and the kitchen is filled with smoke
It might be burnt sugar, but it sure isn't the "essence"
It hardens into something akin to pahoehoe lava
I end up playing something like
the paper-scissors-rock game:
heat hardens sugar, water melts it.
It took a LOT of hot water to melt this lava.
I'm not sure if I've actually made Black Cake yet, because I never did manage to burn any sugar properly.
For my first round of cakes - half a recipe, as per Colwin's instructions in Home Cooking, makes a big cake and a smallish cake -- I finally got fed up and used molasses. I wouldn't have done this under my own steam, but Nigella Lawson recommended precisely this course of action in HER homage to Black Cake. Unfortunately, at this juncture in the Black Cake making, it was approximately midnight and I had ten people coming for dinner the next day. Black Cake was meant to be the Christmas Cake -- in other words, not only the dessert, but also the symbolic crowning of the occasion. I couldn't afford to be picky or authentic.
The next morning I put a nice thick layer of marzipan on the big cake, then laid down a smooth sheet of roll-out Royal icing over that. Some Christmas trees, cut and dyed from the Royal icing, completed the whole and gave it that Christmas Cake signature look. (I would have taken a picture, but what with decorating and mince pie making and producing a large roast dinner, my back was against the wall, rather.) I did save you a slice, though.
But here is the strange, deja vu moment: upon tasting the Black Cake, Sigmund and I realized that we had eaten some of the stuff when we lived in Trinidad. After all of these years of mythologizing Laurie Colwin's Black Cake, I realized that I had eaten it at least a decade ago! And it made no impression on me! Well, I was left with some impression -- and this Sigmund verified. I remember Trinidad Black Cake as being sort of damp, gummy and gelatinous -- and extremely rummy. I remember not liking it much.
After the month of marinating my fruit and dreaming about my Black Cake to come, it was a sobering moment. Rather than discovering the lost chord of Colwin's cake, I felt like I had lost it even more completely. It turned out to be nothing but an over-stimulated dream -- some Xanadu or Camelot or equally lost magical kingdom! On the positive side, Sigmund - who does not lavish praise - said he actually preferred my cake to the one he tasted so long ago.
Not to be deterred, and since I still had half of "my fruits," I wrote my friend Debski -- who is an expert on things culinary and Trini. She sent back the following advice:
Never, never use molasses. The flavour is too strong.
Oops. I didn't do ANY of these things. Perhaps this is why my cake was merely nice as opposed to epic?
Not long ago, I finally put a stat counter on my blog and I was AMAZED to see how many people had found me through a Googled Black Cake search. I'm assuming that most of these people have been beguiled by Colwin's recipe, but confused by her lack of specificity on certain points, because they asked exactly the sort of questions which Debski answered for me. Without a true Trini to refer to, we having been baking in the dark.
Debski also shared another interesting tidbit with me. Apparently, instead of messing about with burnt sugar, many modern Trinis use browning (yes, for gravy) to achieve the proper shade of blackness in their cake. WHAT?! I could only think, "ew, gross."
Second round of burning sugar: I was determined to cook it slowly. I had my pound of sugar and I added a bit of water. I stirred and stirred. It became grainy; it turned into sugar again. I added some more water. It became grainy again; it blackened only slightly. And on and on like this for 45 minutes -- at which point I gave up again. I salvaged a bit of this sort of burnt grit for my cake and I moved on. Next year, I'm going to ask for a burnt sugar tutorial. (There must be a secret to it!)
This time, I followed Laurie's recipe and Debski's instructions. My second cake is now resting, having being fed with the prescribed rum. I will leave it to sit until New Year's, and then I will present it to my old Trinidad crowd for a test taste.
The Black Cake saga continues . . .