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Vegan Italian Rum Cake recipe: an iconic celebration cake

Updated: Aug 19

Italian Rum Cake is an iconic dessert that overflows with nostalgia and memories of celebration. This multi-layered, rum soaked sponge, is sandwiched with chocolate and vanilla custard, covered liberally with cream and showered in toasted nuts. This recipe is proof that vegans can have their Italian cake and eat it too.


JUMP TO RECIPE


If you are Italian, or have been around Italians during a celebration, chances are you have been served the classic dessert that goes by several names: Italian Rum Cake, Continental Cake or Italian Birthday Cake.


Spiked with booze (not always rum) this was often a cake I'd leave on the plate largely untouched, being far too strong for my childhood tastes (gelato was more my style). It's particularly popular outside of Italy; I hear Italo-Americans, Italo-Aussies expressing great love for it.


As with many celebration cakes, they can be rather time consuming. This recipe is no different and involves several steps. But if you make the elements ahead of time, it will make the final assembly of the cake not only easier, but fun and rewarding.


This cake is a labour of love but not so complex that a home cook can't achieve wonderful results. I'm no pastry chef or even a very patient cook - so if I can do it, so can you!


Make this for your loved ones, celebrate them. And enjoy that fuzzy feeling in your heart knowing that you (and others) no longer have to miss out on a big slice of this indulgent treat.


TIPS AND NOTES


Baking the cake:

You will need three cake layers. You can achieve this in a number of ways. Make three separate cakes with tins of the same size OR separate the cake batter into two tins also of the same size. I found making one large cake created issues with baking and provided inconsistent results. This recipe uses 2x 9 inches (approximately 23cm) cake tins. You could also use slightly larger or smaller tins (but perhaps amend your cooking time). The recipe I use is an adaption of my Easy Olive Oil Lemon Cake from the blog.


A traditional Italian Rum Cake is a sponge. For a beautiful vegan sponge recipe using aquafaba, see Sara Kidd's recipe from The Vegan Cake Bible.



Italian Rum Cake using Sara Kidd's beautiful sponge cake

Whipped cream substitutes:


I was looking for a homemade vegan whipped cream that held its shape and stuck to the cake without sliding off. A big thank you to talented chef Tenille Evans for suggesting the coconut oil and soy milk option! Using a 1:1 ratio of refined (flavourless) coconut oil to soy milk, and then chilling, can create a whip-worthy cream. Yes, it uses a lot of oil - but remember, cream is fatty (and this cake is a special treat). You can also substitute a store-bought vegan thick whipped cream, like Flora Thickened Plant Cream. Whilst not traditional, cream cheese or buttercream frostings are alternatives. Whipped coconut cream could work, but then there's that overpowering coconut taste. There's many options, so feel free to adapt.


Rum substitutes:


Of course you can leave out the alcohol but it really does elevate the flavour - so try to replace it with a non-alcoholic essence. If keeping it boozy, Strega liqueur is the perfect substitution for a southern Italian, Beneventana style.


Make ahead and save time:


There's quite a few steps involved, so I suggest making some parts ahead of time. Start with creating the whipped cream, a day or two ahead. It will also keep fresh for at least three days. You can bake the cake a day or two in advance and store in the fridge covered in wrap (or even freeze and then thaw before assembly). The pastry custard cream will keep well for two days. And of course the rum syrup can be made weeks ahead (if you're that organised!).



ITALIAN RUM CAKE


INGREDIENTS


Ingredients for whipped cream*

  • 1 ½ cups soy milk (choose a full fat variety)

  • ¼ cup caster sugar (add 1-2 extra tablespoons for a sweeter cream)

  • 1 large teaspoon vanilla extract

  • 1 ½ cups refined (flavourless) coconut oil, melted *see notes above for whipped cream alternatives

Ingredients for cake:

  • 4 cups (approx 520g) cake flour or plain flour (all purpose)

  • 6 teaspoons baking powder

  • 1 ¾ cups (approx 370g) caster sugar

  • 2 cups soy milk + large dash

  • 1 ½ tablespoons white vinegar

  • 1 cup sunflower or canola oil (or other neutral vegetable oil)

  • 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract

Ingredients for pastry cream

  • 3 ½ cups soy milk

  • ½ cup cornflour

  • ½ cup sugar

  • 80g vegan butter

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • dash of turmeric (for colour)

  • 70g (approx) dark chocolate

  • zest of ½ lemon (optional)

Ingredients for rum syrup:

  • 1 cup water

  • ½ cup sugar

  • ¼ cup dark rum (or to taste)

Ingredients to garnish:

  • 100g flaked almonds

  • glacé or maraschino cherries

  • dark chocolate, shaved (optional)


METHOD


Whipped cream


  1. First blend the soy milk, sugar and vanilla in a blender. With the blender still running, slowly pour in the melted coconut oil. This may thicken slightly.

