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Colombian Recipes for Christmas and New Year’s: Torta Negra

Torta negra

Sofía Machado

If you think Colombian food is good, you haven’t tried our typical Christmas and New Year’s dishes because it doesn’t get any better than those. Of all the things that you could try when coming to Bogotá, please have torta negra (black cake) at the top of your list; it is definitely one of the best dishes to try and share with people during the holidays.

Imagine you are in Bogotá at Christmas or New Year’s and you are having a very special dinner with some of your friends. They ask you to please bring the dessert and you say “yes” knowing you have absolutely no idea what to bring. Well, look no further; I have the best and most appropriate solution for you.  What if you bring a traditional Christmas dessert served in Bogotá and all over Colombia? What if, instead of buying it, you try to make it so it’s more special? The answer to this is torta negra, and I’m going to tell you a little bit about what makes this dish special and how to prepare it so you can surprise your friends!

A little bit about torta negra

It’s no secret that Colombians love to eat an unholy amount of food year-round, but it’s extra true at Christmas and New Year’s. Traditional dishes, like torta negra, buñuelos, and natilla (read The 5 Colombian Christmas foods you have to try in December), have been around for years, passed from generation to generation in an effort to keep traditions alive. And if there’s something that unites people in this country, it’s the amazing food we have the pleasure to enjoy.

Torta negra is essentially a cake made with candied fruits and a mixture of rum and wine. It’s dense and filled with prunes, raisins, and figs, and flavored with spices. Sometimes it even has nuts, like almonds or hazelnuts, chocolate, etc. It’s said that the recipe comes from the Welsh when they first immigrated to Argentina and Venezuela by boat. Women on board made a cake with candied fruit, honey, and rum in an effort to prepare something that could be made fast and would keep its consistency so that it could be transported later. In some Latin American countries, it’s still called torta negra Galesa (Welsh black cake), but when it arrived in Colombia, its name was changed to torta negra Colombiana (Colombian black cake).

Usually, you have to leave the dried fruits for one or two weeks, soaked in wine, in a non-reactive container. But to make things easier and save time, here’s a recipe you can prepare without doing this step (you have to have patience though because you need to start it days in advance).

Torta negra
© Photograph by Erika Dihlo

Ingredients

For one 8-inch cake that serves  12-16/prices are approximate

For the dry fruit mix you’ll need:

  • 1 cup raisins (1 bag of 200g = $3,200 COP/$1 USD)
  • 1 cup pitted prunes (1 bag of 200g = $5,500 COP/$1.70 USD)
  • ½ cup almonds (1 bag of 800g = $27,900 COP/$8.70 USD)
  • ¼ cup pecans or walnuts (1 bag of 200g = $4,700 COP/$1.50 USD)
  • 1 cup figs in syrup (brevas en almíbar) (1 bag of 560g = $6,700 COP/$2.10 USD)

For the cake:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour (1 bag of 100g = $2,700 COP/$0.85 USD)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder (1 box of 80g = $5,100 COP/$1.60 USD)
  •  ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon (1 bag of 30g = $4,900 COP/$1.50 USD)
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg (1 bag of 11g = $2,800 COP/$0.90 USD)
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves (1 bag of 9g = $1,400 COP/$0.45 USD)
  • ¼ teaspoon salt (1 bag of 1,000g = $1,200 COP/$0.40 USD)
  • 1 cup unsalted butter at room temperature (1 bar of 250g = $7,500 COP/$2.30 USD)
  • 2 cups white sugar (1 bag of 1000g = $3300 COP/$1.05)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract (1 pot of 100g for  $5000 COP/$1.60 USD)
  • 1½ teaspoon instant coffee dissolved in 2 tablespoons of water (1 container of 50g = $3,500 COP/$1.10 USD)
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest (you can also use orange zest) (500g = $1,100 COP/$0.35 USD)
  • 5 eggs (carton of 6 = $2,500 COP/$0.80 USD)
  • 3 tablespoons of burnt sugar  (1 bag of 1000g = $3,300 COP/$1.05 USD)
  • ¼ cup (60 ml) rum (1 box of 1,000ml = $36,000 COP/$11.30 USD)
  • 1 cup (240 ml) sweet red wine (1 bottle of 750ml = $22,000 COP/$6.90 USD)

You can find all of the ingredients in supermarkets (read our article Bogotá’s Five Most Popular Supermarkets & Grocery Stores) like Éxito or Jumbo. I also recommend going to Orquídea: a pastries and dessert shop where you can find special (and not so easy to find) ingredients, like the vanilla extract.

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 350ºF.
  2. Chop the raisins, prunes, almonds, and pecans into small pieces (you can use a food processor). Chop the figs too and mix them with the rest. Set aside.
  3. Use a medium bowl to mix the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, ground clove, and the salt. Set aside.
  4. In a large bowl, cream the unsalted butter with the sugar on high speed for about 3-5 minutes. Then add the vanilla, instant coffee, and lemon zest and mix everything again. One at a time, beat in 2-3 eggs, and then add ½ of the amount of flour and mix one more time, but starting at a low speed. Beat in the remaining eggs one at a time. Finish the rest of the flour as well. Finally, mix well to blend everything while you add the burnt sugar or caramel color.
  5. Mix with your hands the chopped fruit with the cake batter and make sure the fruit is well distributed. Pour the batter into a baking pan and cover with aluminum foil. Bake for one and a half hours (you can insert a knife in the middle and if it comes out clean, then it’s ready). Remove the aluminum foil after one hour of baking. Once ready, let the cake rest inside the pan for a few minutes.
  6. In the meantime, in a separate container, mix the rum and the wine. Next, remove the cake from the pan and put it on a piece of aluminum foil. Pour the mixture of rum and wine all over and cover with plastic wrap while tucking the aluminum foil so the cake doesn’t dry out. Let the cake sit at room temperature for 3-5 days before serving (https://www.196flavors.com/colombia-torta-negra/, https://hispanickitchen.com/2015/11/27/torta-negra-colombian-black-cake/).

Loosen your belt because it’s hard to eat just one piece of torta negra. You’ll surprise your friends with this recipe, while also having the opportunity to taste something that seems to come straight out of heaven. Torta negra is a very traditional dessert for Christmas and New Year’s (read our article Traditional Colombian Desserts You Need to Try to learn about other traditional food). Even if you don’t have time to make it, please do yourself a wonderful favor and try it. You won’t regret it, I promise!

Was this article useful? Do you know other cool stuff about Colombian Christmas and New Year’s recipes? Or maybe an experience you would like to share? Please share and/or comment on this article, and visit our homepage Colture to take a look at my articles and many others to find more essential information about Bogotá before and during your trip.

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