Italian Wedding Cake aka Cream Cake aka Rum Cake

My dear friend Drew celebrated his birthday last week. As my gift to him, I did what I do…I baked. He had mentioned weeks before his love of “wedding cake”, so I had a plan to make him one for his birthday. But as the big day approached, it became clear he had something quite specific in mind. What he desired was the “Italian” wedding cake that he enjoyed growing up in Pennsylvania.

This cake was beyond the scope of my experience, so I went to the www to do a little research. I found two types of cakes. One was a Southern cake similar to a hummingbird cake, a white cake with cream cheese frosting and pecans, sometimes with crushed pineapple. But, after once again conferring with Drew, I learned that this was not the cake.

Closer was a recipe for Italian Rum Cake found at Diana’s Desserts. So I went with that. This cake was like none I had ever made. Most notably, the ratios were very different from a traditional American cake. Rather than an emphasis on flour and butter, this cake was all about the dairy. It contains nearly a dozen eggs, 4 cups of milk, and 3 cups of cream, but only 2 tablespoons of butter and only 1 1/4 cups of cake flour. Fascinating.

It also made use of a rum syrup. I’m almost always in favor of a little spirits in my cooking, so I was particularly excited about this part!

Italian Wedding Cake aka Cream Cake aka Rum Cake
Adapted from Diana’s Desserts

Print-Friendly Recipe

Italian Pasticciera Cream:

  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • large pinch of kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon butter

Chocolate Pasticciera Cream:

  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, grated
  • large pinch of kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon butter

Rum Syrup:

  • 1/4 cup light or dark rum
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar

Italian Sponge Cake:

  • 5 egg yolks
  • 5 egg whites
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups cake flour, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated fresh lemon rind

Stabilized Whip Cream:

  • 3 cups heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoons cold water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 5 tablespoons granulated sugar

For Decoration:

  • 1 cup toasted sliced almonds

NOTE:  All respect to Diane, but I found some major problems with her original recipe. The method for making the pastry cream and for mixing the cake batter were simply unworkable and the baking time was way too long. I’ve made corrections here.

MAKE THE PASTRY CREAMS

The original recipe led me down the path to a clumpy mess, but I came up with a variation that worked great! The order of these steps is very important.

VANILLA PASTRY CREAM

1. Whisk together 3 egg yolks with 1/2 cup of the whole milk.

2. Sift 3 tablespoons of flour into the egg mixture and whisk to combine taking care to eliminate any lumps.

3. Add 3 tablespoons of sugar and a large pinch of kosher salt into the mixture and stir to combine.

4.  Scald (aka bring just to a boil and then cut the heat) 1 1/2 cups of whole milk in a small saucepan. Let the milk cool slightly because you are about to add it to the eggs and you don’t want to cook them in the bowl.

5. While whisking continuously, add the scalded milk into the egg mixture.

6. Pour all this back into the pan and bring slowly bring to a low simmer, whisking the whole time.

7. Whisk while simmering for 2 minutes. It will become quite thick.

8. Remove from the heat and stir in 1 teaspoon of vanilla and 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter.

9. Transfer to a small bowl, cover with plastic wrap that touches the surface of the liquid (to avoid a skin) and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.

CHOCOLATE PASTRY CREAM: The process for the chocolate cream is the same, except that you used 1/4 cup of sugar and add 2 ounces of finely chopped unsweetened chocolate with the vanilla and the unsalted butter at the end.

NOTE:  Both pastry creams are not particularly sweet, but have no fear.  Once they are combined with the sweet rum soaked cake, their flavors balance nicely.

MAKE THE RUM SYRUP

Mix together the water, sugar, and rum in a small pot. Bring to a boil, and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat and cool before using.

MAKE THE ITALIAN SPONGE CAKE

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Butter two 8-inch cake pans then line the bottom of each with parchment. Butter again and then flour the entire interior. Note: Its totally worth it to go through all these steps. Your cake will never stick. Set aside.

Place egg yolks and sugar in a mixing bowl and beat until lemon colored. They will be quite thick. Add the vanilla and the lemon rind.

In a separate bowl, beat egg whites until stiff but not dry. Gently stir a third of the egg whites into the egg yolk mixture. Sift flour over that mixture and then fold it in, very gently, until just incorporated then add the remaining egg whites and fold, again, until just incorporated. Your goal is to keep as much of the air as possible in the batter.

