Alcohol-infused cakes are boozy fun for the baker and the food history buff.
Alcohol-flavored cakes in the Americas are rooted in that New World beverage, rum. Pirates carried rum cakes on long journeys throughout the Caribbean to sustain themselves. Rum then moved into baking as a replacement for vanilla, appearing in Southern Florida’s golden cakes and spreading throughout the southern United States. Kentucky’s homespun whiskey, bourbon, made its way into the Lane cake. Since the 1950s and 60s, alcohol brands have become key ingredients in creations such as the Harvey Wallbanger cake, Kahlua cake, and tequila-laced Margarita cheesecake.Why is baking with alcohol so much fun? Because it opens up flavor possibilities you can’t get with typical vanilla and chocolate. When I started baking with alcohol, I discovered ingredients and flavor profiles to experiment with, as well as a whole world of recipes with deep historical roots.
The first alcohol-infused cakes were fruitcakes created by the Italians and popularized by the English, who introduced the now-famous brandy-laced Christmas fruitcake. The English added alcohol to trifles as a way to moisten and use up day-old cake — an idea the Italians also put to use in making tiramisu. The tipsy cakes of Scotland used sherry for both flavoring and preservation, while French bakers always had a liquor cabinet for flavoring baked goods.
Today, there is a resurgence of baking with alcohol, and dessert parties — sweeter versions of wine and cheese tastings that instead pair cakes and wines by flavor profiles — are on the rise.
Developing recipes for my book, A World of Cake, took me on a world-wide tour of boozy baking, including the well-known German Black Forest Cake (flavored with kirsch), the English Zabaglione Cream Berry Trifle (bathed with marsala wine), Swedish Lucia Cats (flavored with cognac), Italian Panettone (flavored with amaretto), Runeberg cakes (infused with punsch), and Swiss Chocolate Fondue with Orange Cake (flavored with triple sec).
The most popular and delicious alcohol cake from the book is the Tortuga Rum Cake. Give it a try!
Tortuga Rum Cakes
Filled with flavors of the Caribbean, this recipe proves that great pound cake gets better when soaked in booze. If you travel to the islands, you shouldn’t miss it. Rum cake is the most popular tourist cake of the region, and you’ll find it nicely packed in a traditional six-sided box at almost every souvenir shop, ready for you to bring home.
Makes 5 individual-serving cakes
- 1⅓ cups all-purpose flour
- ¾ teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
- ½ cup sugar
- ¾ cup sweetened condensed milk
- 1 tablespoon dark rum
- 3 eggs
- topping: 1¼ cups rum syrup (recipe below)
Rum Syrup (makes about 1¼ cups)
- ½ cup sugar
- ¼ cup water
- ¾ cup dark rum
- Rum cakes: Preheat the oven to 325°F. Butter and flour five 4½-inch Bundt pans (or an 8-inch tube pan).
- Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside. In a separate large bowl, beat the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the condensed milk and the rum. Stir in the flour mixture until blended. Beat in the eggs one at a time until combined.
- Transfer the batter to the prepared pans and bake for 35 to 45 minutes, until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Leave the cakes in the pans to cool.
- Remove the cakes from the pans. Pour rum syrup over the cakes, cover, and let sit at least 6 hours before serving.
- Rum syrup: Combine the sugar and water in a saucepan over medium-high heat and cook, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved. Remove the syrup from the heat and let cool for about 5 minutes. Stir in the rum and use immediately, while still warm.
Recipe excerpted from A World of Cake © 2010 by Krystina Castella. All rights reserved.