Baking With Booze: O Captain My Captain's Rum Cake

It's like those movie scenes of wholesome childhood experiences, cooking with a loving family member. Except, you know, with rum.
Publish date:
February 17, 2012
cooking, recipes, alcohol, baking with booze, the joy of cooking, rum, rum makes me wheeze

My first piece of advice when baking with booze is not to use the top-shelf stuff. That's because, generally, it's a waste of top-shelf booze.

Let's break that rule, shall we?

The first thing that you need to make this rum cake is the Captain Morgan Black Cask 100 Proof Spiced Rum. You could, in theory, make this cake with other rums. I have done so. And it's been adequate, y'all. But a cake that is merely adequate is a sad thing indeed.

This is definitely a rum cake for people who like to taste their rum. Don't get me wrong -- there are better rums. But this one bakes really nicely and still serves for sipping and mixing.

I like to make this cake in a bundt pan shaped like an octopus. I think this freaks some people out. I've been known to make it in a regular bundt pan, which is what you'll see here, but I think a loaf pan is especially perfect - this recipe makes a nice thick loaf that stays very moist.

There are two parts to this recipe: the cake itself and the glaze. The cake is dead simple -- it's a doctored-up box cake.

Here's part of the trick -- you aren't going to exactly follow what's on the back of the box cake. You'll need:

1 box of yellow cake mix

1 box of instant vanilla pudding

4 whole eggs

1/2 cup cold water

1/2 cup canola oil

1/2 cup 100 proof rum

We've been known to up the rum content to 3/4 of a cup. That was a seriously strong shot of cake. 1/2 cup should be adequate for your needs here.

The oven can be merrily heating to 325 in the background while you assemble your ingredients. Dry with dry, wet with wet -- that's probably the first rule I learned about baking. Then you add the wet to the dry.

In this case, that means you dump the cake mix in a bowl, add the instant pudding mix, and then crack in your four eggs. Then you add your other liquids. You can absolutely just whisk this together, but I prefer to use a hand mixer.

Then you have the pleasure of licking batter off the beaters. Alcohol-laden batter. Mmmmmmm.

It's like those movie scenes of wholesome childhood experiences, cooking with a loving family member. Except, you know, with rum.

No matter what kind of pan you're using, grease that sucker. You can get fancy and butter (or butter and then flour) the inside of your cake pan but that's not such an easy task with the fancier bundt pans. They've got nooks and crannies. You can get around that by melting your butter -- or you can use a nonstick spray.

Nonstick spray is awesome. The butter stuff tastes like crap, though -- very heavy on the "This tastes like butter if butter were made in a high school chemistry lab" flavoring. That flavor clashes with rum. Get a plain nonstick spray.

Honestly, I'm not sure this cake would stick -- it's got a lot of moisture in it and so much bakeware is nonstick to begin with these days. Even so, I'd rather take the precaution than try to reassemble all the crumbled pieces of a cake I had to pry out of a pan. Just saying.

Ounce of prevention, pound of cure.

Make your cake pan nonstick in whatever fashion you desire. At this stage, you could add nuts. You'd chop them and then sprinkle them in the bottom of the pan. When you took the cake out, there would be chopped nuts embedded in the top of the cake.

This is, frankly, cake abomination to me. It's all wrong, texturally speaking. I enjoy nuts (that's what she said) in other venues and form factors but keep them out of my cake, please and thank you.

So don't add nuts. Just pour the batter -- which will seem kind of runny -- into your cake pan and then bake it in the oven for about an hour. I say "about" because the timing depends in part on your bakeware -- anything dark will cook your cake a little bit faster. I've cut that time by as much as 15 minutes, depending on what I'm using. The cake in these photos is darker on the outside than I'd prefer - because the darkness means the outer part of the cake is a little dryer than it could otherwise be.

Your kitchen is going to smell like a distellery at this point. But baking the cake is really only the preview to the main event, which is the glaze.

The first time I made this rum cake, I was terrified of the glaze. Molten sugar is a little like napalm -- hot and sticky and it will burn the hell out of you. I'm a nervous cook for a lot of reasons, so I'm always anxious when it's time to make the glaze.

It's so worth it though. Especially if you time it right. The glaze takes 10 or 15 minutes to make and you want it to be ready just as your cake is coming out of the oven.

Melt a stick and a half of butter -- which is 3/4 of a cup - over medium heat, and then add 1/4 cup of water. Then, oh, then, add 1 and 3/4 cups of sugar to the business.

Stir it all together and turn up the heat to medium high. Bring it to a boil. Actually, make sure you're going to have about 10 minutes where you can absolutely pay attention to what you're doing because you're going to need that focus, and then bring the mix to a boil. Stir it constantly. This is a seriously instruction.

Here's the exciting and scary part: turn off the burner and pour in 3/4 of a cup of your rum.

Make sure you turn off the burner. Seriously.

You might want to do this gradually if you're using a small pot because your mix is going to bubble up something fierce, and you don't want sugar napalm all over your rangetop, right? Stir the rum in, turn your burner back on medium heat, and keep stirring for another minute.

But no longer.

It's easier if there's another person hanging out -- they can pull the cake out of the oven for you. Take a second to admire your cake, because it's going to look so lovely. Then pour about a third of the glaze over the cake right there in its pan.

The glaze is going to soak into your cake from the bottom up. Well, from what will be the bottom once you turn the cake out. Visualize it with me.

As you pour the glaze, pay particular attention to the edges of your pan. Don't neglect the corners. Or the middle.

Let the cake sit so the glaze can work its magic for about five minutes. This usually makes the cake cool enough to handle a little more easily, too. Then turn your cake out onto your cake plate or whatever surface you are using as a cake repository.I use whatever skewer I've used to test for doneness for the next part; you could also use a fork. Poke the cake. Poke it all over. Poke it aggressively but not to aggressively that you tear the lovely surface. You want to create little holes into which the glaze can seep.

Seep is not an appetizing word. I apologize for using it.

Your glaze will have set a little bit -- give it another stir but you don't need to put it back on the heat. It's good that it's a little thicker -- that'll help it coat your cake. Slowly drip the glaze all over the cake.

There are even odds you'll wind up with extra glaze. This is not the end of the world but because there is so much rum in it, I like to wait a little bit and then come back to the cake and reapply more glaze, just to use it all up.

I like to take this cake to parties. People love it, and think it's way more impressive than the amount of effort that goes into making. Greater than the sum of its parts. Greater than the rum of its parts? And then I don't have cake leftovers at my house, tempting me to eat them for breakfast.

While I am very pro cake for breakfast, rum cake for breakfast is a little… well, it's five o'clock somewhere, I guess.