Look! I am so lucky, because a kind fellow , whom I have pestered and hounded, has given me this beautiful Black Cake! I have wanted to make a black cake ever since I first read about this holiday specialty in Laurie Colwin's Home Cooking. I never got around to it, in part because there are other seasonal cooking traditions I like to keep up with, and also because it is a fairly complicated recipe, requiring planning ahead.
And now I get to try one, with almost no work on my part! It arrived wrapped in a rum soaked cloth, smelling yummy. All I had to do was to frost it. I thought I would go with the traditional English-style royal icing for Christmas cakes. Though specified by Ms. Colwin, it has been mocked by many, including moi, for its crustiness and staying power. Still, not having tasted a black cake before, I felt it was too early to pile on something heretical like a cream cheese frosting. Doing so might have changed the whole taste of the thing. And then I wouldn't have known what I was deviating from.....if you know what I mean.
Anyway, I had an inexplicable urge to see if I could accomplish a traditional Christmas Cake look, to set out with the other goodies for Boxing Day. I found a royal icing recipe in Nigella Lawson's Feast, which I had from the library. First, she said, roll out a pound of marzipan, and drape it over the cake. Oh sure, thinks I, now comes the part where the sticky almond/sugar mixture adheres to everything, including the rolling pin, and then tears and shreds as I try to flop it onto the cake.
Not so. It was totally easy. I think this ease may have been due to my (relatively new) bargain-basement pastry marble, which I sprinkled lightly with flour. Marble is so cool, and pretty, too. I then rolled out 2 mooshed together 7 oz packages of Odense marzipan from the supermarket. Hey presto- the entire cake was magically and seamlessly enrobed.
I kid you not. I wrapped this dream result in cling wrap, to frost the next day. (I wanted to bask in the glory of one step completed without derailment, figuring the frosting would be something to tangle with too.) BTW, If anyone would like to give me a giant, ruinously expensive gift, and has, for some reason ruled out an Aga like Barbara's, a beautiful old marble topped pastry/butcher's table, such as are sold here, would be very nice. I would make pastry on it, even as it was being a thing of beauty. Of course, I'd probably have to keep it in the bedroom, given the size of my apartment kitchen. But no matter, really. I'd manage for sure.
In any event, the royal icing aspect of this venture was less satisfying, rather a come down, in truth. I aimed for a pourable consistency, hoping for smoothness, and also for a thin coating , since this stuff is marginally edible mortar. It was pourable all right, and thin, too, but unaccountably a little lumpy, for all I sifted every particle of confectioner's sugar. As for the nursery school decoration, well, I thought the combo of the rectangular green jimmies with the round red ones would look like holly. I have been telling myself that the homecrafted-by- the-pitiful look is traditional for a christmas cake.
Well, the cake is delicious, madly fruity and boozy. I had a slice before organizing for boxing day drop-ins. I thought others might be hesitant to disturb the smooth surface. .my excuse. The marzipan goes very well, all richness. A tiny sliver is a good serving size. The ever crusty royal icing was thin, as planned. This did, however, make it prone to shattering, and thus messier looking when cut, than the traditional solid thick layer. Since the smooth surface of my icing job was less than perfect anyway, that was not really a problem for me.
It's been a nice and reasonably slow paced holiday. I'm looking forward to making something really good soon, with my favorite XMas present. Stay tuned, as they used to say on the box, back when it wore rabbit ears.