Pour cake batter into prepared pans and bake in preheated oven for 22-24 minutes (NOT the 4o minutes in the original recipe), or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Remove cakes from oven, let them sit for about 5 minutes in the pans and turn the cake out of pans onto wire racks to cool completely (if they are a little stuck to the side of the pan, just run a knife around the edge of the pan before turning them out).

MAKE THE STABILIZED WHIPPED CREAM

Soak plain gelatin in cold water for 5 minutes. Dissolve by placing it in a container over a small pot of simmering water (or in the microwave for 10 seconds on low), stir until dissolved. Set aside to cool slightly before using.

In a large well chilled bowl, with well chilled beaters, beat cream with electric mixer. Just before it becomes soft and billowy, slowly add the sugar and vanilla to the whipped cream at the sides of the bowl, continue to whip as you do. Whip the cream until you just begin to see waves in the cream.

Then, while continuing to mix, add melted and cooled gelatin. Stop whipping when cream forms soft peaks. Finish beating with whisk to adjust consistency to stiff peaks.

Use or serve immediately or cover and refrigerate until needed.

If peaks have softened during refrigeration, re-whip by hand using a whisk.

ASSEMBLE THE CAKE

OK. I messed up while I was assembling this cake. Everything was going OK until I got to the chocolate pastry cream layer and the weight of all that cream and cake make the vanilla pastry cream start to squeeze out of the sides of the cake. That’s when I remembered that I had an 8-inch cake ring and placed it over the finished cake and then put the cake in the freezer 20 minutes to get a hold of itself. If you have a cake ring or an 8-inch springform pan, I recommend assembling the cake within the ring.  Alternatively, you could refrigerate or freeze the cake for 20-30 minutes halfway through the assembly process to allow the pastry cream to firm up again.

Ideally, this is how the assembly should go:

You are going to cut the sponge cakes in half (horizontally) to form two layers. This is how. Using a long, thin bladed knife, cut/split each layer in half lengthwise making four thin layers (each of my 4 layers was about 1/2-inch thick).

Place bottom sponge layer on platter cut side up, sprinkle/brush with about 1/4 of the rum syrup (be careful not to get the cake too wet, or layers will become soggy).

Spread a layer of vanilla pastry cream on the first sponge layer.

Top the vanilla cream layer with another layer of sponge cake, cut side up. Sprinkle with another 1/4 of the rum syrup.

Spread a layer of stabilized whipped cream on the second sponge layer.

Top the whipped cream layer with another layer of sponge cake, cut side up, sprinkle with another 1/4 of the syrup. Note: You may want to refrigerate the cake for 30 minutes at this point…or live dangerously and press on.

Spread a layer of chocolate pastry cream on the third sponge layer.

Note:  This is where things started to go wrong for me. Check out how the vanilla cream started to ooze out. Oops! I added a ring around the cake to hold it in place and put it in the freezer for 20 minutes so it could get a hold of itself.  Then I continued.

Sprinkle the remaining rum on the cut side of the last layer of sponge.

Top the chocolate layer with the last layer of sponge cake, right side up (aka cut, rum syrup soaked side down)

Frost the top sponge cake layer and sides of cake with stabilized whipped cream, and if desired, decorate top of cake by piping rosettes using whipped cream and cover sides of cake with sliced almonds, or decorate as desired. Place cake in refrigerator at least 2 hours before serving.

Store any uneaten cake in the refrigerator. The slice that I ate the second day was even more moist than the first day.

TASTING NOTES:  Yummm. Better than the sum of it’s parts. The cake was surprisingly light with nice subtle flavors. It would also be excellent layered with strawberries.

36 Comments

  1. Very beautiful!
    Would love to taste it!

    Reply
  2. This is Drew, the birthday boy. Heather really outdid herself on this, as my mom and I could only provide experience, and no real recipe, for what this cake should be like. I brought a piece home for my mom to try, and everyone in the family wound up tasting it. The verdict? Molto bene! She made my italian family proud!