  2. Pour into a container and leave in the refrigerator until completely chilled. You may like to speed up the process and pop in the freezer until really cold.

  3. Once chilled, pour the liquidy cream into a stand mixer fitted with a balloon whisk. Beat on high until soft peaks form. After approximately 3-5 minutes, the liquid should go from runny to thick*. *To troubleshoot if the cream isn't thickening at all (even with the correct equipment and measurements) - you can pour a little extra melted coconut oil into the mixer and continue whipping until it thickens. It may turn a little grainy, but it will be thicker at least.

  4. Pour the cream back into a container and chill overnight (or until really cold).

  5. For a thicker cream, whip the cream again (this also works with an electric hand beater). It is ready to frost the cake. Leftover cream will keep fresh for several days.


Cakes


  1. Preheat a fan-forced oven to 165C.

  2. Grease and line 2x 9 inches (approx 23cm) round cake tins with baking paper. I use a springform tin.

  3. Into a large bowl, sift the flour and baking powder and stir through the sugar.

  4. Into another large bowl, whisk together the milk and vinegar. This should curdle slightly. Then add the oil and vanilla.

  5. Pour the wet into the dry ingredients, a little at a time and stir until thoroughly combined. Be careful not to over mix. If the mix is a little thick, add an extra dash or so more milk or water.

  6. Separate the cake batter into the prepared tins by pouring ⅔ of the batter into 1 tin and ⅓ into the other. Bake the cakes for 35-45 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean (especially checking the middle of the cake). The cake with the smaller amount of batter will likely cook faster (35-40 minutes) and the larger cake (perhaps 45-50 minutes).

  7. Place onto a cake rack and allow to cool. Once cooled, remove the cakes from their tins, wrap well in plastic wrap or store in airtight containers and keep cool in the refrigerator until ready to assemble. A cold cake is easier to handle, level and frost.

  8. Remove the cakes from the fridge. Using a large serrated knife, cut the larger cake in half, so you have two even layers. Cut off any excess cake in order to level it. Now take the smaller cake and cut and level it to match the size as the other two layers. You will have excess cake scraps to repurpose or nibble on. The cakes are ready to layer.



Pastry cream


  1. In a saucepan over a medium heat, pour in the soy milk and immediately whisk in the cornflour until dissolved. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Heat over a medium heat, stirring often. Once it thickens, simmer and stir on low for a couple of minutes.

  2. Take off the heat and divide the custard cream in half. Into one half, grate or break in the chocolate and combine while still hot. You now have one vanilla and one chocolate.

  3. Allow the custard to cool completely. You may like to make this ahead of time, as the custard will keep well fresh for at least two days. But you may need to whisk up the chilled custard until smooth. If you like to have ultra smooth custard, pass through a sieve to remove any lumps.

Rum syrup


  1. Combine the water and sugar in a saucepan and heat until the sugar is dissolved, but don’t let it reach a boil. Allow to cool. Stir through the rum. This can be stored in the refrigerator until you are ready to assemble the cake.


Toasted almonds

  1. Preheat a fan-forced oven to about 170C.

  2. Lay the nuts in a single layer on a baking tray and toast for approximately 8 minutes until golden brown. Be sure to check the nuts often, as they will burn easily. Set aside ready for garnishing.



Assembling the cake



  1. Place one cake layer on a serving dish or large plate. Generously spoon the rum syrup over the first layer. Or if you want a less boozy cake, ease off the rum syrup a little.

  2. Evenly spread the vanilla pastry cream over the first cake layer. If the cream is too thick from being in the fridge, allow it to come back to room temperature, it should be easier to spread.

  3. Top with the next cake layer and spoon over more of the rum syrup (to your boozy taste) until the whole cake is covered and soaked.

  4. Evenly spread the chocolate pastry cream over this layer.

  5. Top with the final cake layer and spoon over more of the syrup to taste. You may have extra syrup leftover, which you can always reuse (pour into an espresso coffee!).

  6. Frost the cake with the whipped cream, spreading around the sides and the top. Press the toasted almonds into the sides of the cake. You can do this by taking a handful of nuts into a slightly cupped hand and press into the cake. Then go back and neaten by covering any gaps with the leftover almonds.

  7. To garnish, you may like to pipe decorative stars or rosettes around the edge with the leftover whipped cream. Top with cherries, nuts or shaved chocolate.

  8. Place in the fridge to set overnight. This cake is always better when it's allowed to settle, the custard sets, the layers meld together and the cream firms making it easier to slice. I makes for a superior scoffing experience! Keeps well for several days in the fridge.


 



Did you make this Italian Rum Cake?


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Have any questions, I'm here to help!


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