Caribbean Rum Cake: embracing the holiday spirit(s)

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Welcome to King Arthur Flour’s Year of the Bundt! We’ve been celebrating this classic American dessert with a variety of recipes throughout the year. Let’s wrap up the festivities by raising a toast to the holiday season with a cake that’s a party all in itself: Caribbean Rum Cake.

Do you like rum cake?

Many of you are probably nodding assent, remembering the golden slice of rum-soaked bliss you enjoyed during that visit to Jamaica. Or the boxed cake shipped from the islands to your door, just in time for Christmas.

Moist yellow Bundt cake infused with rum and soaked in rum syrup: that’s rum cake. Simple as it sounds, the interplay of flavors (rum, vanilla, butter) and decidedly moist texture — this cake falls just short of oozing rum — are absolutely compelling.

Not all rum cake comes from the tropics. Those old enough to remember baking in the 1970s and ’80s will recall the boozy cakes we used to whip up from a box of cake mix, carton of pudding mix, and generous dollops of “holiday spirit” — the liquid kind. Think Harvey Wallbanger cake. Kahlua cake. And rum cake.

Caribbean Rum Cake via @kingarthurflour

Well, times have changed; many of us have ditched the boxed cake mixes in favor of our own recipes. Flour and butter and sugar, vanilla and eggs take the place of the long side panel of hard-to-spell ingredients typical of most cake mixes.

But that doesn’t mean we want to lose our cake-mix favorites — including rum cake.

As 2017 winds to a close, and with it our Year of the Bundt bash, let’s celebrate with this Caribbean Rum Cake.

Don’t worry, we’ve invited everyone to the party. For those of you avoiding alcohol, we’ve worked up a version using rum flavor. Baking gluten-free? One simple substitution is all it takes. Skim to the end of this post for complete directions.

Start by preheating the oven to 325°F, with a rack in the center.

Gather your cake ingredients:

2 cups (8 1/2 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
3.4-ounce box instant vanilla pudding mix (not sugar-free)*
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup milk, at room temperature
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup rum, plain or spiced
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon butter-rum flavor, optional but excellent
1/4 cup almond flour, for dusting baking pan, optional

*Want to omit the pudding mix? You can; your cake will be a bit less sweet, and somewhat drier. You can address this by adding 1/3 cup granulated sugar, 1/4 cup cornstarch, and an extra 1 teaspoon vanilla to the recipe, in place of the dry pudding mix; but we still prefer the original pudding mix version.

Mix the cake batter

Place the flour, sugar, pudding mix, baking powder, salt, butter, and vegetable oil in a mixing bowl, and mix at medium speed until everything is thoroughly combined and the mixture is sandy looking.

Beat in the milk, then beat in the eggs one at a time. Scrape the bowl thoroughly, and beat briefly to recombine any sticky residue.

Stir in the rum, vanilla, and butter-rum flavor.

Caribbean Rum Cake via @kingarthurflourPrepare a Bundt pan

Spritz a 10- to 12-cup Bundt pan with cooking spray

Caribbean Rum Cake via @kingarthurflour

For an extra layer of nutty flavor (and to help keep the cake from sticking), sprinkle the inside of the pan with almond flour and turn the pan to coat evenly; shake out any excess.  Caribbean Rum Cake via @kingarthurflour

Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

Caribbean Rum Cake via @kingarthurflour

Level the batter with a spatula.Caribbean Rum Cake via @kingarthurflour

Bake the cake

Bake the cake for 50 to 60 minutes. When done, a cake tester, long toothpick, or strand of uncooked spaghetti will come out clean when inserted into the center. Remove the cake from the oven.  

Make the syrup

Leave the cake in the pan to cool slightly while you make the syrup:

8 tablespoons (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
1/4 cup water
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup rum, plain or spiced
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Note: Using the full amount of syrup (above) makes a traditional rum-soaked rum cake, one that’s incredibly moist. For a cake whose texture is more similar to that of a standard cake, make and use a half-recipe of this syrup.

In a medium-sized saucepan combine the syrup ingredients, except vanilla. Bring to a rapid boil then reduce to a simmer and cook (without stirring) for about 5 to 8 minutes, until the syrup thickens slightly. 

Caribbean Rum Cake via @kingarthurflour

Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla.

Caribbean Rum Cake via @kingarthurflour

Use a long skewer to poke holes all over the cake. Caribbean Rum Cake via @kingarthurflour

Soak the cake with the syrup

Pour about 1/4 cup of the syrup over the cake (still in the pan).

Caribbean Rum Cake via @kingarthurflour

Allow the syrup to soak in, then repeat again and again until all the syrup is used.

Cover the pan loosely with plastic wrap and allow the cake to sit overnight at room temperature to cool completely and soak in the syrup.

Caribbean Rum Cake via @kingarthurflourTurn the cake out of the pan

When ready to serve, loosen the edges of the cake and invert onto your serving plate. 

