As the weather gets cooler and the days shorter, I always look to my childhood sources of comfort to cheer me up. One such tradition I still rely on is baking. Every fall and winter holiday, my mother and I spend hours together in the kitchen, mixing batter and decorating desserts. I was always too indecisive to pick just a single favorite, but to this day, my mother’s is rum raisin cake, a rich and fragrant treat. A piece of rum raisin cake fresh out of the oven can make even the dreariest of autumn days a little sweeter. Although the finished product doesn’t have an alcohol content, you can’t call it rum raisin cake without the rum, which provides the opportunity for a brief discussion of the spirit’s history.
In popular culture, rum is primarily associated with swashbuckling pirates and Caribbean getaways, but it actually has a long and complex history. It is a liquor made from fermented molasses, cane sugar, or cane syrup, that is then distilled to varying degrees depending on the desired color and clarity. Rum and its associated industries had a large impact on the slave trade, the colonization of North America, and even the eventual independence of the United States.
Rum’s success in colonial America was due largely to the demand for cane sugar. Though sugarcane was first introduced to South America and the Caribbean regions in the 1400s, the early 1600s marked the beginning of the crop’s dominance. In what was dubbed the “Triangle Trade,” slave labor was used to cultivate sugarcane, which was then processed into sugar and its byproducts. The incredibly high supply of molasses meant that rum was plentiful and cheap, so it quickly became a favorite of colonial Americans. The British colonies especially took a liking to the beverage, and distilleries appeared throughout New England.
Despite the incredible volume of exports from the British colonies to Europe, Britain continually imposed higher taxes on sugar, rum, and other commodities, which caused tensions between New England and England. Of course, there were a variety of other factors that contributed to the eventual independence of the United States, so it may be a bit dramatic to say rum led to the American Revolution, but the fact that it had more than superficial ties to the history of the United States is fascinating.
I hope this cool-weather treat brings you as much joy as it does to me and my family.
- 2 cups unsalted butter, softened
- 2 cups white granulated sugar
- 5 large eggs, yolks and whites separated
- 4 cups white bleached flour
- 1 ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon ground clove
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup whole milk
- 3 tablespoons dark rum
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 4 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 cup raisins
- 1 cup rum
- ½ cup raisins
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
This recipe will make two nine-inch bundt cakes. Soak the raisins in the rum for two to six hours. Refrigerate before separating ½ cup and any remaining liquid for the topping. Preheat the oven to 350℉ and grease two nine-inch bundt pans with butter or cooking spray.
To make the cake batter, combine the butter and sugar in a large bowl. Using an electric mixer, whip the ingredients together until the mixture is fluffy, homogeneous, and approaching a light color. After the butter and sugar have been creamed, add the egg yolks and mix until fully incorporated.
In a separate bowl, combine the flour, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove. In another bowl combine the 3 tablespoons dark rum, whole milk, and vanilla. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in four parts and the wet mixture in three. Begin with the flour mixture and alternate additions of the dry and wet mixtures to your butter mixture. Make sure the ingredients are fully incorporated before each subsequent addition.
Next, whip the egg whites in a large bowl until they form stiff peaks and gently fold them into the batter. After the egg whites, gently fold in one cup of soaked raisins, divide the batter between both pans, and smooth the tops.
Bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until a cake tester or toothpick inserted comes out clean. Let the cakes cool for at least an hour and turn onto a plate or serving dish.
To prepare the topping, combine the ½ cup of raisins and liquid you set aside earlier in a small saucepan with the brown sugar and an additional ⅓ cup of water. Simmer gently, stirring constantly over medium-low heat until the mixture has thickened into a slight syrup consistency. This will give time for the alcohol to evaporate as well. Let the syrup cool before adding a pinch of salt and the cinnamon. Pour this topping over your cakes and enjoy!
Cover photo courtesy of Myrecipies