’s own formula and his mother, Cylda’s beloved 50-year-old recipe. It is award-winning, steeped in history, and beloved by the author’s family and friends. The use of sultanas, cassis, and Jamaican fortified wine lends the cake its exceptional flavor. While a 9-inch cake makes an impressive centerpiece, this large format can be a bit rich, expensive, and overwhelming. For a more manageable size, feel free to instead split the batter between two six-inch cake pans and gift one to someone special.
Featured in: “On Fruitcake and Family.”
For the steeping liquid and fruit:
- 1 cup Jamaican overproof white rum
- 1 cup creme de cassis
- 1 cup Red Label Wine (or substitute ruby port)
- 1 cup brandy
- 1 cup dry sherry
- 1 cup dried currants
- 1 cup prunes, finely chopped
- 1 cup sultanas
- ½ cups red glacé cherries, finely chopped
- ½ cups raisins
- ¼ cups mixed candied citrus peel
For the cake:
- 1 cup unsalted butter, softened, plus more for greasing
- 1 cup cake flour
- 2 tsp. allspice
- 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp. baking powder
- ¾ tsp. ground mace (optional)
- ½ tsp. grated nutmeg
- ⅛ tsp. baking soda
- 1 cup unseasoned bread crumbs
- ½ cups unsalted roasted peanuts, pulverized in a food processor
- ¼ tsp. kosher salt
- 1 cup dark brown sugar
- ½ cups molasses
- ⅓ cups Jamaican overproof white rum, such as J. Wray and Nephew
- ⅓ cups Guinness Stout
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- ½ tsp. almond extract
- ½ tsp. rosewater
- 4 large eggs
- 1 tsp. finely grated lime zest
- Make the steeping liquid: In a large pot, combine the rum, creme de cassis, Red Label Wine, brandy and sherry. To the steaming liquid, add the currants, prunes, sultanas, cherries, raisins, and candied citrus peel, bring to a boil, and cook, uncovered, until the sultanas are soft and plump, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat, cover, and set aside to steep at room temperature for at least 8 hours.
- Set a large strainer over a large bowl and drain the fruit, pressing to extract as much of the liquid as possible. Reserve both the fruit and the liquid.
- Place a baking dish large enough to hold your cake pan on the bottom rack of the oven. Fill the dish three-quarters of the way with water, then preheat the oven to 300°F. Grease the interior of a 9-inch cake pan with butter and line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper.
- Into a large bowl, sift the flour with the allspice, cinnamon, baking powder, mace, nutmeg, and baking soda. Whisk in the bread crumbs, peanuts, and salt, then set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or using a hand mixer, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy. Begin gradually adding the sugar, then increase the speed to high and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Remove the bowl from the mixer.
- In a separate bowl, use a whisk or a hand mixer to whip the eggs until they are thick and fluffy. Using a silicone spatula, alternate folding the whipped eggs and the flour mixture into the beaten butter, half a cup at a time. Fold in the reserved fruit mixture followed by the rum, molasses, Guinness, vanilla and almond extracts, rosewater, and lime zest.
- Scrape the batter into the prepared cake pan. Cut a circle of parchment paper to fit over the cake, lightly butter the paper on one side, then place the circle, butter-side-down, directly over the surface of the batter (this will prevent the cake from scorching on the surface before it’s fully baked).
- Place the cake pan directly in the baking dish of hot water. Bake for three hours, then lower the temperature to 250° F and continue baking until a skewer or cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 30 minutes more.
- Remove the cake pan from the oven and immediately pour one cup of the reserved fruit-steeping liquid over the surface. Set aside at room temperature for 24 hours.
- The following day, check to see if the cake has absorbed all of the steeping liquid—if it has, pour another cup of liquid over the surface and set aside again. (If it hasn’t, check the following day before adding more liquid.) Repeat until all of the steeping liquid has been absorbed into the cake. Once the liquid has been fully absorbed, invert the cake onto a serving platter or into a cake tin to unmold. Cut into slices and serve immediately or wrap the cake tightly in plastic wrap and store for up to a week at room temperature or up to a year in the freezer.