Caribbean Rum Cake via @kingarthurflour

If the cake won’t release, don’t force it. Place it in the oven, turn the oven to 350°F, and warm for about 10 minutes, to soften the sticky syrup. (If your oven is one that preheats by making its upper element red-hot, place the cake on a lower rack and tent it with aluminum foil to protect it.) Remove the cake from the oven, and tip it onto the serving plate.

Caribbean Rum Cake via @kingarthurflourEnjoy!

Serve with hot coffee or tea. Or not; this cake is irresistible all on its own.

Wrap securely (or place under a cake cover) and store at room temperature for several days. Freeze for longer storage, up to 1 month.

Rum cake without alcohol

It seems counter-intuitive, but you can omit the rum and make a non-alcoholic version of this cake. Here’s how:

For cake with mild rum flavor — Cake: substitute water for the rum, and use 1/2 teaspoon butter-rum flavor. Syrup: Substitute water for the rum, and use 1/4 teaspoon butter-rum flavor (added once the syrup is done simmering). Note that our butter-rum flavor is a professional-quality, extra-strong flavor; if you’re using store-bought rum extract, you’ll probably need to use more.

For cake with more assertive rum flavor — Cake: Substitute water for the rum, and add 3/4 to 1 1/2 teaspoons butter-rum flavor. Syrup: Substitute water for the rum, and use up to 1/2 teaspoon butter-rum flavor (added once the syrup is done simmering).

Baking gluten-free?

Want to make this cake gluten-free? Our Gluten-Free Measure for Measure Flour makes it easy to make many of your favorite recipes (like this one) gluten-free. Simply substitute Measure for Measure flour 1:1 for the flour in this recipe; no additional ingredients or other changes are necessary.

High-altitude adjustments

If you’re up in the mountains, you may want to adjust this recipe for optimal results. See our high-altitude baking tips.

Homemade rum cake: a decidedly decadent way to raise your holiday spirits. Click To Tweet

Looking for more “spirituous” cake recipes? See this collection of cocktail cakes, courtesy of Sift magazine.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We love baking by weight, Nedalin! You can view all of the ingredients for this recipe in grams by viewing the full recipe and then toggling to “grams,” underneath the ingredients header. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

    2. The Baker's Hotline

      Our pleasure, Nedalin. We wouldn’t want your rum cake baking to have to wait. 🙂 Kye@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Of course, Kris. If you like drinking dark rum, then we’d guess you’d probably like cake made with dark rum too. Just expect a slightly darker color, which may make gauging doneness difficult. Use a long skewer inserted into the cake to make sure it’s fully baked. Enjoy! Kye@KAF

  1. Rosa Patterson

    I just tried this recipe and it is absolutely delicious! I will include it on my Thanksgiving dessert table. My question is can I use unbleached cake flour (King Arthur of course) instead of unbleached all purpose flour? If so should I make adjustments with other ingredients? I also had a slight problem with some of the cake sticking to pan. I generally use the non stick spray with flour in it (I won’t mention brand names), is there a reason I should not use it on this recipe?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Rosa, to answer your first question, we like using all-purpose flour in this recipe because it gives the cake the support it needs to stay in tact, even when it is heavily soaked. If you make a cake flour version, you might consider opting for a half batch of soaking syrup to ensure it doesn’t get too heavy and fall apart. As for the sticking to the pan, we like using non-stick spray and then coating the inside of the pan with almond flour to create a barrier between the pan and cake. This cake can be troublesome since the sugary soaking syrup can become sticky as the cake rests overnight. We find that putting the cake back into the oven for 10 minutes before trying to turn it out really helps. Kye@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Because the cake is soaked so heavily, it freezes quite well. It stays moist even after thawing. Wrap it well in plastic and then freezer for up to one month. Thaw in the fridge overnight for the best results, or at room temperature for a few hours before serving. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      To make a dairy-free version of this cake, use Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks to replace the butter, and use a plain, unsweetened nut milk for the milk. You’ll have a hard time finding dairy-free vanilla pudding mix (if you can find it, bonus!), otherwise just omit this ingredient. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  2. Diane Gilman

    This cake is to die for. Didn’t last 2 days. I didn’t have the butter-rum so I used Pure Almond Extract (makes awesome French Toast too).

    Thank You!!

    Reply
  3. Grady

    I make this every Christmas for our favorite auntie. She sleeps with it on the pillow next to her, to guard it from the rest of the family so they don’t eat it all in the night!

    Reply
  4. Susan

    I don’t use almond flour often, so prefer to grind my own. After dusting the pan with the almond flour, is there any reason not to toss the (presumably very little) extra in the cake?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Great question, Susan. When we add very finely ground almond flour to non-yeasted recipes like this one, we typically substitute it for an equal amount of flour (up to 1/4 of the total amount of flour in the recipe). If we’re talking just 1-2 tsp of almond flour, it should also be fine as a small addition here, but if it’s more than that, you might want to consider removing an equal amount of flour. Mollie@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Sue, you’re welcome to try using a commercial egg replacer if you like, but the texture and flavor of the cake will be different than what you’d achieve with eggs. We tend to use Golden Flax Meal blended with water to replace eggs, which you can read more about here. If you decide to give it a shot, we wish you good luck! Kye@KAF

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