To most people, a dream summer vacation is all about the sun, the sand and the surf. To me, having been born a few kilometers away from one of the longest beaches in the world it was nothing new. It was an intrinsic part of my youth. Most days, in the school I went to, I could feel the salty breeze against my face. I remember when I fussed, as a child, about having my dinner, I was taken to the beach to be fed. In high school, my friends and I, would make trips to the beach to gorge on the delicious snacks and feel the squishy sand between our toes. When I decided to train for my tennis lessons, we were asked to jog by the beach. When I wanted to relax in the evening, it was the beach again, providing the much-needed breath of air in a crowded city. Somehow, by the time my student days were behind me, the beach receded into the background. It no longer held me within its seductive grasp.
Much later, well into adulthood, my husband announced we were going to spend the summer in the Caribbean. Suddenly, I was excited. I saw myself lazing on vast expanses of sand, (protected by a beach umbrella of course. I hated the sun). I could picture one of those lovely cocktails in a fancy glass, with a little umbrella, by my side, water droplets, trickling down the side of the frosted glass.
Jamaica, St. Kitts, Trinidad and Antigua all passed in quick succession. I found myself on a beach after a lovely beach, the turquoise blue sea very different from the stormy grey I had grown up with. Always in the background was the metallic sound of the of the steel drums, the lazy and accepting attitude which wafted by with the sea breeze, and of course, a mouthful of the most delicious rum cake I had ever eaten in my life.
The first mouthful was a revelation. Almost pudding like in texture, the cake was a heady mixture of rum, vanilla and caramalized walnuts. I had never tasted anything like this before. The moistness of the cake revealed a mellow flavour of buttered rum. And just in case you forgot, this was no cocktail. The cake like texture assured you this was indeed dessert. Perfect because no can can fault you for having an extra piece of cake after lunch!
Cradling that precious bottle of Jamaican Rum, which I decided I had to buy, it was such a pleasant surprise to find that the airport actually had a special counter called ‘Bottle Check-in’. You could check in your bottle of rum and find it safe and sound at your destination full and unopened. Guess some visitors had only bottles of rum as their luggage. The bottle traveled with me to St Kitts, where in a plane so small, it was a choice between my luggage or me. The bottle did arrive a couple of days later, the seal still intact (one of the first things that I checked). From there to the islands of Trinidad where the lobby was right on the top floor of the hotel and the floors were numbered starting from the top (I called it the upside down hotel) and finally to Antigua where were were greeted with steel drums and English tea.
Back home, I sat admiring my bottle of rum and ruing the extra kilos that the vacation had generously deposited on my person. “Should I waste my precious rum by experimenting with the cake or should I just enjoy the bounty with my friends as is?” “Forget your cake” they said ” A glass of rum in the hand is worth more than two in a cake!” And so we finished that bottle of Rum. I still wanted to try making that cake which caused my 5 kilo weight gain. And so I did, with locally available rum. The initial efforts were either too dry or they just fell apart when I tried to add just a wee bit more rum. By now the local liquor store must have been convinced that we had a alcohol problem at home.
I had read somewhere that ‘pudding’ in a cake makes it moist without falling apart in your hands. We do not get ready-made pudding back home. The ingredients that went into making a pudding however, are really easy to replicate. So in the recipe that follows you might see corn starch added once to make cake flour from all-purpose flour and the second time to make the pudding mix. Don’t skip this ’cause it really does make a big difference to the final cake.
Finally armed with some equally delicious spiced rum, steel drums in the background (you have to set the mood) and a little rum cocktail on the side, began my rum cake. The process is really not that difficult, but the waiting is. Think of this as your own personal tropical holiday. Start this off in the evening, so the rum syrup can soak through overnight. You could just laze though the evening, playing your favourite music, slip into your comfortable clothes, sip your drink while you stir the batter. (Just make sure you have measured your ingredients well before your third drink. I speak from experience). The next day your cake is ready for you to nibble. Cut yourself a slice and put up your feet–you have earned it!
1 cup Chopped Walnuts
1 3/4 cup All Purpose Flour
1/4 cup Cornstarch (If you have cake flour, go ahead and use 2 cups of cake flour instead of the mix of all-purpose flour and cornstarch)
4 tsp Baking Powder (that’s right 4 tsp. You will not taste it, trust me)
1 tsp Salt
1/2 cup Softened Butter
1 1/2 cups Sugar
1/2 cup + 3 Tbs Oil (Keep them separate)
3/4 cup Milk
3/4 cup Dark Rum (I used spiced Rum. Please do not use white rum)
1 Tbs Pure Vanilla Extract
For the Pudding Mix
A little less than 1/2 cup Sugar
1/4 cup + 2 Tbs Cornstarch
1/4 cup + 2 Tbs Milk Powder
Whisk all the ingredients together to make sure that they are well combined.
For the Rum Syrup
3/4 cup Butter
1 1/4 cup Sugar
1/4 cup Water
1/2 cup Dark Rum
A pinch of Salt.
1. Pre-heat your oven to 160C
2. Chop your walnuts and sprinkle at the bottom of your greased and floured regular Bundt pan.
3. Sieve together the flour, cornstarch, baking powder and salt.
4. Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
5. Add the flour mixture and the 3 Tbs of oil and continue to whisk until the mixture resembles sand.
6. Now add your pudding mix and whisk well (Make sure you do not have your stuff flying all over the place)
7. In another bowl, whisk together eggs, rum, milk, remaining oil and vanilla
8. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and beat until they are well mixed. (The batter will be quite thin)
9. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until the cake is golden and a skewer inserted comes out clean.
10. About 10 minutes before the cake is done, start off on your rum syrup. Melt the butter in a pan and once melted, add the sugar and water. Boil for about 5 minutes stirring constantly. Take off the heat and stir in the rum.
11. When the cake comes out of the oven, pour 1/3 of the syrup over the cake slowly so the syrup has time to soak through. Let it sit for 5 to 10 minutes.
12. Invert the cake on to a serving platter. This is where my heart is usually in my mouth. If you have prepared your pan well you will have no problems at all. The cake will slide out really easily.
13. Using a thin skewer poke holes all over the cake and slowly drizzle the syrup all over the cake. If you rush through this step you will have all the syrup pooling at the bottom. Take your time. It might be tempting to have sip of the syrup every now and then but stick to your cocktail. The syrup is for the cake.
14. Cover and set aside for the cake to soak up all the rummy goodness. (I just inverted the bundt pan over the cake)
15. Next morning, uncover the cake and serve either as a rum cocktail or dessert. Either usually works for me.
This cake can be stored, tightly wrapped, for about a week –if you can hide it from yourself. To me, this cake will always represent everything the Caribbean means to me. A balmy evening, with the steel drums in the background and a rum cocktail in my hand with a local friend assuring me “Eat maan and Relax maan. That’s all you need to do”