Mrs. Tran's Rum Raisin Birthday Cake

My best friend Cookie called me up a week ago and told me her mom's birthday was coming up, and that she wanted a big party. Mrs. Tran was inviting 20 guests and Cookie said she would cater the dinner. Her sister offered to do the appetizers, then Mrs. Tran asked Cookie if I would make her a birthday cake. I was touched she wanted me to do her cake, and happily agreed. Then Cookie told me when her party was--the day before the wedding cake tasting--and I kind of panicked. Then Cookie told me what her mother's request was, and again, a little panicking. She wanted a four layer rum raisin cake--heavy on the rum--with a buttercream frosting. Ok, I thought, no problem. I can figure something out.

rum raisin birthday cake

February 19, 2011
Name of Cake: Rum! and stuff
Occasion: Mrs. Tran's Birthday
Constituents: two 9 in genoise cakes, split and syruped with rum syrup, filled with vanilla-rum raisin pastry cream, and frosted with Swiss Meringue Buttercream

A search around the internet for a rum raisin cake yields all these dense, bundt style cakes with lots of heavy spices. I knew that was NOT was Mrs. Tran was looking for, so I made something up.

I decided to go with genoise, as it needs a liberal syruping anyways and hence would be a good rummy cake. Also, it would be light which would keep the four layer cake from being overwhelming. I remembered the St. Honore Trifle which had two split genoise layers--done.

I decided to fill the cake with vanilla bean pastry cream, because there is no one on Earth who doesn't love that. I wasn't sure where the rummed raisins were going to go--in the cake? In the pastry cream? Both? I was afraid the raisins would fall to the bottom of the cakes so decided to put them in the pastry cream.

rum raisin birthday cake

When it came to buttercream, I decided the Swiss Meringue buttercream is a classic and more importantly, simple buttercream that would mellow out all the rummy components. Plus, I needed a batch for the cake tasting, so I could make it once and use it twice. (I actually ended up making it thrice and using all of it.)

The Monday before the party, I soaked a bunch of raisins in a combination of rum, vanilla rum, and a couple of used vanilla pods.

rum raisin birthday cake

This is what they looked like Saturday morning:

rum raisin birthday cake

Thursday, I set to work making the pastry cream. I decided on Dorie's recipe in Baking From My Home to Yours as it looked easy as well as rich and delicious. The recipe made 2 cups, I decided I'd need 3 cups to fill three layers. I also decided Cookie would like the extra cup to herself as she is in love with pastry cream, so I doubled the recipe. In doubling the recipe I needed a DOZEN egg yolks, but due to the egg yolk conspiracy I actually needed FOURTEEN egg yolks (I converted the recipe to grams...can't help it). FOURTEEN. EGG YOLKS. That is A LOT.

Making pastry cream after 18 months of RHC is easy peasy. Five million egg yolks and sugar are whisked together in a saucepan. Milk and a vanilla bean are brought to a boil in another pan, and slowly stirred into the yolks. Then, while madly whisking away, the mixture is cooked until it thickens. Once thick and lovely, it is strained into a bowl, a piece of plastic wrap is pressed against the surface, and shoved into the refrigerator to cool.

rum raisin birthday cake--the pastry cream, before raisins

Friday after work I made the two genoise layers. I don't think they rose as high as previous genoise has, but they were still pretty good and I split them in half for the syruping. I had made a rum syrup a few days ago--you can see it in the jar in the top right corner of the photo.

rum raisin birthday cake

After syruping, each cake layer was wrapped up and set aside to soak. I then made a batch of Swiss Meringue Buttercream (SMBC). For some reason, I chose to make a single batch, 4 cups, to frost the outsides of the cake and to frost another 6 in cake for the upcoming tasting. In hindsight, I should have at least doubled the recipe, but hindsight is always 20/20 as they say.

The next morning, the Saturday of the party, I pulled out all components and got ready to assemble.

rum raisin birthday cake--all the components

The SMBC was stiff and cold, but after an hour I decided it was ready to go. I rebeat it in the mixer, and it fell apart and curdled for a while. I wasn't sure it was going to pick itself back up but eventually the buttercream did come back together, nice and creamy. But it didn't look like it would be enough to amply frost the cake. It wasn't, so I hurredly made another batch. Luckily, I had five thousand egg whites leftover from making a double batch of pastry cream as well as lemon curd hanging out in the refrigerator.

rum raisin birthday cake--the filling

The second batch of buttercream came together well and as I tried to frost the cake I realised the big problem was how cold my kitchen was. My kitchen doesn't have any heat source besides the oven, and it was a cold morning. So I turned to the room I could heat up the quickest--my bathroom. I cranked up the heat and made a makeshift table out of a stool and a board, and brought the cake, the frosting, and my offset spatulas in there. After a minute or two the buttercream began to soften to a normal spreading consistency and I could finally get a passable frosting job done.

Then I decided to do something with all the extra super plump, super rummy raisins.

rum raisin birthday cake

Mrs. Tran was reported as saying her birthday cake was "a dream come true" and that it was "exactly what she wanted." Apparently it was well received--not too sweet, nice and rummy, creamy and delicious.

rum raisin birthday cake


  1. Wait, I stop reading after I saw "rum"! Genoise! and buttercream.....

    I was not there to taste it, but after your explanation (and pictures) it does look like a dream...

    Me jealous of Mrs. Tran's birthday cake.

  2. Jennifer
    That is one very special cake! I love every component and the raisins are the plumpest I've ever seen. Pastry cream is my absolute favourite for cakes or anything for that matter. Give me a spoon and I'll gladly eat it out of the bowl.

    Just wanted to know if you have room for a chicken coop in your place.

    My word verification was yokst - (looks so much like yolks) can you believe it!

  3. You're a baking machine! I love it! Although I don't do rum (or any alcohol for that matter), I like how you went about creating this cake and making it your own. I can't speak for the rum part, but from your detailed description of it, I think it worked really well together. I too love pastry cream. It's so versatile too. You can use it as-is, or fold some (stabilized) whipped cream into it. You should really try this White Choc Mousse frosting I made last year. It starts with a pastry cream to which you add good white chocolate. Then you lighten it with whipped cream. Here's the link:

    Looking forward to your "whipped ganache" :o)

  4. Oooo pretty! I love how you decorated the cake, the swirls, the drunken raisins on top.

    Also, have thoroughly enjoyed reading your whole blog. Am amazed at your thought process of taking different recipes and combining them to make this cake. And improvising! And I can't believe you made the buttercream twice!

    PS: I'm jealous as well like Monica..

  5. Monica, lady, I would make you a rummy cake any day, if only you lived nearby. I hope you feel better soon!

    Oriana, yes, those raisins were so plump! You and Cookie would have to share the pastry cream. And I wish I had a place for chickens--I really would like chickens!

    Hanaa, hah I wish I was a baking machine! I will have to go back and look at your white chocolate mousse--there's nothing wrong with pastry cream, white chocolate, and whipped cream.

    Thanks Jenn! I'd make you a cake too! And we could brainstorm a fancy cake combination.

  6. Love the raisin swirls!

  7. I have to make this for my fiance's birthday in June. He loves rum raisin, and I always tease him that he has the palate of an 80-year-old woman. Looks delish!


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