    Reply
  3. I made this cake for Easter and I was amazed how beautiful it turned out. A huge hit for my family. It is reminds me of a Norwegian blotkake which has strawberries instead of chocolate. The hint of using the ring while assembling the cake worked very well. The stabilized whipped cream is amazing as it stays so firm! It’s the only way to make whipped cream now! I have requests for this to be made again. Another great recipe from you. I am so happy to have found your site! You are an amazing cook with amazing photographs. Thank you! Joanne from Seattle, WA

    Reply
  4. Thanks for this post! Kinda ironic, I loosely followed the recipe from Diana’s Desserts to make my brother cupcake versions of this cake back in April 2011 (just days before your post). Using the same concept I split each cupcake in two; brushed the cut-sides with rum syrup; and piped the vanilla and chocolate pastry cream (Diane’s method was difficult so I used anothers) on top of one another before carefully sandwiching it back together. The very tops were piped with a slightly less stabilized whipped cream (didn’t need the same hold as a full cake and were being eaten in a few hours) and sprinkled with a few sliced almonds. They came out very nice.

    Still, this year I did my usual “round-up” of google searches hoping for new blog hits and found you! Speaking from last year’s experiece, I really liked the cupcake version but the Italian sponge cake was much harder to replicate in smaller size. I ending up making three batches before running out of time and just using my last batch…the best of all three. At one point I was almost tempted to run out and purchase a box of Angel Food cake mix because I was desperate enough to let all the artificial additives rescue me from scratch-baking disaster. But I’m happy to say I kept at it trying to learn/adjust along the way. Again, the last batch wasn’t the most delicate sponge cake but overall still better than my first. When making this mini-sized version the cake tended to become dried out and chewy on the outside by the time the cake’s interior was able to bake thru. It was a difficult balance so this year I’m going for the real deal and making the full-sized cake. Last year I added a few sliced strawberries (which I had macerated in the rum syrup) on top of the cream layers. Most stayed put but some took a plunge out the open sides. They were still a great addition of fresh fruit flavor so I’ll definitely be layering them in again this time around.

    Thanks again for sharing. Sorry for such a long post, lol. I was pretty excited to add my two-cents. I’m ordering a cake-setting ring now and getting on my merry way!

    Reply
  5. Thank you! Thank you! I have been looking for a recipe for this cake for years. It is a memory from my childhood. The only thing missing is the layer of apricot jam that was spread on one of the layers, probably where yours uses the whipped cream. We did have it with sliced strawberries at times. The cakes always came from Conte’s in the Bronx.

    Reply
  6. This cake is certainly worth all the steps and time! Absolutely delicious…made it for my husband’s birthday. The baking time of 20 minutes is correct…40 is way too long. Wonderful.

    Reply
  7. Morning.

    I am making my daughters wedding cake. They do not want the traditional fruit cake. I have tried making a sponge layered cake with creme patisseriie but am not happy with the result. I will try and make this cake but wonderer how long before the reception I can make it and how long after the ring is removed from around the cake it will stay in tact.?

    Reply
    • Wow. The pressure. I’m really not sure. It would depend, I think on the temperature of the cake. If it stays very cold, it should stay pretty much in tact. Still, for a wedding, I would make a test cake before to make sure that the final cake meets your needs. — Heather

      Reply
  8. HI
    I’ve been trying to find this recipe so happy i found yours. Going to give it a try for the holidays but thought i’d try now to make sure it comes out right. Thank you ! I also made the Anisette cookies they were great!!

    Reply
  9. Hi, I tried your recipe today. The only part I had trouble with was the gelatin. I followed you recipe but the gelatin keep separating in the whipped cream. Have any suggestion? Or maybe I could use something else to stableize whipped cream ???

    Thanks ,
    Cynthia

    Reply
  10. I remember just as you, living in South Philadelphia and having the Italian Rum Cake for every occasion. Really miss the tastes of home,.

    Reply
  11. I have been searching for an “easy” version of this recipe for awhile, ever since I tried this at an Italian wedding in Florida almost 10 years ago. Thank you sooooooooo much for the explicit directions and the great pics. I really think I can now give this cake a try. It is so worth the time and effort involved. The cake I had at the wedding was fabulous!!! I can still conjure up the taste of it 10 years later.

    Reply
  12. Thank you for this wonderful cake recipe that I made for my parent’s 64th wedding anniversary. The cake was as delicious as the birthday rum cakes that I remember from my childhood. Thank you for your terrific explicit instructions and very helpful tips for each step of the recipe. I don’t think that I would have been able to have made it as well without the extra tips. I haven’t made a layer cake in 12 years so thank you for those extra pointers such as specific directions on how to scald milk; the extra steps in buttering the pan; step by step photos and instructions on how to construct the cake; and the springform pan idea was a miracle saver. I also put the cake in the freezer for 20 minutes before frosting it.

    The cake came out perfect! So many thanks.

