italian rum cake

Italian Rum cake slice-1-2

This cake has been on my want-to-make list for such a loooong time.

I’m thrilled with the result – it was amazing and rivals that from my favorite bakery. Quite a feat for a first time attempt, if I do say so myself:)

This cake is one of my weaknesses. If I let myself, I could probably eat the WHOLE thing. No kidding. Last day on earth? Yes, I’ll take a piece of this cake as part of my last meal. Heck, maybe even make it the entire meal!

Italian Rum cake whole-1-2

Growing up, Italian Rum cake was a must-have for every birthday celebration. We didn’t do chocolate cake,  sheet cake, or any other cake. My family and most other Italian families in the neighborhood had this kind of cake to celebrate birthdays.

Italian rum cake will always remind me of my old neighborhood in Philly; my mother; my Italian roots; my childhood….bittersweet memories for sure. I’m so glad that I’ve found a way to make it just as I like it because it seems to be harder and harder to find a good Italian rum cake.

The cake is made with three layers of sponge cake (think Angel Food cake but with the egg yolks) that are soaked with a rum-flavored syrup, filled with layers of vanilla and chocolate pastry cream, iced with a bakery style frosting, and adorned with crushed peanuts (or sliced almonds) on the outside (peanuts should be crushed a tad bit more than shown in photo).

Italian Rum cake and slice -1

Don’t be intimidated by the instructions – the key is to make the cake in small steps over time, and then assemble it the day before or morning of the celebration. I made the sponge cake and froze it a week ahead, and also made the frosting a few days prior. I made the pastry cream the night before assembling the cake and the rum syrup the morning of assembly.

I’ve seen a few versions of this cake online but with almonds instead of the peanuts. In Philadelphia, most if not all of the rum cakes that I’ve seen have the peanuts – I do wonder what area uses the almonds? It’s easy enough to substitute, but here in Philly, we’ve gotta have the peanuts.
Sources: Pastry cream adapted from Good Things by David; Sponge cake from Baking911; Bakery Frosting from My Madison Bistro

 

