We are three sisters united in our search for the divine - in food, libation, literature, art, and nature. This blog will capture the true, sometimes decadent, at times humorous, and every so often transcendent adventures of the Salvation Sisters.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Fruit-Filled Italian Rum Cake, aka Zuppa Inglese (Traditional and Gluten-Free Versions)

by Michelle

“When you celebrate, there is sure to be cake"
~ Florence Ditlow in The Bakery Girls

  Visiting Phoenix recently took me on a trip down memory lane. Every once in awhile I reflect upon the rum cakes my family enjoyed on special occasions while living in the greater Phoenix area in the late eighties and early nineties. Back in those days, Cathy Bua was famous for her rum-flavored layer cakes that were filled with fresh fruit and frosted with fluffy whipped cream. Cathy's most frequently ordered cake was the strawberry-filled, which was also my family's favorite.
   After fondly remembering the rum cake, this time around I googled Cathy's Rum Cake and was sad to discover that the once blazingly popular cake bakery and catering business shuttered its doors in late 2011. After nearly thirty years in business, Cathy could not outlast the recession, but her legend lives on after the fall.
   According to an article that I found on-line, Cathy grew up in Hollywood, California. For special occasions her family purchased Italian-style fruit-filled cream cakes from a local bakery. When Cathy moved from California to Arizona, she carried a torch for the Italian cake and it wasn't long before she began experimenting, attempting to recreate her favorite cake in her home kitchen.
   Practice makes perfect. It wasn't long before Cathy's rum cake became so popular with family and friends that people began requesting to buy the cakes to celebrate their special occasions. Cathy's business was born in an ideal way from pure demand. Cathy ramped production in a commercial kitchen and produced approximately 300 cakes a week. From there the business grew beyond cakes and into catering featuring delicious gourmet foods.

Don't hesitate to try this decorating technique! The roses are incredibly 
easy to make using a Wilton 1M tip.
   My rum cake curiosity piqued once again, I began researching Italian cakes and quickly discovered Zuppa Inglese. Modernized versions of the cake resemble Tiramisu with the use of Ladyfingers, whereas traditional recipes are made with rum soaked sponge cake. This development excited me because sponge cakes, which are made with a lot of eggs, convert nicely to gluten-free adaptions. I can have my cake and eat it, too!
   Keep in mind that cakes filled with pastry cream and adorned with whipped cream frosting must be kept refrigerated until close to serving time. I took a page out of Linda's pastry chef/catering tricks, and I decided to take the extra step of stabilizing the whipped cream with gelatin which will keep the frosting from weeping. This is a cake you want to make in the morning and let it set-up in the refrigerator for several hours before cutting and serving so the cake will slice beautifully.
   I have read multiple recipes where the authors have separated the pastry cream equally into three bowls and flavored each bowl individually with orange zest, lemon zest or liqueurs, such as Grand Marnier or with chocolate shavings. I like to lighten the cold pastry cream with a heaping spoonful or two of prepared whipped cream frosting, Using a light hand, fold in the frosting until the streaks of cream disappear. The recipe is adapted from Martha Stewart Living, although this version includes adjustments based upon my happy remembrances of Cathy's Rum Cakes.

The wax paper strips are removed once the cake is completely frosted.

Fruit-Filled Italian Rum Cake, aka Zuppa Inglese
(Traditional and Gluten-Free Versions)

   Please indulge me for being redundant with the following paragraph. I wrote about this previously, and the information is pertinent: The Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour Mix I prefer to use can be substituted as a cup-for-cup replacement in most recipes that call for All-Purpose Flour. One cup of this mix equals 140g. This recipe yields 4-1/2 cups. Feel free to double the GF All-Purpose Flour recipe to have extra readily available, but please note that tapioca flour can spoil quickly, so it is best to store leftover mix covered in the refrigerator. By the way, if you are not measuring your flours by weight, as Bob Dylan sings, the times they are a-changin'. It's soooooo much easier to weigh dry goods. Plus, it's accurate. We all know baking is a science, so the more precise you can be with measuring, the better the end result. In a 2-quart cambro, or larger, thoroughly mix:

Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour Mix, if needed:
205g white rice flour
170g brown rice flour
165g Mochiko sweet rice flour (also known as glutinous rice flour)
120g tapioca flour or tapioca starch

The recipe also calls for 2 scant teaspoons of guar gum or xanthan gum, but I prefer to add a specific measured amount for each particular recipe.

