If you were baking in the 1970s, no doubt you came across the rum cake recipe from Bacardi’, the well-known rum company from Puerto Rico. I made plenty of them back in the day, and they were always a big hit and easy to make, using a box mix. On a trip to the Cayman Islands a couple of weeks ago, where Tortuga rum cakes are as ubiquitous as fish tacos, I naturally had to try their version. For a packaged cake, it was remarkably good, but I knew there had to be a made-from-scratch recipe to duplicate the cake, reminiscent of those Bacardi’ cakes I enjoyed decades ago.
A short search online turned up a recipe from the King Arthur Flour website, a company whose products and whose recipes are always reliably good. While the King Arthur cake doesn’t include walnuts, the classic Tortuga cake is dotted with them inside the cake. I prefer the walnuts crowning the cake, as the old Bacardi recipe calls for, so that’s how I made it, and I’m glad I did.
The cake, which also contains a full cup of rum, has a moist, tender crumb and a delicious buttery flavor, almost like eating a rummy butterscotch lifesaver – only better. I’ve never tasted hot buttered rum, but I imagine this must be the cake version of that drink. It’s definitely not for tea-totalers.
The rum cake isn’t the only reason to recommend a visit to the Cayman Islands. Just to give you an idea of what the beautiful island of Grand Cayman is like, (there are three islands in the Cayman Islands, and Grand Cayman is the largest) here are a few pictures from our recent vacation there. The main attraction is the beautiful Caribbean sea, in various shades of blue. This is the famous “seven mile beach” with soft, pale sands and shade in many places. You’ll find world class hotels along the beach, as well as condos for rent. It’s easy to rent a sailboat, paddle board or other water vehicles right from the beach.
Need a respite from the sand and sea? You could easily spend a couple of hours visiting the Queen Elizabeth Botanical Garden, with its beautiful flowering plants and historic exhibits.
The grounds of the botanical gardens also contain a preserve for the blue iguana lizard, found only on the Cayman Islands. They nearly became extinct, with only 12 of the animals recorded in 2004, but through conservation efforts, about 700 have been bred and released in the sanctuary since then.
If you drive to the northern part of the island, you’ll come to a place called “starfish point,” where the beautiful sea creatures are omnipresent.
Speaking of sea creatures, Grand Cayman is a great place for snorkeling, as you can see in the photo below. They were swirling all around me and I felt like I was in the midst of an aquarium!
You can even swim with sting rays if you’re so inclined. They come right up to you in the clear turquoise waters off a certain part of the island.
The food there is really delicious too, which is why the island is sometimes referred to as “The Culinary Capital of the Caribbean.” The cuisine runs the gamut – from a food truck’s barbecued chicken and ribs to break-the-bank refined elegance at Eric Ripert’s “Blue” restaurant in the Ritz Carlton Hotel.
There’s so much more to see and do in the Cayman Islands, including fishing, shopping, and visiting museums. We hope to go back next year and I hope you get a chance to visit sometime too. Until then, I’ll be dreaming of those beautiful beaches and content myself with another piece of Caribbean rum cake.
Click here to find out what’s cooking in Ciao Chow Linda’s kitchen each day (and more).
- FOR THE CAKE:
- 2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
- 1½ cups sugar
- 3.4-ounce box instant vanilla pudding mix (not sugar-free)* (I used a smaller box of 1.5 oz)
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ cup unsalted butter, softened
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- ½ cup milk, at room temperature
- 4 large eggs, at room temperature
- ½ cup rum, plain or spiced (I used Bacardi gold rum)
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- ¼ teaspoon butter rum flavor (I omitted this)
- ⅓ cup chopped walnuts
- FOR THE SYRUP:
- 8 tablespoons (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
- ¼ cup water
- 1 cup sugar
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup rum, plain or spiced
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- Preheat the oven to 325°F.
- Place the flour, sugar, pudding mix, baking powder, salt, butter, and vegetable oil in a mixing bowl, and mix at medium speed until everything is thoroughly combined and the mixture is sandy looking.
- Beat in the milk, then beat in the eggs one at a time.
- Scrape the bowl thoroughly, and beat briefly to recombine any sticky residue.
- Stir in the rum, vanilla, and butter-rum flavor, if using.
- Generously butter a 10- to 12-cup Bundt pan with cooking spray, then spritz with cooking spray.
- Sprinkle the inside of the pan with the chopped walnuts.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread level with a spatula.
- Bake the cake for 50 to 60 minutes.
- When done, a cake tester, long toothpick, or strand of uncooked spaghetti will come out clean when inserted into the center.
- Remove the cake from the oven.
- Leave the cake in the pan to cool slightly while you make the syrup.
- In a medium-sized saucepan combine the syrup ingredients, except vanilla.
- Bring to a rapid boil then reduce to a simmer and cook (without stirring) for about 5 to 8 minutes, until the syrup thickens slightly.
- Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla.
- Use a long skewer to poke holes all over the cake.
- Pour about ¼ cup of the syrup over the cake (still in the pan). Allow the syrup to soak in, then repeat again and again until all the syrup is used.
- Cover the pan loosely with plastic wrap and allow the cake to sit overnight at room temperature to cool completely and soak in the syrup.
- When ready to serve, loosen the edges of the cake and invert onto your serving plate.
- If the cake won’t release, don't force it.
- Place it in the oven, turn the oven to 350°F, and warm for about 10 minutes, to soften the sticky syrup.
- (If your oven is one that preheats by making its upper element red-hot, place the cake on a lower rack and tent it with aluminum foil to protect it.)
- Remove the cake from the oven, and tip it onto the serving plate.
- Serve with hot coffee or tea.
- The cake is very moist, fragrant and potent.
- Wrap securely (or place under a cake cover) and store at room temperature for several days. Freeze for longer storage, up to 1 month.