4.9 from 7 reviews
Italian Rum Cake
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Vanilla sponge cake layers are sprinkled with rum syrup then filled with vanilla and chocolate pastry cream, topped with bakery-style buttercream and decorated with crushed peanuts - does it get any better?!?
Author:
Recipe type: Dessert
Serves: 20
Ingredients
For the bakery frosting:
  • 28 ounces of powdered (confectioners) sugar (7 cups)
  • 1 cup butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup shortening (use high-ratio, if available)
  • 1 teaspoon clear vanilla extract
  • milk to thin, if needed
For the vanilla pastry cream:
  • 5 egg yolks
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 4 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt
  • ¼ cup heavy cream
For the chocolate pastry cream:
  • 5 egg yolks
  • ½ cup sugar plus 2 tablespoons
  • 4 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder
  • pinch of salt
  • ¼ cup heavy cream
For the sponge cake:
  • 1 cup sifted unbleached all-purpose flour; sift onto a sheet of waxed paper and then spoon into measuring cup and level to rim (4.25 ounces King Arthur all-purpose flour or 4.625 Gold Medal)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 6 large eggs, separated; separate when cold. Can use cold in the recipe.
  • 1 cup superfine or regular sugar, divided
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 3 tablespoons water, cold
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the rum syrup:
  • 1 cup water
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon rum extract
To assemble the cake:
  • 2 cups crushed peanuts, lightly salted
  • 8-inch cake board (optional)
Instructions
For the bakery frosting:
  1. Combine butter and shortening
  2. Add powdered sugar slowly, 1 cup at a time
  3. Mix on medium-to-low speed to prevent air bubbles from forming
  4. Add vanilla extract and mix to combine
For the pastry creams:
  1. In a small bowl, add egg yolks and cornstarch. Whisk to blend and set aside
  2. In a medium saucepan, add milk, sugar, salt, and vanilla or chocolate; heat until small bubbles form (scalded) and remove from heat.
  3. Temper eggs by adding small amounts (about 4 ounces) of the hot milk mixture at a time, while whisking very QUICKLY to prevent the eggs from curdling.
  4. After all of the milk mixture has been incorporated into the eggs/cornstarch, return everything to the saucepan and cook over medium heat and stir constantly until thickened.
  5. My mother does this over a water bath because it quickly thickens and can very easily burn; I didn't use a water bath.
  6. Cool the pastry cream and refrigerate until ready to use. (should be eaten within 3 days)
  7. Whip heavy cream only until soft peaks form (overbeating will cause it to turn to butter) and fold together with cooled pastry cream (rewhip this if it has been refrigerated).
For the rum syrup:
  1. Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and heat over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves and then cool or store in refrigerator.
For the sponge cake:
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and position rack in center of oven
  2. Line bottom of pans (I used two 8-inch) with parchment paper
  3. Combine flour with salt in a small bowl and set aside.
  4. In a standing mixer, whip the egg whites on medium-low speed until foamy (not stiff) and then add the cream of tarter and continue mixing until the white become opaque
  5. Add ½ cup sugar slowly to the side of the bowl and increase the speed of the mixer until soft but not stiff peaks form. Scrape the contents to another bowl and set aside
  6. Using the same bowl, add the egg yolks and whip at high speed for 3 to 5 minutes until lightened in color and the mixture "ribbons" when the beaters are raised
  7. Slowly add sugar, cold water, and vanilla into the egg yolks and mix until combined on low speed
  8. Sift the flour onto the egg yolks in two additions, and stir gently with large spatula to combine.
  9. Gently but thoroughly fold in the whipped egg whites
  10. Transfer mixture to prepared pans and bake for about 30 minutes until cooked through; if using one pan instead of 2 adjust time accordingly.
  11. Remove from oven, cool, invert to wire rack. After fully cooled, wrap and refrigerate or freeze. When ready to use, slice each cake carefully into 2 layers (will only need 3 of the 4 layers)
To assemble:
  1. Remove frosting from the refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature to facilitate spreading.
  2. Using a teaspoon, spoon the rum syrup evenly over each of the three cake layers.
  3. Place one cake layer on the bottom of an 8-inch cake board or cake dish (you may spread some frosting between the dish and bottom layer to prevent the cake from shifting)
  4. Spread all of the vanilla pastry cream on top on the bottom layer and then top with another layer of sponge cake.
  5. Spread all of the chocolate pastry cream on top of middle layer and then top with final layer of sponge cake
  6. Frost cake, and add generous amount of crushed peanuts to the sides of the cake.
  7. Decorate the top if desired and refrigerate until serving.
Notes
Freezing the cake makes it much easier to cut into layers
Ensure frosting is at room temperature and fully softened before trying to frost cake.
5 tablespoons of light rum or ½ tablespoon of dark rum may be substituted for rum extract

 

Comments

  1. Becky says

    Stumbled across your blog for the Italian Rum Cake via Hillary humphry Cook on Twitter, and just had to pin you! This looks incredible! Gotta try it! Thanks for the recipe! Will let ya know when my family falls at my feet in adoration over this. They’re gonna, I just know it!

    • Marie says

      Thanks! Yup – definitely not really a “kid’s cake”, although I believe the rum extract has little to no alcohol in it? Don’t quote me on that..it’s definitely easy enough to make a kid’s version, without the rum, but then it wouldn’t be as good IMO.

  2. lisa says

    hi just wanted to know has anyone tryed this recipe.?
    i dont want to make it and it doesnt turn out its for my mother in law 67 birthday and i dont have much money to spend .. ? ty

    • Marie says

      Hi Lisa- I made the cake in the photo. Came out very good. I wish I could have a piece now. It’s a fairly new recipe so not sure if many people have had chance to try it yet. If you make it, let me know how you like it.

  3. lisa says

    hi marie is it the same as in the italian shops i just wanted the cream recipes .. in australia we dont have shortning can we use samething else thanku

    • Marie says

      It is the same pastry cream as that you will find in the US bakeries – I can’t speak for Australia because I’ve never been but I’d imagine it’s the same. If you try it, I just caution you to use a water bath when thickening. It can burn very easily and I’d hate to hear that you had to remake it. It tastes like a high-quality pudding. As a last step, I mix in freshly whipped heavy cream to further improve the taste and texture.

