This Italian rum cake recipe makes a delicious dessert that is so impressive it is often served on special occasions such as birthdays or anniversaries.
The final touch is a fancy-looking whipped cream frosting with sliced almonds, chocolate shavings, and maraschino cherries for decoration.
8-inch spring form pan to make the sponge cake.
stand or hand-held electric mixer with whisk attachment to mix the ingredients as well as whip the cream frosting
long serrated knife for cutting the cake into layers
sieve for sieving flour
spatula for mixing
2 large bowls for mixing ingredients
metal bowl for whipping the cream frosting
wire cake rack for cooling off the sponge cake
medium saucepan for making the Italian pastry cream
strainer to strain the hot pastry cream mixture
frosting palette to decorate the cake
pastry bag and tip for decorating with the frosting
Ingredients for this cake
Eggs (5 large + 6 egg yolks) – your eggs should be at room temperature when you use them. You will need 5 whole eggs for the cake and then 6 additional egg yolks for the pastry cream.
Sugar (¾ cup + ¾ cup ½ cup + 1 Tbsp superfine sugar) – you will need regular granulated sugar for the cake, the pastry cream and the syrup as well as superfine sugar for the whipped cream frosting, which can be substituted with powdered sugar if you prefer.
Vanilla extract (1 tsp + 2 tsp + 1 tsp) – you will need vanilla extract for the cake, the pastry cream and the whipped cream frosting. The vanilla gives depth to the flavor, but if you are not a fan you can certainly leave it out for a more neutral cream flavor instead of a vanilla cream flavor.
Flour (1 ¼ cups cake flour + 1/2 cup all-purpose flour) – this recipe calls for cake flour for the cake and all-purpose flour for the pastry cream, but in a pinch you can use them interchangeably.
Butter (as needed) – we love butter, so we use it to grease our cake pan for this recipe, but you can substitute with a mild vegetable oil if you prefer.
Whole milk (3 cups) – the pastry cream works best with whole milk because of the higher fat content, so we highly recommend using it for this recipe, but if you use another type of milk try adding slightly more flour so that you get the right dense consistency.
Lemon zest (1 long strip) – cut a long, thin strip of zest from an organic lemon. You should not make smaller shavings, as the strip is removed in a later step.
Dark chocolate (2 ounces + decoration) – use good quality dark chocolate and chop it up very finely to add to the pastry cream. We love dark chocolate shavings, so we use the same dark chocolate to create fanciful shavings for decorating the top of the cake. Dark chocolate chips are not as theatrical but will work just the same.
Water (1 cup) – we prefer to use bottled or filtered water for the syrup for a clean, fresh taste.
Dark rum (¼ cup) – you can add more dark rum or use a different type of rum or rum extract. You can also leave this flavoring out completely or switch with a kid-friendly flavor like vanilla or caramel.
Heavy whipping cream (1 cup) – this mouth-watering frosting needs a heavy whipping cream to get the right stiffness and spreadability.
Almond slices (1 cup) – you will need to purchase already sliced almonds to get the right look for this cake. Follow instructions below for lightly toasting them to bring out the strongest flavor. If you don’t like almonds, consider using finely chopped walnuts, peanuts or pistachios instead.
Maraschino cherries (optional) – the bright red of the cherries really stands out against the crisp white of the frosting for a dramatic presentation. You can substitute with fresh blueberries or strawberries if desired.
Making Italian rum cake step-by-step
Make the sponge cake: Butter an 8-inch spring form cake pan and then line completely with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 340ºF (170ºC). Using either a hand mixer or stand mixer with whisk, beat the room temperature eggs with the sugar for about 12 minutes at the highest speed (photo 1). You will know it is ready when a frothy and firm cream forms (photo 2). Add the vanilla extract during the last minute of beating.
Sieve the flour and add it a little at a time (photo 3), incorporating it into the sugar and egg mixture with a spatula by folding it in carefully (photo 4) until all has been added and the mixture is uniform.
Carefully pour the cake batter into the prepped cake pan (photo 5) and put it into the preheated oven.
Bake the cake for approximately 25 minutes being sure not to open the door to check the cake for the first 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, you can test with a toothpick by inserting it into the center to see if it comes out clean.
When the toothpick comes out clean, turn off the oven but leave the cake inside with the door open for about 5 minutes to avoid deflating the cake. Remove the sponge cake from the oven, then carefully remove from the springform pan and place on a wire rack to cool completely (photo 6).
Prep the Italian pastry cream: In a medium saucepan put 2 1/2 cups of milk and the strip of lemon zest (photo 7) and heat over a medium flame until you see steam rising, but do not boil. Remove from heat once steam rises. In a separate bowl, beat egg yolks, sugar, and flour with a whisk (photo 8).
When smooth, add the remaining 1/2 cup of cold milk and whisk until smooth. Remove the lemon zest from the heated milk and toss (photo 10).
