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side view of italian rum cake with candles for happy birthday

Italian Rum Cake

Makes an 8-inch, three layer vanilla sponge cake 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?!?
Course Dessert
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 4 hours
Cook Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Total Time 5 hours 30 minutes
Servings 20
Calories 300kcal
Author Marie


  • 8-inch round cake pans (three total) or use 9 inch cake pans and do 1.5X the sponge cake recipe
  • parchment paper to line bottom of cake pans
  • standing mixer or hand mixer
  • cake board (I use 10-inch size) (helpful but not necessary)


Ingredients for the sponge cake: (can use 9 inch cake pans and make 1.5 times the sponge cake for thicker layers).

  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour sift onto a sheet of waxed paper and then spoon into measuring cup and level to rim if not weighing
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 6 large eggs (separated into yolks and egg whites) separate when cold. Use when room temperature. Make sure egg whites do not contain any yolk!
  • 1 cup superfine or regular sugar , divided
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 3 tablespoons water , cold
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Ingredients for frosting (stabilized whipped cream):

  • 3 cups heavy cream
  • ¾ cup powdered sugar
  • 3 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
  • 4 tbsp cold water

Ingredients for the vanilla pastry cream filling:

  • 5 egg yolks
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 4 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/16 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup heavy cream (whipped) NOTE: this gets mixed in AFTER the pastry cream has been cooked and chilled

Ingredients for the chocolate pastry cream filling:

  • 5 egg yolks
  • ½ cup sugar plus 2 tablespoons
  • 4 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1/16 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup heavy cream (whipped) NOTE: this gets mixed in AFTER the pastry cream has been cooked and chilled.

Ingredients for the rum syrup:

  • 1 cup water
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon rum extract

Ingredients to assemble the cake:

  • 2 cups crushed peanuts OR sliced almonds , lightly salted
  • 8 inch cake board (optional)


How to make the sponge cake:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees and position rack in center of oven
  • Grease inside of cake pans with butter and flour/cakespray and for added measure, line bottom of pans with parchment paper
  • Combine flour with salt in a small bowl and set aside.
  • In a standing mixer, whip the egg whites on medium-low speed until foamy (not stiff) and then add the cream of tartar and continue mixing until the whites become opaque
  • 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
  • Using the same bowl, which is now empty, 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
  • Slowly add the remaining sugar (ie, ½ cup), cold water, and vanilla into the egg yolks and mix until combined on low speed
  • Sift the flour onto the egg yolks in two additions, and stir gently with large spatula to combine.
  • Gently but thoroughly fold in the whipped egg whites
  • Transfer mixture to prepared pans and bake for about 20 to 30 minutes until cooked through; using 3 pans, I only needed 20 minutes.
  • Remove from oven, cool, and then run knife carefully around rim to loosen and invert to wire rack. After fully cooled, wrap and refrigerate or freeze.

How to make the pastry cream:

  • Note that the heavy cream gets whipped separately and is added to the finished pastry cream AFTER it has been cooked and cooled. I do this just before I'm getting ready to assemble the cake.
  • In a small bowl, add egg yolks and cornstarch. Whisk to blend and set aside
  • In a medium saucepan, add milk, sugar, salt, and vanilla OR chocolate (depending on if you are making the chocolate or the vanilla cream [you will repeat all of these steps to make the other flavor)
    Heat until small bubbles form (scalded) and remove from heat.
  • Temper eggs by adding small amounts (about ½ cup/4 ounces) of the hot milk mixture, a little at a time, while whisking very QUICKLY to prevent the eggs from curdling.
  • After all of the milk mixture has been added into the eggs/cornstarch, return everything to the saucepan and cook over medium heat and stir constantly until thickened.
    The mixture thickens quickly (depending on how hight heat is)!! Stir fast and furious with whisk!
    Continue to heat and stir until it has stopped thickening.
  • Cool the pastry cream and refrigerate until ready to use (this is when you do the last step below, adding the whipped cream). TIP: when folding in the whipped cream during next step, rewhip the pastry cream if it has been refrigerated to reduce the chance of lumpiness.
  • When ready to assemble the cake, whip heavy cream until soft peaks form (overbeating will cause it to turn to butter) and then fold together with cooled pastry cream (rewhip the pastry cream first if it has been refrigerated and/or it has firmed up a lot).
  • Repeat all these steps for other flavor (chocolate or vanilla).

How to make stabilized whipped cream

  • Add gelatin and water to a small saucepan and heat gently just until the gelatin dissolves. Do not let the mixture set. If the gelatin cools too much you will have lumps or threads of gelatin in your whipped cream.
  • Whip the cream and sugar using a standing mixer until the mixture is slightly thickened.
  • Add the gelatin mixture slowly and then increase speed to high and continue whipping until the frosting is firm.

How to make the rum syrup:

  • Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and heat over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves and then cool or store in refrigerator.

How to assemble the cake:

  • Using a teaspoon or small squeeze bottle, distribute the rum syrup evenly over each of the three cake layers.
  • Place one cake layer on the bottom of an 8- or 10-inch cake board or cake dish (you may spread some frosting between the dish and bottom layer to prevent the cake from shifting)
  • Spread all of the vanilla pastry cream on top on the bottom layer and then top with another layer of sponge cake. Spread all of the chocolate pastry cream on top of middle layer and then top with final layer of sponge cake
  • Frost cake, and add generous amount of crushed peanuts or sliced almonds to the sides of the cake. (if you have refrigerated the frosting (made ahead) you may have to rewhip it.
  • Decorate the top if desired and refrigerate until serving.


NOTE: nutrition does NOT include frosting (since you can choose between the two frosting shown (bakery style [see below] or stabilized whipped cream frosting) 
Substitute rum extract with 5 tablespoons of light rum or ½ to 1 tablespoon of dark rum. 
Egg whites for cake should not have any trace of egg yolk in them or they will not whip up well, which is necessary to get good volume in cake. 
Gelatin mixture should be warm and not too cool because once the mixture thickens/sets, it can form lumps when added to the whipped cream. 
If your pastry cream has been refrigerated and is very firm, be sure to whip it well before folding in whipped cream (otherwise, it might be lumpy). 
Cake is best served the day after it is assembled so it sets but can be served after several hours of refrigeration.  
Bakery Style Frosting (Optional substitute for stabilized whipped cream frosting):
  • 28 ounces of powdered sugar (7 cups)
  •  1 cup butter, room temperature 
  •  1 cup shortening
  •  1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  •  milk to thin frosting if needed
Combine butter and shortening
Add powdered sugar slowly, 1 cup at a time
Mix on medium-to-low speed to prevent air bubbles from forming
Add vanilla extract and mix to combine


Calories: 300kcal | Carbohydrates: 37g | Protein: 8g | Fat: 14g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 157mg | Sodium: 99mg | Potassium: 206mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 26g | Vitamin A: 328IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 68mg | Iron: 1mg