  4. lisa says

    thank you marie will you do a video on utude or here to make the cream?.. im italian backround.. i always wanted to find this recipe and it was so hard but was scread that didnt turn out and then i will waste my money.. thank u so much marie

    • Marie says

      I can understand your concern – I will try to do a video someday. For now, you can search on YouTube – there is a good one by JoyofBaking. She uses flour in her pastry cream, and I prefer my recipe with just cornstarch. Same technique though. Watch it and you’ll feel more comfortable. If you can’t find it, email me (my email is on my contact page), and I will send you the link.

  5. Karen says

    So excited to find this! I too grew up with italian rum cakes and am now stuck in an area where it is not known!!! I grab one at the old neighborhood bakery and bring it home in a cooler (4 hour ride!) In Boston we always had almonds versus peanuts. This is the first time I’ve ever seen peanuts lol. Dying to try this out Thanks a million!!!

  6. RJ says

    hi Marie – I think my gf is testing my baking abilities ,lol, when I asked what kind of cake she wanted for her b-day she said “Italian Rum Cake”, no problem I said, I had never heard of it , went to my usual recipe site where they usually have everything and NADDA , lol …. so I asked for help for recipes and was directed to yours, and 2 others , and after carefully studying, deciding, I chose yours , seems more authentic , I didn’t want a quick & easy, cheating method.
    the only change I see so far is the Rum itself, I transfer the rum into a spray bottle adding it that way. I will def keep you posted as I will be making it over this wknd.

  7. beth says

    hi just wanted to know i cant find rum extract can i you anything else thank you ann going to try this tomorrow ty

  8. beth says

    hi I don’t really understand the flour you mean plain flour sifted ?. I cant find rum extract can I use anything else ty will like to make it tomorrow ty

  9. Rednek Gormet says

    swear my GF is testing me by requesting this cake for her upcoming b-day , np I said, despite I never heard of it …. went to my fac recipe site and NADDA, not 1 recipe, so had to do some research just for the recipe, found 3, this one seemed more authentic , showed GF the pic, etc, she gave it the ok .

    so far so good ….. just took cake out of over, came out great, rose as should, didn’t go flat when took out …. now let cool …. 1 change Im going to do is the Rum sauce, Im just gonna transfer Rum in spray bottle and “hose down” the cake a few times as I store it in freezer til time for b-day in couple weeks.

    I already made the frosting , she cannot eat nuts, so I used Almond extract in frosting instead of vanilla … Im also storing frosting in freezer. …. another reason why I like this cake, down in steps, you can make ahead & freeze.

    sorta reminds me of my Pina Colada Cake , I make 2 layers into 4, “hose down w/ rum , make a filling, etc ….. when complete, it contains an entire bottle of Rum NOT cooked out , lol. … also reminds me cuz of the numerous steps, and is time consuming, but that’s why do it in steps , in advance, don’t rush, have fun, have a drink.

    will rate recipe when totally complete, but if had to rate now … 5 stars , but lets see how fillings turn out, will keep you posted

    • Marie says

      Sounds good so far…I like your thinking about doing the cake in steps and having fun instead of stressing! Pina colada cake sounds amazing! I like boozy cakes..lol

  10. Rednek Gormet says

    doing good with cake , I put cake it freezer b4 slicing in 1/2 , makes it much easier – learned that from making my Pina Colada cake . So I had 4 layers, I turned the inner sides up and “hosed” them down with Rum, btw, I used Vanilla flavored Rum , then I stacked them on cooling racks, and put in freezer.

    another tip I want to recommend is I put the beaters in freezer overnite and a bowl in frig overnite, made beating egg whites faster and more doable.

    Im thinking of adding some Rum to the fillings, but that’s tricky, esp doing a first time …. I do it for my Colada cake, but way I do it, its easy to make it thick if add to much rum, if there is a such thing, lol.

    • Rednek Gormet says

      I just made both fillings, OMG ! …. soooo good ! , esp the chocolate !, I scraped the lining out the pan with my fingers trying to taste every bit of it , LOL. … will say, it is time consuming and work, but what a pay off ! , so glad I made cake and frosting other week. so tomorrow after adding whipped cream to fillings, I will assemble and frost the cake, and hope it doesnot mysteriously disappear b4 the party sunday, LOL . I can tell by now this is gonna be a 5 star recipe !