Rum Syrup, Prepare Up To One Month Ahead:
1/2 cup water
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup gold Bacardi rum
1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice, optional

Cold eggs are easier to separate. Warm whites whip to a higher, fluffier volume.
Pastry Cream, Prepare Up To Two Days Ahead:
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup granulated sugar, divided
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped, or 1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste
pinch of salt
4 large egg yolks
4 Tbsps cornstarch
2 Tbsps unsalted butter, cut into pieces

Whipped Cream Frosting, Prepare Up To One Day Ahead:
4 cups heavy cream
1 level Tbsp unflavored gelattin
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Cake Layers, Prepare Up To One Month Ahead, if freezing:
Gluten Free Dry Ingredients:                                        Traditional Dry Ingredients:
1-1/2 cups (210g) Gluten-free Flour Mix (above)        1-1/2 cups sifted all-purpose cake flour
1/4 tsp fine sea salt                                                        1/4 tsp fine sea salt
Note: Xanthan gum or guar gum is not needed
for this recipe due to the large number of eggs
and the comparatively small amount of flour.

Wet Ingredients for both versions:
9 extra-large eggs, separated
1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick, or 4 Tbsps), melted and cooled
1 cup sugar (for egg yolks) and 1/2 cup sugar (for egg whites)
1 tsp vanilla extract or vanilla paste

Fresh Fruit, optional:
sliced strawberries
pitted cherries

Special Equipment:
Standing Mixer, while not mandatory, is certainly a great tool to use for making cakes
Hand Mixer - I use both a stand mixer and hand mixer for this recipe.
Two 9-inch cake pans
parchment paper for lining cake pans
wax paper to protect cake plate while decorating
16-inch pastry bag and 1M decorating tip with large coupler and screw ring to make rosettes
spray oil or Bak-Klene

This is a antique cake comb, a handy tool for slicing and serving cakes. It is so much 
better than a knife. You may need to search your local antiques mall to find one. 
This is an excellent gift for a friend that loves to bake.

1. To make the rum syrup, up to 1 month before: In a medium saucepan, combine sugar and cold filtered water over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves. Continue cooking, without stirring, until mixture reaches a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook 5 minutes more. Remove pan from heat. Let cool slightly, then stir in rum and lime juice. Once cooled, the syrup can be refrigerated up to a month.

Hot pastry cream is ready to be transferred to the fridge.
Remember to place plastic wrap directly on the surface of the cream. 
2. To make the pastry cream, up to 24 hours in advance: In a medium saucepan, combine milk, sugar, vanilla-bean scrapings and pod and salt. Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer. In a medium bowl, whisk together egg yolks, cornstarch and the remaining 1/4 cup sugar. Using a measuring cup or a ladle, slowly pour about 1/2 cup of the hot milk mixture into the egg-yolk mixture, whisking constantly. Continue adding the milk mixture about 1/2 cup at a time until it has all been added. Pour the mixture back into saucepan and cook, whisking constantly, until mixture returns to a simmer and thickens, about 2 minutes. Remove and discard the vanilla bean. (By the way, I have made pastry cream omitting the vanilla bean and using vanilla paste instead. One-half teaspoon of vanilla bean paste is equal to one-half vanilla bean. Stir in the vanilla bean paste when the recipe calls for discarding the vanilla bean.) Transfer the pastry cream to a bowl, add butter, and beat on medium until the butter melts and mixture cools, about 5 minutes. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pastry cream to prevent a crust from forming. Transfer to the refrigerator until cold, at least 2 hours, and up to 2 days. Just before using, remove from the refrigerator and whisk in a large spoonful (or two) of prepared whipped cream, and whisk by hand until smooth.