Slowly pour the hot milk into the egg yolk mixture while whisking (photo 11) and then add the vanilla extract (photo 12).
Pour the mixture through a strainer back into the saucepan (photo 13) and turn on medium heat. Let the mixture come to a boil, whisking constantly as it thickens, and let simmer for one minute (photo 14).
When thick, divide the hot pastry cream into two bowls or heat-safe containers.
To make the chocolate pastry cream, stir the chopped chocolate into one of the bowls of cream until it melts and becomes a uniform color. Cover both the regular and chocolate custard with plastic wrap pressed directly onto the surface (photo 16), so a skin doesn’t form, and put in the refrigerator to chill.
Create a delicious rum syrup: In a clean saucepan, combine the water and sugar (photo 17) over medium heat until the sugar dissolves, then turn off the heat and set aside until cool. Add the rum or rum extract and stir until combined and set aside until needed (photo 18).
Whipped cream frosting: Put a metal mixing bowl and whisk into the freezer until they are very cold. When thoroughly chilled, remove and add the heavy whipping cream and use an electric mixer to whisk until the cream starts to thicken (photo 19). Add the superfine sugar gradually, while whisking and then the vanilla extract. Whip until stiff peaks form in the whipped cream (photo 20). Refrigerate until needed.
Assemble and decorate your Italian rum cake: Using a sharp serrated knife, cut the cake into three even layers horizontally that can then be reassembled. On a cake platter, put the bottom layer of cake and lightly pour 1/3 of the prepared rum syrup over it (photo 21) and then spread all the vanilla pastry cream to make a nice thick layer (photo 22).
Place the second cake layer on the vanilla filling and press down gently but firmly so that it adheres. Pour another 1/3 of the rum syrup into the second cake layer (photo 23) and then create the chocolate layer with all the chocolate cream (photo 24).
Add the final layer of cake, moisten with the remaining 1/3 of the rum syrup (photo 25). Place in the refrigerator for about one hour or the freezer for 30 minutes to set.
To toast the almonds, preheat the oven to 350ºF. Place the sliced almonds evenly on a baking sheet and put them in the oven for 10 minutes or until slightly browned (photo 26). Remove and let cool.
Now to frost, remove the assembled cake and the whipped cream frosting from the fridge and use a frosting knife or palette knife to gently spread the majority of the whipped cream in an even layer over the top and sides of the cake (photo 27).
Gently press the sliced almonds into the sides of the cake. Place the remaining whipped cream frosting in a piping bag with a tip you like and make piping or decorations as desired. Decorate the top with chocolate flakes and maraschino cherries (photo 28) and you are ready to show off your beautiful Italian rum cake!
Expert tips for making Italian rum cream cake
Stabilize your whipped cream frosting: If you want your Italian rum cream cake to look perfect for the longest time possible, you should make stabilized whipped cream frosting. The easiest way is by using a cold metal bowl, cold whisk and cold cream as described in this recipe. However, there are other ways to make it even more firm such as using gelatin, cornstarch, Greek yogurt or mascarpone as a thickening agent.
Use three cake pans instead of one: If you would like to avoid having to cut one larger cake into three, you can use three springform cake pans and pour one-third of the batter into each. Remember they will be thinner, so they will cook much quicker, so you can begin to check after just 8-10 minutes of cooking time if they are done.
Kid-friendly non-rum cake: You can make this cake kid-friendly by doing it alcohol-free. Instead of rum you can use a flavored extract when making the syrup or just leave it plain.
Go nuts!: If you aren’t a fan of almonds, really any other nut will do as a decoration. While sliced almonds are a very dramatic look, crushed nuts that are gently pressed into the sides of the frosted cake can also look beautiful and taste great. Our favorites are finely chopped peanuts, pistachios or walnuts.
How to store Italian rum cake leftovers
This cake is best eaten right away, but if you have leftover rum cake you can store it in a cake container, or fully covered, in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. However, we highly recommend removing the frosting if you are planning on keeping it for more than 1 day so your cake doesn’t become a soggy mess.
What should I serve with Italian rum cake?
This cake is great with sparkling cider, Prosecco or coffee drinks.
Can I make the various parts ahead of time?
Yes, you can make everything up to 48 hours ahead of time and put in the refrigerator, except the whipped cream which needs to be made fresh.
Authentic Italian Rum Cake
5 large eggs¾ cup white sugar1 teaspoon vanilla extract1 ¼ cups cake flourbutter (as needed)
3 cups whole milk1 long strip lemon zest6 egg yolks¾ cup white sugar½ cup flour2 teaspoon vanilla extract2 ounces chocolate (chopped)
1 cup water½ cup white sugar¼ cup dark rum (or to taste)
Whipped cream frosting
1 cup heavy whipping cream1 tablespoon superfine sugar1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup almonds (sliced)Maraschino cherries (as desired)Chocolate shavings (to decorate)
Whip cream frosting
Assemble and decorate
Authentic Italian Recipes