    Reply
  13. Olive Garden used to this this cake but with a layer of strawberry cream included as well. I have been on the hunt for this recipe for years!

    Reply
  14. I once ordered an Italian rum cake for a birthday party and they said it contained one whole bottle of rum!
    It was fabulous..living in the west coast.. and where can you find an Italian rum cake there? Before it was Phila. and New Jersey.. very common..No food on the west coast that compares to the east…. sad

    Reply
    • In case anyone wants to get the best I’ve ever tasted at a bakery (since Linda mentioned New Jewsey) it was from Caputo’s in Long Branch, NJ. I live in Florida now and have even inquired if they could ship one (or more :) ) here, but tragically no. A few years ago on the day of my mother’s funeral in NJ, my sister called to order one for us to pick up on the way driving south. They said you have to order it the day ahead, but when she told them we would be coming from my burying our mother then leaving the area, they made it for us the same day. At that time they were located right across the street from the beach. It was November and of course pretty deserted. We went across the street and sat on a bench on the beach and ate our rum cake.

      Reply
  15. My Wife asked me to make this cake. Coming from an Italian family it was one of her favorites growing up. Im a chef. Baking ( because of the science behind it ) has never been my forte. Lately ive been trying to add baking to my portfolia. I enjoy it…..sometimes. I get angry sometimes though. That leads me to this note :) I just finished the sponge cake portion of this recipe. Everything measured properly. I LOVED how light and airy the batter was why folding in the egg whites to the yolk mixture. My question was cooking time. Per your instructions we are to bake at 375 for 22-24 minutes or….until a toothpick comes out clean. I do my cooking by sight, smell, feel. In the caverns of an oven, whilst baking, the majority of senses left are those of smell. So, at sixteen, wafting through the air and pass my olfactory <—- get it, i get a wonderful smell up my schnozola. I insert a toothpick and it is clean. I think, self…..could the time be off by 6-8 minutes? the original recipe was for 40, you say 22-24 and i get siixteen. What say you? My oven is calibrated by thermometer. I live in AZ and it is very dry, albeit cold today. Please help me understand how this happens. Thanks in advance!!

    Reply
    • Hi Jeremy,
      It sounds to me like you have the skills necessary to become a great baker. I completely agree that all the senses come to play in baking as in other forms of cooking and the sense of smell is key. I can tell when my chocolate chip cookies are about to be overdone when I walk into my kitchen. Regarding the bake time, know your oven and your climate. Full disclosure, my oven is not well calibrated and has a tendency to lose a tremendous amount of heat when the door is opened. Lately, I have been scheming to figure out how to reconfigure my cooking space to allow for a better appliance, but that’s another story. Anywho, the amount of time that I baked this cake vs your oven time vs someone else’s could easily vary by 6-8 minutes. I’d love to find out how the rest of the cake turned out. Let me know.
      Best,
      Heather

      Reply
  16. Heather, I got this request for an italian wedding cake from a friend’s soon-to-be-Italian husband… I make children’s birthday cakes, desserts and pastries but no Italian cake or dessert yet. I will definitely try your recipe before the August wedding and will definitely let you know my results. Thank you again for posting.

    Reply
  17. I’m in the middle of making this right now for my mom’s 95th birthday and so far every step has been perfection! I’m going to use the new whipped cream recipe you mention above but double it. I’m also thinking, since I don’t have an 8″ cake ring, of piping some of the stabilized whipped cream around the edge of the cake, chilling for awhile before putting the pastry cream within it. But, dammit, I KNOW I have an 8″ springform somewhere…. I’ll report back in a couple of days!

    Reply
  18. The cake came out fantastic! Like you, I did have some “seepage” on the vanilla pastry cream but the greater problem was the layer above sliding a bit. (The vanilla pastry didn’t set up as firmly as the chocolate-I’m thinking I might not have simmered it long enough–but it was certainly useable and delicious!) I just spooned the seeping pastry cream away and inserted some skewers until it held. By the time I was ready to decorate, all was wonderful. I can’t find an “add photo” feature here, so you’ll just have to take my word but I can’t thank you enough for a fabulous recipe and clear-as-a-bell directions!

