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Italian Rum Cake

Italian Rum Cake is so moist, delicious and creamy that everyone will seriously want seconds! 

This fabulous rum soaked layer cake is a great dessert for any festive occasion. If you need a showstopper, look no further. This Italian rum cake recipe is the one for you!

Italian rum cake on a white cake stand topped with maraschino cherries.
Need a showstopper? Look no further!

Celebration cakes don’t get any better than this Italian Rum Cake. This is a cake that looks impressive, tastes sensational and is loved by everyone! Italian Rum Cake is rich but light, decadent but homely and ideal for any occasion!

My mother-in-law introduced me to this cake many years ago. Her version doesn’t use whipped cream frosting but instead is completely covered with extra chocolate pastry cream. All eyes light up when this cake is served!

What is Italian Rum Cake

There are many bakeries that make a version of Italian rum cake. You may know this cake by another name. Maybe you know it as Italian birthday cake, Continental cake or as in my family, simply Rum cake. 

In Italy, this much loved cake is known as “torta con crema pasticcera” – cake with pastry cream – and is a popular birthday cake. But it’s so much more!

Italian rum cake is a showstopper of a cake consisting of three layers of Italian vanilla sponge cake (pan di spagna) drenched in rum syrup. Inside you’ll find a layer of vanilla pastry cream and another layer of chocolate pastry cream. If this isn’t enough, the assembled cake is covered in whipped cream frosting and sliced almonds

You’ll love my Italian rum cake recipe because:

  • It’s simply a showstopper! Just like my cannoli cake, this cake will impress and draw attention when you bring it out!
  • Sensational taste! Now this is the clincher, isn’t it? A dessert needs to taste amazing if it’s going to be a winner!
  • I have provided all the step by step instructions and tips so that you can make this perfectly every time!
  • You don’t have to make it all at once. Almost all the components of this cake can be prepared in advance. 

For complete ingredient quantities and full instructions, please scroll to the printable recipe card at the bottom of the page.

Ingredients

Ingredients for this Italian cake viewed from above.
  • Eggs – whole eggs are used to make the Italian sponge cake but you’ll just need the yolks for the pastry cream. I prefer large free range eggs with lovely yellow yolks. However use what you have keeping in mind the better quality ingredients make a better cake.
  • Sugar – you’ll need white sugar for the cake, pastry cream and rum syrup.  In most of my baking,  I will use superfine sugar because it dissolved readily. This is really important when making the cake and will help to create a light and fluffy texture.  Superfine sugar is also known as castor sugar.
  • Flour – cake flour which has a lower gluten content is essential when making a light sponge cake. However cake flour or all purpose plain flour can be use to thicken the pastry cream.
  • Milk – whole milk is needed for the pastry cream. At a pinch, you could use a lower fat milk but the pastry cream won’t be as creamy. 
  • Vanilla extract – I have used vanilla extract due to its ease and use it in both the cake and pastry cream. Vanilla paste or the seeds of a scraped vanilla bean could also be used in which case, add when heating the milk. 
  • Chocolate – just a little bit of chopped chocolate will turn the vanilla pastry cream perfectly chocolatey! I prefer a darker, bitter chocolate. The choice is yours.
  • Lemon – I always like to use a strip of lemon zest in my pastry cream to add flavor. This is something my late mother did and her crema pasticcera was always delectable!
  • Rum – use golden or dark rum not white rum for this Italian rum cake. The amount used in the recipe will give a gentle flavor but if you like a more noticeable rum flavor, add extra.
  • Heavy Whipping cream – fresh cream with a fat content of at least 36% fat will work best as a whipped cream frosting. The extra fat will hold the air and create a more stable whipped cream. 
  • Powdered sugar – you’ll just need a couple of spoonfuls of powdered sugar to sweeten and stabilize the whipped cream.
  • Sliced almonds – these are used to decorate the sides of the cake but it also adds a delicious nutty taste. Sliced almonds are also sold as flaked almonds and can have skins on or not.

See the recipe card for quantities.

How to make sponge cake

Four step process to making this vanilla sponge cake recipe.

Preheat oven to 340ºF/170ºC. Butter a 8 or 9 inch/20 or 23 cm springform pan then line completely with parchment paper.

  1. Beat the eggs with the sugar until thick, light and fluffy.
  2. Using a spatula, fold in the sifted cake flour in three batches.
  3. Pour the mixture into the previously buttered and lined springform cake pan.
  4. Bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes until cooked through and brown.

Instructions for crema pasticcera (Italian pastry cream)

Set aside 1/2 cup of milk. Then heat the remaining milk with the strip of lemon zest until you see steam is rising.