Pastry creams stiffens in the refrigerator...
...so it is best to lighten the texture by whisking in a little whipped cream frosting.
3. To make whipped cream frosting, up to 24 hours in advance: Soften gelatin in 5 tablespoons cold water. Microwave for about 2 minute until gelatin is completely dissolved. In a large bowl combine the cream, confectioners' sugar and vanilla. Beat on medium speed until the cream begins to thicken, then add the hot gelatin and continue mixing until soft peaks form. Cover and refrigerate until needed. I like to remove about one quarter of the frosting to a pastry bag fitted with a medium decorating tip; reserve for final decorating flourishes and refrigerate until ready to use.

I place the pan on the parchment paper, then trace firmly the 
circumference of the pan using the knife. No scissors required.

4. To make the cake layers: Egg whites are easier to separate from yolks when the eggs are cold. Conversely, room temperature whites whip up fluffier and higher than cold whites. I use three bowls to separate my eggs. A small bowl to catch one egg white at a time, a bowl to hold the yolks, and a big bowl (such as the bowl from a stand mixer) to hold all the egg whites. Using one bowl to act as a catch for each egg white ensures that if I accidently break an egg yolk, I don't taint all the egg whites. Any tiny bit of yolk will inhibit the eggs from whipping properly, so I am extra careful when separating the eggs. Let the eggs rest at room temperature until you are ready to continue with the recipe.
 In the oven, move one rack to the lower third and a second rack to the upper third of the oven. Place a cookie sheet on the top rack; it will act as a shield during baking to prevent the cakes from overbrowning. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease two 9-inch cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper cut to fit.

5. In a medium heat proof bowl, whisk egg yolks and 1 cup sugar and combine well. Place the bowl snugly on a saucepan filled less than halfway with simmering water (you don't want the bottom of the bowl to make contact with the water), and stir constantly until sugar has dissolved and the mixture is warm, about 4 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a bigger bowl and add vanilla and salt. Beat with a hand mixer on medium speed until the mixture is pale and thick, about 4 to 5 minutes.
6. Put egg whites in the clean, dry bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat whites on medium-high speed until soft peaks form. Gradually add remaining 1/2 cup sugar, beating until stiff, glossy peaks form.
7. Fold 1/3 of the egg white mixture into the yolk mixture. Fold in flour, then butter, until just combined. Fold in remaining egg white mixture.

8. Coat cake pans and parchment with oil spray. Divide batter evenly between cake pans and level with spatula. Bake for 30 minutes or until the tops are springy to the touch and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Rotate pans after 20 minutes for even baking. Remove the cakes to a rack and let cool in pans for 10 minutes. Unmold the cakes and remove parchment liners. Turn the cakes right-side up and cool to room temperature on racks.
   If you are making the cakes the day before you plan on assembling the cake, let the layers cool completely and then wrap in plastic wrap and then in aluminum foil. Let sit at room temperature overnight.

To help cut the layers evenly, place toothpicks at the poles: north, south, east and west.
Using a long serrated bread knife, gently turn the cake while holding the knife steady, 
and cutting in a circular motion. Placing a small cutting board under the cake allows 
for easier turning of the cake while cutting.
Dab a little frosting on the bottom of the plate to act as an anchor for the cake.
The wax paper strips will help keep the decorative plate clean while frosting the cake.
9. Assemble the cake: If needed, trim tops of cakes to be flat or to remove the brown crust. Halve each cake horizontally to make 4 layers. On a cake plate, dab a quarter size dollop of frosting in the middle of the plate and place first layer, flat side down, centered on the plate. The dollop of frosting will help anchor the cake to the plate. Slide in four pieces of wax paper between the cake and the plate (to protect the plate from frosting smudges.) Brush cake layer with rum syrup and follow with a third of the pastry cream. Layer on sliced fruit, if using. Repeat layers, remembering to brush each cake with the rum syrup.
   Finally, apply a thick coat of whipped cream frosting decoratively to the cake. Although it is not absolutely necessary, we recommend applying a "crumb coat" – a very thin, smooth layer of frosting - to the top and sides of the cake; refrigerate until stable, about 30-45 minutes. Once the cake feels firm, apply the rest of the frosting to the top and sides using an offset spatula. Once the frosting is set, gently remove wax paper. With the reserved frosting in the pastry bag, decorate around the bottom edge of the cake, and the top, as desired.

