Black cake is traditionally a holiday treat with its roots in the Caribbean. We know it nowadays as a type of rum cake, and it's made with rum- and/or wine-soaked dried fruits, caramelized sugar syrup and a mix of spices. This recipe, from the Centennial Buckeye Cook Book (1876), is just one of the book's recipes that omits alcohol from a recipe that would traditionally have included it (more info on that later.) Black cake is generally grouped with fruit cakes - yes, THAT fruit cake, the butt of ample holiday party jokes. In their introduction to fruit cakes, the ladies of the First Congregational Church of Marysville, authors of the Centennial Buckeye Cookbook, wrote:
Most ladies think fruit cake quite incomplete without wine or brandy; but it can be made equally good on strictly temperance principles, by substituting one-third of a cup molasses for a wine glass of brandy. (49)
So, this type of rum cake is to be made without rum? Well, kind of. The temperance movement was in full swing in the mid-1800's, and Christian women were some of the most vocal supporters of the movement. To help put things into perspective: The Women's Christian Temperance Union, one of the earliest and most internationally influential temperance organizations, was officially founded in 1874 in Ohio. The Anti-Saloon League, one of the driving forces behind Prohibition in the early 20th century, was founded in 1893, also in Ohio. However, the authors of the Centennial Buckeye Cook Book do recommend the following technique for fruit cakes: "When the cake is cold, wrap in a cloth wet with whiskey or brandy to keep it moist." (50) I'll just leave that there for you do with as you like.
The name Morey may sound familiar to Union County residents, particularly those familiar with Memorial Hospital. Morey Drive is located by the hospital, and the Morey Medical Center houses some Memorial Health services. Probably the most famous Morey of Marysville was Colonel Dana W. Morey, who served in the military during World War I. He also served as president of the Union County Hospital Association, pivotal in establishing a hospital in Union County. Like his parents, he was an active member of the First Congregational Church. After his death in 1953, he left much of his fortune to fund healthcare facilities in Marysville. Most recently, a city park located by Memorial Hospital has been named after Colonel Morey. The stately brick Morey family home, located at 246 W Sixth St. in Marysville, now serves as the Union County Historical Society Museum. Morey family members contributed numerous recipes to the Centennial Buckeye Cook Book, so we expect to revisit their family history as our recipe project continues.
A few notes on this recipe:
Run the dried fruits through a food processor to form something like a paste with some good-sized chunks left in it. If your food processor is jamming, add a little hot water and your molasses at this point.
The recipe calls for browned flour. This is unusual in modern baking; we generally only see browned flour in gravy recipes. Black cakes often use a caramelized sugar syrup called "browning," so Mrs. Morey was likely browning her flour to get that "burnt" flavor and dark color. Just fry flour in a skillet for a little bit to toast it. Simple as that. Cool before using.
As with almost all cakes, cream the butter and sugar first. Add egg yolks. Mix dry ingredients in a separate bowl and add to the butter mixture alternating with the milk. Fold in the fruit paste. Whip the egg whites to stiff peaks and fold into the batter before pouring into greased pans.
Fill the pans pretty full - these cakes are dense and won't rise very much. We chose to make mini bundts, but a round cake is probably more traditional for this type of cake.
Bake at 325 degrees Fahrenheit for anywhere from 1-2 hours depending on the size of your pans. Always test for doneness with a toothpick or cake tester.
I added a rum frosting (just spiced rum and powdered sugar) to meet more modern expectation of a black cake without completely diverging from the original recipe, and without being quite as boozy as wrapping the cake in a liquor-soaked rag. You could also brush the cake with rum, wine or brandy while it cools.
These little cakes will be for sale for $5 at our farm market shed the weekend of August 1 and 2. All proceeds benefit the Union County Historical Society.
The Centennial Buckeye Cook Book can be purchased here.
More information and a modern black cake recipe can be found here.
Info on the temperance movement can be found here.