Four step process showing how to make pastry cream for this recipe.
  1. Whisk egg yolks with sugar then slowly whisk in the flour. Add reserved milk to egg yolk mixture.
  2. Remove the strip of lemon zest from heated milk then whisk hot milk into egg yolk mixture. Stir in the vanilla extract.
  3. Strain back into saucepan and place over medium heat until it simmers and thickens.
  4. Divide the crema pasticcera into two bowls. Stir chopped chocolate into one bowl then cover both with plastic wrap with the wrap pressed onto the crema pasticcera. 

Place both the vanilla and chocolate pastry cream into the fridge until needed.

Making whipped cream frosting

  • Place the mixer bowl and whisk in the fridge or freezer to become really cold.
  • Pour the heavy cream into the electric mixer bowl and using a whisk attachment begin whisking
  • Add superfine sugar and vanilla extract. Whip until firm peaks form. 

How to assemble and decorate this cake

Four step process showing how to assemble this Italian cake.

Firstly, prepare the rum syrup by combining the water and sugar in a saucepan and place over medium heat until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat. Let the simple syrup cool then stir in the rum.

  1. Use a sharp serrated knife to cut the pan di spagna into three even layers.
  2. Place one layer of cake on a serving plate then spoon rum syrup over to moisten.
  3. Spread the vanilla pastry cream over the moistened bottom layer then top with another cake layer. Moisten well with rum syrup then spread the chocolate pastry cream over. Top with the final layer of cake, press it on well and moisten with the remaining rum syrup. 
  4. Using ¾ of the whipped cream frosting, spread over the top and sides of the Italian Rum cake. Press sliced almonds onto the sides of the cake and use the remaining ¼ of the whipped cream frosting to pipe rosettes around the top edge.

Decorate with maraschino cherries and flakes of chocolate.

Hint: when assembling use cold cake and have all the other components very cold. During assembly if you’re having trouble with the cake tilting or sliding, take a break and put everything in the fridge until it’s very cold before continuing.

Substitutions.

  • Alcohol free – use rum extract instead of rum in the syrup. Alternatively, omit the rum and add a teaspoon of vanilla extract to make vanilla simple syrup.
  • Almonds – instead of sliced almonds use roasted peanuts. 
  • Nut free – almonds can be left off the sides of the cake. In this case, use 50% more whipping cream to create a thicker layer of whipped cream frosting.

Variations

  • Pastry cream filling – traditionally Italian rum cake has both a vanilla layer and chocolate layer but you can make all vanilla or all chocolate. Omit the chocolate if you’re making all vanilla. Alternatively stir double the amount of chocolate into the whole batch of pastry cream for all chocolate filling.
  • Stabilized whipped cream frosting – substitute powdered sugar for the superfine sugar. Powdered sugar contains a little bit of cornstarch to stablize the whipped cream frosting.
  • Kid friendly – see the substitution to make an alcohol free cake

Equipment

To make the pan di spagna, an electric mixer (either hand held or stand mixer) is essential to whip the eggs with sugar until thick and fluffy. An electric mixer is also hand to make the whipped cream frosting.

A 9 inch (23 cm) springform cake pan makes removing the pan di spagna easy. If you don’t have a spingform pan, use a regular cake pan of the same size.

A long serrated knife is handy to cut the cake into three even layers.

Storage

Italian rum cake must be stored in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Immediately return any leftover cake to the fridge after serving.

I have found that slices of this cake freeze quite well. Just cut into slices, lay onto a parchment lined baking sheet and freeze until solid. When frozen, wrap the slices in plastic wrap, place in a sealed container and return immediately to the freezer. Freeze for up to 1 month.

Thaw frozen slices of Italian rum cake at room temperature until soft. While I wouldn’t freeze the whole cake, freezing slices is a good way of not wasting any leftovers.

Tips for Success and FAQ’s

Cake topped with cream, cherries and chocolate and sides covered in sliced almonds.

Planning is the key to this cake. Most of the components can be made in advance. No components are particularly difficult but this Italian rum cake does have quite a few steps.

The pan di spagna can be made up to a month in advance. Wrap it in double layers of plastic wrap and freeze until needed. It will defrost very quickly.

Make the crema pasticcera a day or two in advance. Keep it well covered with plastic wrap pressed onto the surface so as not to form a skin on the pastry cream. Give the pastry cream a good stir before using

The rum syrup can be made a week in advance. Keep refrigerated in a sealed jar.

Whipped cream frosting doesn’t hold up as well and is best made when required. Have the cream very cold and the bowl and beaters cold when whipping cream. 

When assembling the cake, have everything cold. If at any point the cake seems unstable, pop it into the fridge or freezer until really cold and set. Then continue.

Does rum cake need to be refrigerated?