11. To set the cake and meld the flavors, refrigerate until an hour or two before serving. At this point, if you wish, embellish the cake further with pesticide free flowers and leaves. Whatever you use, make sure it is edible. For example, the leaves and petals of poinsettia and oleander are poisonous. Lovely choices are pansies, roses and orchids. Pansies are fragile, roses are long lasting, and orchids are hardy. Complement the blooms with ivy and citrus leaves, if desired. Filigree leaves, available from cake supply stores, are a gorgeous and unique accent. I would allow this cake to sit up to an hour at room temperature before serving.

This cake is a delicious choice to celebrate any special occasion.


  1. This looks divine! We want to try this for Christmas! One question: your 9-inch cake pans look quite a bit deeper than mine. Are they special cake pans? Would regular 9-inch cake pans work? ps - We made your cheesecake for New Year's eve two years ago and we still drool remembering it!

    1. Good morning, April... I just double-checked my pans and the sides are 2-inches deep. I purchased the cake pans many years ago from William Sonoma and they have served me well. I like the pans because they are heavy, which I think helps the cakes bake more evenly. The batter did rise significantly during baking so I was thankful for the deeper pans. I'm thinking that you could perhaps use bigger pans, I own the pans in 10-inch and 12-inch sizes as well, although I don't use them as frequently (once upon a time I flirted with making wedding cakes). You could also potentially make a square cake, using 9-inch square pans, if you have them. I also use my cake pans to make dinner rolls, so seeing that it's Christmas, perhaps there is a cake pan buying splurge ahead :-). Thank you for the feedback on the cheesecake... it is pretty fantastic and so easy to make! My sisters and I wish you and your family a very merry Christmas.

  2. I found this page as a link from Just a Pinch recipes--I wanted to check out the fabulous looking cake! (that I couldnt eat) Imagine my joy when I found out you make it GF!!!!!!!!!!!! I think I am in heaven--this is a great New Year's present for me! I miss baking and eating cake--and now I will be a frequent visitor here; checking out all of the things...and maybe gaining some weight in the process! Thanks! (really)

    1. http://www.salvationsisters.com/2014/01/a-visit-to-pozzi-ranch-and-grilled.html

      Dear Goat Lady… we hope that you have seen today's post on Pozzi Ranch. We Salvation Sisters love goats and sheep. The four of us used to have goat's that needed milking twice per day!
      We are also glad that you found our page, and will be able to see our conversion to gluten-free in 2012. Everything that we publish now has a GF version. Enjoy the Rum Cake!
      Happy New Year from the Salvation Sisters!

  3. Dear Salvation Sisters,
    I love your site. I am also a kid from the greater Phoenix-area when Cathy's Rum Cakes were so popular! My mom would buy Cathy's Rum Cakes for all of our family events. We were such big fans! I now live in Montreal, Quebec but I am so sorry to learn that Cathy's is no longer in business. Oh the memories!

    I am so happy to have found this recipe! I can't wait to try this recipe! Thank you for posting this recipe and for posting your gorgeous "instructional" photos.

    Best wishes,

  4. FYI - I have just learned that one of Cathy's daughters is following in her footsteps at Lisa's Rum Cakes in Chandler, AZ.

    1. Yes, same fabulous cakes! She even shipped out of state for a while.

  5. I moved from AZ a year ago, I haven't quit thinking about this Cathy's (now opened by her daughter Lisa). Lisa'a has the same wonderful cakes, our only birthday wish growing up and my kids. I'm so excited to make this cake this weekend. Thank you!

  6. We are now 2023, are you still doing business.... The Rum Cake is to DIE FOR. THANK YOU.


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