It's that time of year. The leaves turn to bronze, my thoughts turn to soup, and I finally begin to fulfill a long-standing promise to myself: Make Laurie Colwin's Black Cake for Christmas. Which means starting now, with the fruit.
Yes, I am a not-so-closeted fruitcake lover. I'm not quite sure what it is: The rich, ultimate darkness of the cake, the sweet and winey fruit. It is truly the ultimate cake, and when it is made right, with fine ingredients and a good recipe, I enjoy it immensely. But fruitcake is an expensive proposition, what with the candied fruit and the booze, and it's rarely done right. We all have that dread of a doorstopper of a cake, studded with fluorescent red and green cherries, and walnuts you could break a tooth on.
But one recipe has always held out a promise to me of the ultimate fruitcake: Writer Laurie Colwin's recipe for Black Cake, given to her by a friend from the West Indies. She describes it in lavish detail, describing the long process of soaking the pounds and pounds of dried fruit in Passover wine and dark rum, seeking out "burnt sugar essence" at a West Indian grocer to turn the cake truly black, and the experience of serving the final cake, swagged and festooned with sharp white sugar icing, in shaved slices, hoping against hope for one leftover wedge she can hoard.
I have been meaning to make this glorious thing for years, but I always remember just before the holidays, when it is too late to marinate the fruit in its month-long (or longer! even better!) bath of booze. Well, I have finally got my act together, and today I blitzed pounds of raisins, prunes, currants, and candied citrus peel in my food processor, and dumped them into my largest bowl. I poured a great quantity of sweet wine, rum, and brandy over top, and now I will put it away for a few weeks.
I'll report back on this project, for sure, but I'd love to know: Have you ever made this recipe? And are you, too, a fruitcake-lover?
• Get the recipe: Laurie Colwin's Black Cake at Chowhound
• Buy the book: Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen, by Laurie Colwin. $10.20 at Amazon.
(Images: Faith Durand)