    Reply
  19. Your site is fantastic. Thanks so much for sharing your knowedge and expertise. The step by step details of your recipe are wonderful. I was searching for a Sicilian Cassata Cake and came accross your recipe. It sounds so wonderful I can’t wait to try it. I am going to incorporate the your chocolate cream into the cassata cake I am making (one layer is cannoli cream) as well as your instructions for the rum. I also have tried to make stabilized wipped cream with gelatin twice and both times had tiny gelatin balls in the cream which made it look terrible. I really love baking and get frustrated when things don’t work our, Can you give me any ideas of what I could have done wrong? I don’t want to ruin the cream again and I want to be able to do this right.

    Reply
    • Hi Marie,
      I’m really glad that you are enjoying the site. :) Regarding the issue with the stabilized whipped cream, I too have had this problem in the past. I try to follow the method as described by Wilton, although I use only about 1/2 the amount of sugar. Most of the time it works just fine. I’m not sure what the key is, but think there may be three parts of the method each or all of which may be important to avoid the gelatin balls. 1) I make sure that the cream isn’t too stiff before you add the gelatin. I usually add it when I start to see gentle waves in the cream indicating it is just starting to stiffen up. 2) turn the beater down to low as you add it and make sure that as you pour it in such a way that it doesn’t land on the beaters or the side of the bowl. If it hits the cold metal of the mixer, it may harden before it has a chance to be incorporated into the cream. 3) Don’t over whip the cream. Stop before you think it is done and whip the rest by hand if necessary. Good luck. – Heather

      Reply
  20. Hi Heather,
    I am a Floridian from New Jersey and getting these cakes used to be just around the corner at your local bakery. But now the only way I am going to get one as good, is to make it myself. I thank you for detailed instructions. This is the 3rd time I made this cake and I am becoming a perfectionist. I would like to share some of my thoughts & experiences. First of all, I too found that even 20-22-24 minutes was longer than needed on the cooking time. Each time I have shortened it a few minutes and this time I checked it after 16 minutes and it was done. You could tell it was done by the smell. And the lumpy whipped cream issue, I use the corn syrup method and it works great… I beat 2 cups of heavy cream until it starts to thicken. Add 2 tsps. of light corn syrup & 1 tsp. vanilla to the side of the bowl and blend, and add about a 1/4 cup of confectioners sugar and continue whipping until firm. Turns out nice and firm and tasty. I have also found the trick with the batter is to not over beat the egg whites. If they are too stiff, the batter is not as fluffy. So be sure to keep the whites soft and moist. And I have found making this cake in stages works best for me. I make the creams and the cake on day one. Day two, I slice the cakes and add the rum and let that sit for a couple of hours, then I assemble the cake using the spring pan and leave it chill over night. Day three, frost and serve. Tomorrow is day three and I can’t wait to eat it!

    Thank you so much for teaching me how to make this cake. Debbie

    Reply
  21. We had a bakery for years in Milford ct called Romano’s….they made this cake for our wedding….and all my family’s birthdays….. with the addition of bananas and maraschino cherries cut up and layered with crushed peanuts on one layer…with the choc and vanilla puddings layers…included also…..best cake we ever ate!!!!! They are not around any more the owner has passed away . Would love to have this cake again sometime….

    Reply
  22. looks wonderful. how many does it serve?

    Reply
    • Depends on the size of the slices. 10-12 would be my call.

      Reply
  23. Thank you,very much for posting this great Italian Rum Cake Recipe. I love this cake my family does too.I never knew how much work goes into making it. But,because we do love it so much,I’ve wrote down all the ingredients & instructions,and I’m going to give it my best try.Thanks again for sharing.

    Reply
  24. Hi, I’m not usually one to leave comments but felt compelled to do so! As a chef your instructions were brilliant. I too am from east coast,Connecticut, and miss my Italian goodies. I now live in London. I made this cake for my birthday last year and will be making it again this year. You’ve started a tradition! Thank you so much for posting this recipe. As far as taste is concerned,I must agree with your friend and say it is spot on! Well done:)

    Reply
  25. I love this cake. Thank you for the detailed recipe and instructions. I have made this several times now. Everyone who has had some, will except nothing less, Each time gets better and easier. Well now my birthday is coming up and I have to make one for myself. I will be indulging in about a week. Can’t thank you enough. Sam

    Reply
  26. I made this for Easter/my dad’s birthday. Growing up in New Jersey and moving to the Midwest, I searched for this recipe. Wanted to let you know it was a huge hit. My mom said it was one of the best cakes I ever made. Thanks!

    Reply
  27. Yay I’m so excited about this recipe. I am from Boston and I know live in Florida. I am making this for Sunday soooo happy thanks!:-)

    Reply

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