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This rum cake tastes like redemption

Adam Randell tries his hand at rum cake.
Adam Randell tries his hand at rum cake. - Contributed

They say the fun is in the trying. When there’s rum involved, this rings particularly true. 

A couple of years ago, I offered up a Christmas treat from rural Newfoundland and Labrador’s past: molasses candy. And considering the floption (state) it turned out to be — what was supposed to be a chewy treat turned out a rock-hard mess — there was a need for redemption. 

Recipes, traditions and more in our Holidays section
Recipes, traditions and more in our Holidays section

Rum cake isn’t a unique dessert to the province, but it is quite popular during the holidays. I’ve come to realize, though, most traditional rum cake recipes for Newfoundland and Labrador are done in a fruitcake style. But seeing how the only good thing about fruitcake is that it makes an excellent boat anchor, there had to be another way. 

In considering the options, I immediately thought of my Ship Cove friend, Kathleen Tucker, who passed away. The former Northern Pen columnist would often stop into the St. Anthony office, where I was working at the time, with a yellow cake-style rum cake, cookies and other goodies. She always offered them with a smile and a warm voice for a friendly chat. Her rum cake was so amazing that it didn’t always make it home. So, with her in mind, I decided to make the yellow cake style. 

After googlizing the internet, there were numerous options and the good people at kingarthurflour.com became my guiding light with their online recipe. God bless the internet. My baking skills haven’t gotten any better or worse since last Christmas, but cake from scratch has never been an issue. How hard could it be? 

After all, flour, sugar, baking powder and a dash of salt is all standard stuff when it comes to cake. But instant pudding is something I’ve never heard tell of in a cake. Who puts pudding in cake? Plus, there was no instant pudding in the pantry. 

So, off to the store I went in the middle of a storm and Christmas shopping madness. Thirty minutes later, and slightly frustrated with the lineups, the instant pudding was added. Then, it was back to the good ol’ standards: butter, oil, milk, eggs and vanilla. Until, at last, the good part: adding the rum. 

While this wasn’t a traditional Newfoundland-style cake, there was a need to infuse something to give it a provincial flair. Enter Old Sam, that dark rum with a head when mixed with cola. Putting my not-so-established baking knowhow to use, it seemed the sweet taste of this rum would pair well with cake. Plus, I would get to enjoy the leftovers.  

So, into the batter it went, a half a cup and a splash or two extra for good measure. With everything mixed together, I placed it in a Bundt pan. What the heck is a Bundt pan anyway? (I kid. That bit of research was done beforehand and one was taken out on loan from a friend.) 

Then, the waiting game began — 50 to 60 minutes, to be precise. 

What came out of the oven was a very crisp and delicious-looking cake, until I remembered the vanilla was sitting next to the oven and not in the cake, where it was supposed to be. Ruined! Fire it in the garbage, one would assume, but the saving grace to it was the sauce.  

Now, I’ve never been one for sauces; it’s too much effort and attention for a wandering mind. But the ingredients are simple: water, butter, sugar, salt and another half a cup of rum. Bring it to a boil, let it simmer to thicken up and then add vanilla. Don’t forget the vanilla. 

It didn’t thicken up, but the vanilla was added anyway. I was informed by a baker afterwards that I likely didn’t use enough sugar. In the name of soldiering on, I poked holes in the cake and added the sauce a little at a time, letting it soak in and repeating until the sauce was gone. Then, I left the cake to absorb the sauce. 

Five hours after adding the first ingredients, surprisingly in one fluid motion, the cake slid out of the pan and onto the serving platter. The bumps in the Bundt were a little burnt, but the addition of the sauce made it moist. 

The plan was to add an icing sugar glaze for a little showmanship, but the taste was perfect just the way it was. The choice in rum had helped maintain a moist, sweet-tasting cake. And the success was quickly noticed. Slice after slice was freely carved out and carted off by friends, whereas the molasses candy would still be in the container if I hadn’t thrown them out. 

It appears the best part of this cake wasn’t the rum, but the redemption.  

Give it a whirl   

For anyone wishing to get in on the rum cake fun, King Arthur Flour has a wonderful recipe online. It can be found at kingarthurflour.com/recipes/caribbean-rum-cake-recipe

This content originally appeared in YULETIDE PREPARATIONS, a SaltWire custom publishing title. 

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