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Italian Rum Cake

Delicious vanilla sponge cake soaked in rum flavoring, filled with vanilla and chocolate pastry cream. Frosted with whipped cream, and decorated with toasted almond slices and Maraschino cherries.

Growing up, Italian rum cake was a must-have for every birthday celebration.

We didn’t do chocolate cake, sheet cake, or any other cake. My family and most other Italian American families in the neighborhood would always order this kind of cake from the infamous Paterson Pasty Shop. This Italian rum cake will always remind me of my childhood, my mother; my Italian roots; ….bittersweet memories for sure!

I’m so glad that I’ve found a way to make it just as I like it because it seems to be harder and harder to find a good Italian rum cake these days. A combination of sponge cake, vanilla and chocolate pastry creams, rum syrup, whipped cream frosting, and nuts makes this Italian rum cake out of this world! And the good news is that you can make it all in advance and refrigerate or freeze before assembling.

Pasterson Pastry Shop 1970 located on Market Street. Paterson, New Jersey

SPONGE CAKE Ingredients for the sponge cake:

  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour sift onto a sheet of waxed paper and then spoon into measuring cup and level to rim if not weighing

  • ½ teaspoon salt

  • 6 large eggs (separated into yolks and egg whites) separate when cold. Use when room temperature. Make sure egg whites do not contain any yolk!

  • 1 cup superfine or regular sugar , divided

  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar

  • 3 tablespoons water , cold

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


  • Combine flour with salt in a small bowl and set aside.

  • In a standing mixer, whip the egg whites on medium-low speed until foamy (not stiff) and then add the cream of tartar and continue mixing until the whites become opaque (the egg whites should not have ANY yolk at all in them or they will not whip up well – this is crucial for the cake to rise well).

  • Add ½ cup sugar slowly to the side of the bowl and increase the speed of the mixer until soft but not stiff peaks form. Scrape the contents to another bowl and set aside.

  • Using the same bowl, which is now empty, add the egg yolks and whip at high speed for 3 to 5 minutes until lightened in color and the mixture “ribbons” when the beaters are raised

  • Slowly add the remaining sugar (ie, ½ cup), cold water, and vanilla into the egg yolks and mix until combined on low speed

  • Sift the flour onto the egg yolk mixture in two additions, and stir gently with large spatula to combine.

  • Gently but thoroughly fold in the whipped egg whites

  • Transfer mixture to prepared pans, smooth tops if needed, and bake for about 20 minutes until cooked through. (the beauty of this cake is that even if your cake is slightly over baked the rum syrup, applied later, will moisten it very well!)

PASTRY CREAM FILLING Ingredients for the vanilla pastry cream filling:

  • 5 egg yolks

  • ½ cup sugar

  • 4 tablespoon cornstarch

  • 1 cup milk

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • 1/16 teaspoon salt

  • ¼ cup heavy cream (whipped) NOTE: this gets mixed in AFTER the pastry cream has been cooked and chilled

Ingredients for the chocolate pastry cream filling:

  • 5 egg yolks

  • ½ cup sugar plus 2 tablespoons

  • 4 tablespoon cornstarch

  • 1 cup milk

  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder

  • 1/16 teaspoon salt

  • ¼ cup heavy cream (whipped) NOTE: this gets mixed in AFTER the pastry cream has been cooked and chilled.


  • Note that the heavy cream gets whipped separately and is added to the cream AFTER the pastry cream has been cooked and cooled. I do this just before I'm getting ready to assemble the cake.

  • In a small bowl, add egg yolks and cornstarch. Whisk to blend and set aside

  • In a medium saucepan, add milk, sugar, salt, and vanilla or chocolate (depending on if you are making the chocolate or the vanilla cream); heat until small bubbles form (scalded) and remove from heat.

  • Temper eggs by adding small amounts (about ½ cup/4 ounces) of the hot milk mixture, a little at a time, while whisking very QUICKLY to prevent the eggs from curdling.

  • After all of the milk mixture has been added into the eggs/cornstarch, return everything to the saucepan and cook over medium heat and stir constantly until thickened.

  • The mixture can thickens quickly (depending on the heat)!! Stir fast and furious with whisk!

  • Keep stirring until you see that it has stopped thickening or the thickening has slowed down.

  • Cool the pastry cream and refrigerate until ready to use (this is when you do the last step below, adding the whipped cream).

  • When ready to assemble the cake, whip heavy cream until soft peaks form (overbeating will cause it to turn to butter) and then fold together with cooled pastry cream (rewhip the pastry cream first if it has been refrigerated and/or it has firmed up a lot).

WHIPPED CREAM FROSTING Ingredients for frosting (stabilized whipped cream):

  • 3 cups heavy cream

  • ¾ cup powdered sugar

  • 3 teaspoons unflavored gelatin

  • 4 tbsp. cold water


  • Add gelatin and water to small sauce pan and heat on low until gelatin is dissolved; do not let the gelatin set

  • In the meantime, begin to whip the cream and sugar until slightly thickened on medium speed

  • Add the gelatin mixture in a slow stream and continue whipping

  • Increase the mixer to very high and whip until firm.


Ingredients for the rum syrup:

  • 1 cup water

  • ½ cup sugar

  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon rum extract


This is probably the easiest step: simply mix sugar, extract (or rum) and water in small saucepan and heat gently until sugar is dissolved and then cool. You can apply to the sponge cakes with a large spoon or using a squeeze bottle if you have one. I like to line up the cakes and apply the syrup while the parchment paper is still on bottom of cakes – makes it easier to move the cakes. Rum extract substitution: you can use 2 tablespoons of dark rum OR 5 tablespoons of light rum for every 1 tablespoon of rum extract. ASSEMBLING Ingredients to assemble the cake:

  • 2 cups crushed peanuts OR sliced almonds , lightly salted

  • 8 inch cake board (optional)


  • Place a layer of sponge cake on cake plate or cake board if you have one.

  • Soak cake layer with ⅓ of the rum syrup. (alternatively you can soak the layers all at once before starting to assemble cake).

  • Top with all of the vanilla pastry cream.

  • Place another layer of sponge on top of vanilla pastry cream.

  • Soak cake layer with ⅓ of the rum syrup.

  • Top with all of the chocolate pastry cream.

  • Place the final layer of sponge cake on top of the chocolate pastry cream.

  • Soak cake layer with the rest of the rum syrup.

  • Apply frosting to top and sides of cake.

  • Add nuts to the sides of cake and decorate top as you please!

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