        • Rednek Gormet says

          Im almost finished making this cake for the 2nd time . A friend who was at my party last year, ask for it …. had no problems again making this cake at all , in fact, seemed easier this time since I knew what I was doing and had a plan … like making the frosting 1 st , then cake , then making fillings , day of serving I frost the cake , and cover with fresh strawberries.

          like last time, the only things I do differently are 1) I use flavored rum , transfer in a spray bottle,, when done spraying both sides of 3 layers, I have used entire spray bottle. ….. 2) I use fresh strawberries instead of peanuts.

          btw, this cake fully assembled , does freeze well,.

          a 5 STAR RECIPE !

          • Marie says

            Thanks for checking in:) We were wondering how things turned out. I too have frozen leftover rum cake with success. (It only gets frozen because I don’t want to eat the whole thing….which would be easy to do!)

  11. Kris says

    We use sliced almonds in Connecticut. We also use ricotta filling, the same as you find in cannoli, instead of vanilla cream. Either way, yum!

  12. Dejana says

    Made the cake and I am going to make it for the second time today, so I figured a review was merited, it’s a lovely cake everyone loved it!
    The only thing I changed was I put whipped cream on top instead of frosting to make it just a tad bit lighter.
    Thanks for a great recipe!

  13. Jackie says

    I was thinking about making this cake for a project in my nutrition class. It looks incredible. I have to account for the nutrition facts though… so I wonder what would be the easiest way of obtaining them…Lol never been great @ math either! Any ideas?

  14. Lee says

    Haha! It’s amazing what we take for granted! I live in Tennessee and we just had a woman from Italy open a shop in my small town with real Italian pastries! We really don’t see much of that down here, even in the bigger cities like Nashville, Memphis, or Knoxville.

    My mother never had a recipe for this :) and I’m going to try yours for Thanksgiving. Wish me luck!

  15. Diane says

    Marie – this looks the best of all rumcake recipes I found so far online. I grew up with it here in western Massachusetts, and like Boston always had it with almonds. I’m going to make it for Christmas dinner. It looks like it will be a winner.

  16. Toni says

    Whatever happened to Rednek Gormet and his cake? Seriously, though, I must try this. I’ve been jonesing for Italian Rum Cake for a while.

  17. Elaine says

    Hi Marie I am from Philly moved to Florida and there is not a single bakery to buy rum cake here …Needless to say i was ever so happy to find your recipe from Philly and so detailed so I am making this for my birthday…I am so happy..Thank you…Elaine

  18. John Kennedy says

    Your frosting ingredients call for 28 oz. (7 cups) of powdered sugar. Is it 28 oz. or 7 cups? Isn’t 28 oz. only 3.5 cups and 7 cups = 56 oz? Also, one step calls for vanilla and another vanilla extract. When you say vanilla, are you referring to pure vanilla vs extract? I’d really like to try your recipe this weekend but not sure how to proceed. Thank you for posting. Recipe sounds amazing. Anxious to try it out.

  19. Connie says

    I’ve always wanted to make this too and now will! Still order from old-fashi9on Italian bakery for my birthday, just because you have to have it. Thank you for this recipe!

    p.s. Born & raised in NYC – almond slivers (which I have to use!) or sprinkles (kids prefer) – have never seen peanuts.

    will rate after I’ve made it…..

    • Marie says

      Hi Connie – most people are using the almonds. I guess it’s way more traditional. You have all convinced me to try a version with the almonds. An excuse to make more cake!! Hope you enjoy:)

  20. Jenny says

    Hi , Look forward to trying this version. We are in Australia and have this cake for birthdays. My mother makes the cake old Italian style – a bit of this and a pinch of that. I need a recipe. We also put almonds around the cake but first we lightly roast the almonds in the oven, cool and then crush- small to medium . We don’t use rum but Marsala which we heat up on the stove first to take away the alcohol so we still get the flavour and the kids can enjoy.

    • Marie says

      Hi Jenny – great tip about the Marsala. My kids don’t eat this because of the rum flavor but I did as a kid! I use the rum extract, which I’ve read has low or no alcohol.

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