Absolutely! The pastry cream and the whipped cream can spoil very easily if kept at room temperature. Be sure to keep Italian rum cake refrigerated and cold.

Does rum cake have alcohol?

Yes! Traditional Italian Rum cake does have alcohol. However see above for my variations of alcohol free Italian Rum cake.

What does Italian rum cake taste like?

Italian rum cake has a mild rum taste with smooth creamy filling of vanilla and chocolate. The combination of Italian sponge cake, rum syrup and two flavors of Italian pastry cream is to die for. It’s such a tasty dessert that everyone loves!

Serving Suggestion

Slice of layer cake on a white plate.

Italian Rum Cake is a complete dessert and needs nothing else except for a good Italian coffee or espresso. 

But of course you want a fantastic Italian meal to precede this amazing dessert. Why not serve Pasta al Forno and Baked Italian Chicken Thighs to have an Italian feast for your family and friends!

Made this recipe?
Please let me know if you liked it by leaving a ★★★★★ star rating and a review below. And remember to subscribe to my newsletter – it’s free!

Italian rum cake on a white cake stand topped with maraschino cherries.

Italian Rum Cake Recipe

Italian rum cake is a showstopper of a cake consisting of three layers of rum syrup drenched Italian vanilla sponge cake (pan di spagna). Inside you’ll find a layer of vanilla pastry cream and another layer of chocolate pastry. If this isn’t enough, the assembled cake is covered in whipped cream and sliced almonds
5 from 118 votes
Print Pin Review
Prep Time: 2 hours
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours 45 minutes
Servings:14 people
Author: Marcellina

Equipment

  • electric mixer stand mixer or hand held
  • 1 8 or 9 inch (20 or 23 cm) springform cake pan optional but handy (See note 1)
  • 1 Long serrated knife optional but handy

Ingredients

Italian sponge cake

  • 5 large eggs room temperature
  • ¾ cups 150 grams granulated white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon lemon extract/anisette optional
  • 1 ¼ cups (150 grams) cake flour See Note 3

Crema pasticcera (Italian pastry cream)

  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1 long strip lemon zest
  • 6 egg yolks
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ½ cup flour
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 ounces chocolate (60 grams) chopped

Rum syrup

  • 1 cup water
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup rum more if a strong rum flavor is preferred

Toasted almonds

  • 1 cup sliced almonds

Whipped cream frosting

  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 tablespoon superfine sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

To decorate

  • Maraschino cherries and chocolate to decorate

Instructions

Italian sponge cake

  • Preheat the oven to 340ºF/170ºC. Butter a 8 or 9 inch (20 or 23 cm) springform cake pan and then line completely with parchment paper. Sieve the flour and set aside. (See notes 1 and 2 below).
  • Using a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, beat the eggs at room temperature with the sugar at maximum speed for about 15 minutes until a frothy and firm cream is obtained. In the last minute or two of beating, add the vanilla extract and lemon extract (if using).
  • Once the eggs have been whipped, stop the stand mixer and add in the flour a little at a time. Fold the flour in with a large spatula, taking care to slowly incorporate it with gentle movements from the bottom up.
  • Pour the mixture into the prepared springform cake pan.
  • Bake in a preheated oven for about 25 minutes or until cooked through, absolutely avoiding opening the door during the first 20 minutes of cooking. To be sure that the sponge cake is completely cooked, test the toothpick by inserting it in the center of the cake until it touches the bottom of the cake pan. If it comes out dry, the oven can be switched off. Leave the pan in the oven off (but still hot) and with the door open for about 5 minutes (this will prevent the sponge cake from undergoing a thermal shock and deflating too much as it cools).
  • Remove the sponge cake from the pan and allow to cool completely on a cake rack before serving or storing. If well wrapped in cling film, the sponge cake lasts 3-4 days in the refrigerator, or it can be frozen.

Crema pasticcera (Italian pastry cream)

  • Place 2 ½ cups of milk and strip of lemon zest in a medium saucepan. Heat over medium heat until the milk you can see steam rising. Don't boil. Set aside.
  • In a bowl whisk egg yolks, sugar and flour until smooth. Whisk in the remaining ½ cup of milk. This mixture must be smooth.
  • Remove strip lemon zest from the heated milk and discard.
  • Slowly whisk hot milk into egg yolk mixture. Stir in the vanilla extract.
  • Strain the mixture back to the saucepan and place over medium heat. Whisk constantly until the mixture comes to the boil and thickens. Simmer for 1 minute to cook the flour.
  • Divide the Italian pastry cream into two heatproof bowls.
  • Stir the chopped chocolate thoroughly into one.
  • Cover with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap directly onto the surface to stop a skin forming.
  • Refrigerate until thoroughly chilled.
  • Before using, stir until smooth.

