Holiday Feature

Dutch West Indian Fruitcake

Bolo Pretu
Serves 10


Say the words bolo pretu to a Dutch West Indian and his eyes will light with pleasure. This moist, dense fruitcake is the traditional wedding cake of the Dutch Antilles, and is also a popular dessert so generously steeped in brandy and other spirits that it will keep for half a year.

Bolo pretu literally means "black cake" in Papiamento, the musical Curacaon dialect woven from Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, and African languages. For weddings, the dark cake is traditionally garnished with a snow-white icing sprinkled with tiny silver candy balls (dragees). Guests get to enjoy the cake twice: first at the wedding, then as keepsake slices, which are fancifully wrapped to take home.

You can't really buy bolo pretu commercially, but every extended family seems to have someone who excels in its preparation. The following recipe was inspired by one from Carolina Amira, who works at the gorgeous new Sonesta Hotel near Willemstad.

Bolo Pretu is relatively simple to make, but you'll need at least two weeks from start to finish for steeping the ingredients in liquor and aging the finished cake. The orange liqueur of choice, naturally, is Curacao.


1/2 pound mixed candied fruits,
   including candied cherries, citron,
   orange peel, and lemon peel
1/2 pound mixed dried fruits,
   including raisins, currants, figs,
   pitted prunes, and dates
2 ounces pound cashew nuts
1/4 cup Curacao (orange liqueur)
1/4 cup creme de cacao or rum
1/4 cup Malaga or marsala
1/4 cup dark corn syrup
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

For the Icing and Garnish (optional):
6 tablespoons light corn syrup
3/4 pound confectioners' sugar
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon burnt sugar (see Note; optional)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
3 eggs
1 cup flour
Approximately 1 cup brandy or rum for basting
2 tablespoons silver candy balls (dragees)


Coarsely grind the candied fruits, dried fruits, and cashews in a food processor or meat grinder. Transfer this mixture to a large bowl and stir in the Curacao, creme de cacao, Malaga, and dark corn syrup. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let this mixture steep in the refrigerator for at least 2 days or as long as 1 week.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Cream the butter in an electric mixer. Add the brown sugar, burnt sugar, spices, and vanilla and almond extracts and beat until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one by one, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula after each. Add the fruit mixture with its soaking liquid, followed by the flour. Beat just to mix. Grease a 9-inch cake pan with butter or vegetable oil spray, line the bottom with parchment paper, and butter or oil again.

Spoon the batter into the pan and place in the oven. Bake the cake until set and an inserted toothpick comes out clean, about 1 hour. Transfer the cake pan to a rack and let cool to room temperature. Remove cake from pan. Technically, the Bolu Pretu can be eaten at this stage, but no Dutch Antillean would dream of doing so.

For the best results, sprinkle the cake with brandy or rum and tightly wrap in plastic. Transfer the cake to an airtight tin and store in a cool place or in the refrigerator. Every week or so, unwrap the cake and baste with more brandy. The cake will not only keep but continue to improve for several months.

If you'd like to ice the cake before serving, combine the light corn syrup and confectioners' sugar in a mixer and beat to a smooth white paste. Use this mixture to ice the cake. (If too thick, warm the icing over a pan of simmering water.) Sprinkle the cake with the silver balls and cut into squares or wedges for serving. Alternatively, the cake can be cut into pieces, wrapped in plastic, and decorated with ribbons for gift-giving.

Note: Burnt sugar is a coloring and flavoring agent made from darkly caramelized sugar. This is what gives Bolo Pretu its characteristic black color. Burnt sugar is used throughout the Caribbean and can be found in West Indian markets. The cake is delicious without it, but it won't be as dark.



The Caribbean Pantry Cookbook
by Steven Raichlen
Photographs by Martin Jacobs
$25.00 (Cloth)
Recipe reprinted by permission.

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This page created December 1998; modified November 2006