Cooking with Phil Dewar: Rum Cake
“Just play with the recipe. Have fun,” says Soulyve’s Phil Dewar of his Caribbean rum cake ingredients.
Chef Phil Dewar is the living embodiment of a cuisine that he invented, an innovative style of cooking he calls “Carib-fusion.”
“I take traditional island flavours and ingredients and give them a contemporary presentation,” says the 28- year-old Jamaican native, who has lived in Orangeville since high school. There are lots of examples on the menu at Soulyve, the spicy little Mill Street eatery Phil has owned and operated for the last five years.
There’s the reggae wrap with its jerk-flavoured fillings rolled inside a roti wrap instead of a tortilla shell, or plantain bruschetta, made with wedges of plantain instead of bread. He borrows French and Italian techniques in the preparation of his peppery Jamaican soups.
In the spirit of his best-of-both-worlds cooking, we asked Phil, a graduate of Humber College’s culinary program, to share with us his recipe for Jamaican rum cake, an extravagant confection that brings a whiff of the Caribbean to that dependable holiday favourite, fruit cake.
“Around Christmas, this is a tradition in the islands,” Phil says. “Everyone looks forward to their Granny’s rum cake.” There are many different versions using different spices and fruit. But the one thing they all have in common is lots and lots of rum.
Phil explains that Jamaican rum cake (also called “black cake” because of its dark colour) is a reverse example of his Carib-fusion – an indigenous take on English fruitcake or plum pudding brought to the Indies by the British colonizers and adapted over time using local ingredients. Instead of candied fruits and nuts, rum cake is made with such dried fruits as dates, prunes, raisins and currants that have been soaked in liberal amounts of rum for anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks. According to Phil, some cooks freeze leftover quantities of the soaked fruit for use the following year.
Rum cake is darker and more dense than its British forebear, and the fruits are puréed to give it a rich, moist texture. Gravy browning sauce is usually added to deepen the colour of the cake. Phil emphasizes his recipe is merely a blueprint and urges home cooks to experiment with flavours and fruits. He suggests using dried cherries and apricots, cranberries and nuts, fresh or ground ginger, cloves and star anise. He grinds the spices himself, but pre-ground work well too. For a different texture altogether, try adding the soaked fruit to the batter without puréeing it.
“Just play with the recipe,” he says. “Have fun.”
The recipe can be doubled if desired. Be sure to beat the eggs for a full 10 minutes until they are very light and frothy. Once the batter is assembled it should be fairly thick – a wooden spoon stuck in the mixture should stand up on its own. Bake the cake for two hours in the middle of a 300°F oven over a broiler pan filled with water on the bottom rack for a moist heat.
At Soulyve, the cake is served with a chocolate-Scotch bonnet sauce and toasted-nutmeg crème Anglaise – Carib-fusion again from a man who has embraced the traditions of his birthplace and used them to enrich his adopted home.