Rum syrup

  • Prepare the rum syrup by combining the water and sugar in a saucepan and place over medium heat until the sugar has dissolved.
  • Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
  • Stir the rum into the cooled simple syrup.
  • Set aside until needed. Refrigerate if making in advance.

Toasted almonds

  • Preheat the oven to 350ºF/180ºC.
  • Spread the sliced almonds evenly on a baking sheet.
  • Place in the oven for 8-10 minutes or until lightly browned and smelling fragrant.
  • Set aside to cool. Place in a sealed container if making in advance.

Whipped cream frosting

  • Place the mixer bowl and whisk in the fridge or freezer to become really cold.
  • Pour the heavy whipping cream into the electric mixer bowl
  • Use a whisk attachment to begin whisking until the cream starts to thicken.
  • Gradually add the superfine sugar and vanilla extract.
  • Whip until firm peaks form being careful not to overwhip.
  • Refrigerate until needed

Assembing and decorating

  • Use a sharp serrated knife to cut the pan di spagna into three even layers.
  • Place one layer of cake on a serving plate then spoon rum syrup over to moisten.
  • Spread the vanilla pastry cream over the moistened bottom layer then top with another cake layer.
  • Press the cake gently but firmly so that it sticks to the vanilla pastry cream.
  • Moisten the second cake layer well with rum syrup then spread with chocolate pastry cream.
  • Top with the final layer of cake, press it on well and moisten with the remaining rum syrup.
  • If the cake seems unstable at this stage, refrigerate for an hour or place it in the freezer for 30 minutes to set.
  • Using ¾ of the whipped cream frosting, spread over the top and sides of the Italian rum cake. Press sliced almonds onto the sides of the cake and use the remaining ¼ of the whipped cream frosting to pipe rosettes around the top edge.
  • Decorate with maraschino cherries and flakes of chocolate.

Notes

  1. An 8-inch springform pan is preferable and will make thicker layers as seen in the photos. However, a 9-inch pan can also be used.
  2. Line the base and sides of the cake pan when making the Italian sponge cake.
  3. Cake flour is found in the baking aisle of the grocery store. It is a softer flour that will produce light results. Plain all-purpose flour can be used though the cake won’t be quite as light.
Top Tips 
  • Read through the recipe a few times. Most of the parts can be made in advance.
    • Make the cake up to a month ahead. Wrap it well in plastic and freeze. It will thaw quickly.
    • The crema pasticcera made a day or two before will keep well in the fridge. Press some plastic wrap on the surface so it doesn’t form a skin.
    • Rum syrup keeps well in a jar in the fridge for up to a week.
    • The part that can’t be made in advance is the whipped cream frosting. Make it just before you need it. Have the cream very cold as well as the beaters and the bowl.
Scroll up and read all the extra information that will help you make this Italian Rum Cake perfectly every time!
Similar recipes to this Italian Rum Cake can be found in many cookbooks and websites. However, this recipe uses adaptions of my personal recipes that I have been using and testing for many years.
Tried this recipe? Give it a star rating and leave a comment below!

Nutritional Estimate Per Serving

Calories: 359kcal | Carbohydrates: 46g | Protein: 9g | Fat: 15g | Saturated Fat: 6g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 6g | Trans Fat: 0.01g | Cholesterol: 167mg | Sodium: 52mg | Potassium: 203mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 33g | Vitamin A: 531IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 117mg | Iron: 1mg

Nutritional Disclaimer

Nutritional information is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. For accurate results, it is recommended that the nutritional information be calculated based on the ingredients and brands you use.

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61 Comments

  1. Hello, I have a question about the Italian sponge cake in this recipe. I have made the cake twice and it does Not rise up above the pan. The second attempt I also added baking powder, and baking soda. it rose slightly higher. my question is how do you get it to rise so you can cut it in three layers? Any help would be appreciated.

    1. Hello Carol, thanks for the question. This cake isn’t meant to rise above the pan. Are you using an 8 or 9 inch pan? I have made it in both but I get better results with an 8 inch round pan. By that, I mean that I can cut thicker layers and the finished cake is higher. Have you looked at the photos above the recipe card? Here it shows you the baked cake in the cake pan. This may give you an idea of what it should look like. This is a direct link to that spot in the post https://www.marcellinaincucina.com/italian-rum-cake/#How_to_make_sponge_cake
      I hope this helps. Carol, please reach out if you have any other questions.

  2. 5 stars
    When I was growing up, we had this cake for every occasion that called for cake. instead of pastry cream throughout, we always had a layer of chocolate pastry cream (the bakery just always called it pudding) and a layer of cannoli cream. I would prefer to make it that way…do you have recipe for an appropriate cannoli cream layer? Thanks so much!