In 1993 I visited a lady by the name of Sofia Leonardo, in downtown Oranjestad. She was a traditional artisanal baker and anyone getting married in the 90s, simply had to have some of her black cake, Bolo Preto, as a special treat for invited wedding guests.
At the time it was $200 a pound. But I think Sofia exaggerated the price to impress me. She did.
In early December I attended the 35th wedding anniversary of Lourdes & Robert Tromp and was enamored by the black cake served at the reception at Indian Rock Garden. I took a big piece home – that’s the Aruban way — and savored it over a period of three days with coffee in the morning – that’s my way.
Where does the cake come from, I asked Lourdes the following week. From Louisa Boekhoudt’s kitchen she said. Then of course I had to schedule a visit.
Louisa lives in a lovely home in Paradera surrounded by flowering bushes and shrubs. Her husband is the master gardener, while she is the Cake Boss with 42 years of patisserie experience.
Most of her cakes are simple – iconic Aruban butter cake — but the decorations are detailed and elaborate. The only one complicated recipe she is famous for is Bolo Preto, which requires days and weeks of prep, to allow the pureed prunes and raisins cooked in cinammon and cloves, to marinate in potent rum or whiskey, infused with sweet cordials. The prunes are always thirsty, the longer they steep, the more alcohol they soak.
Louisa gives her tiered prune cake a fondant icing coat, then she artfully decorates it with flowers and lace. In the old days she made the icing herself, nowadays she takes a short trip to Caribbean Bakeries for a bucket of ready-mix.
It was my lucky day, Louisa had some of her husband’s birthday cake in the fridge, a happy combination of sponge cake, pudding and dream whip topping.
The baker shares that nowadays kid birthday themed parties occupy most of her kitchen time, they involve 10% baking 90% decoration. Her daughter, she doesn’t want to hear about baking, the old recipes are too time consuming, and not for her. Weddings? Yes, every few weeks she is tasked with a wedding cake, the recipe is in her head, she hardly writes anything down.
Then to my surprise Louisa shared that her Black Cake secrets were handed down to her from Sofia, my idol from the 1993 sugar and spice article.
And talking about local cakes: You can call Louisa at 583 2268 and schedule a pick up for next week. Her price per pound is about half of what Sofia quoted. But if you feel like having some cake right now, Ruth’s Cakes, adjacent to Kooyman, is a tiny bakery, specializes in local treats. I visited this week for some Prune Cake and Cashew Cake, but they also make Carrot, Cherry, Strawberry and Apple Nut cakes, Caribbean Bread Pudding, Double Chocolate, Red Velvet and Chocolate Chip, by the slice and per gateau. Among refrigerated cakes they carry Ponche Crema cake, Chateau, a multi-tiered cream decadence, Pistachio, Cookies & Cream, Torta Real, fit for a queen, and Coconut Cake.
My GF Tina Bislick, an incredible baker and chef, reports there are two kinds of bakers: Specialty Bakers who produce Pinterest-worthy artistic conversation pieces which photograph amazingly. While they are drool-worthy their fillings are simple. Then there are bakers who rock it with perfectly moist and fluffy cakes, made from scratch buttercream and frosting, and fresh berries and meringue toppings. Some cakes are left semi-naked, because they are made to be devoured, not photographed or displayed.
Now you know. Not all cakes are created equal.
(I like Bolo Preto so much, I have a dog by that name)