High Country Baking: Make the perfect holiday cake
High Country Baking
High altitudes make cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall, and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips that make baking in the mountains successful.
This is as festive as a cake can get. With a moist, tender texture and knock-your-socks-off flavor, it’s worthy of the holidays and a great choice for giving to friends (it stays fresh for a week or more). The recipe has been around long enough to gather quite a following; many think it’s the best rum cake they’ve ever tasted. After adjusting the recipe for altitude, tweaking it a bit and baking it a number of times, I think it’s not only the best tasting rum cake I’ve ever met, it’s also the easiest to prepare. It’s one of my all-time favorites.
You must use a Bundt pan to make it and, at altitude, I prefer a 6-cup one. You can double the recipe, but I’ve found the cake’s texture is less appealing when baked in a 12-cup pan at high elevations. I recommend making two 6-cup cakes rather than a larger one. When mixing the batter, follow the recommended times closely; you need to beat the batter enough to create structure in the cake but too much air in it may cause the cake to fall.
Holiday Rum Cake
Adjusted for elevations of 7,900 feet and above.
Make in a 6-cup, light-colored nonstick metal Bundt pan.
1-2 tablespoons pecan or almond flour, optional
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons superfine sugar, preferably Baker’s
4 tablespoons (half a stick) unsalted butter, soft
½ a 3.5 ounce box instant vanilla pudding mix, dry
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon canola oil
¼ cup whole milk
2 large eggs, room temperature
¼ cup dark rum (spiced or plain)
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon butter rum extract, optional
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons light corn syrup
½ cup superfine sugar
¼ cup rum
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Center a rack in the oven and preheat it to 325 degrees. Generously grease the pan with a cooking spray that contains flour. If using the pecan/almond flour, sprinkle it all over the pan’s interior, turning the pan so it’s evenly coated. Set the pan aside.
2. Add all the cake ingredients except the rum, vanilla extract and butter rum extract (if using) to a large mixing bowl. With an electric mixer at medium speed (for a stand mixer) or medium-high speed (for a hand-held mixer), beat for two minutes (stand mixer) or three to four minutes (hand-held mixer). Scrape the bowl halfway through the beating time. Add the rum and extract(s) and mix at the same speed for another minute (two minutes for a hand-held mixer). Don’t beat longer than recommended.
3. Scrape the batter into the pan, filling it two-thirds full. Smooth and level the batter and gently rap the pan on a counter to remove any air bubbles. Bake until a cake tester inserted in the middle of the batter comes out clean (if a toothpick isn’t long enough to test accurately, use a thin skewer or uncooked spaghetti.) This usually takes 40-45 minutes.
4. Near the end of the baking time, make the syrup/glaze. Combine all the ingredients except the vanilla in a small saucepan. Stir to blend, then bring the mixture to a boil (it will bubble up), immediately reduce it to a simmer for four to five minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat, stir in the vanilla and set aside.
5. Remove the baked cake to a rack and let it cool for five to eight minutes. It will deflate a bit. While still in the pan, use a thin skewer to poke holes all over it, stopping about ½ inch from the pan bottom and sides. If the syrup touches the pan it may cause the cake to stick. Brush some syrup over the cake, let it soak in for four to five minutes, then brush on some more. Continue until you’ve used about half of the syrup, cover and save the rest for the glaze. Lightly cover the cake with plastic wrap and let it cool until slightly warm. Turn it out of the pan onto a greased cardboard cake circle or a serving plate. If it sticks to the pan, warm it in the oven and try again. Let the cake cool completely.
6. Whisk powdered sugar, a tablespoon or two at a time, into the remaining syrup until it becomes opaque and thickens to a consistency that slides slowly but easily off a spoon. If it gets too thick, whisk in a little water or more rum. Drizzle the glaze over the cake, letting it run down the sides. Store, covered, in the fridge or a cool spot for a day (if possible) before serving; it’s best one to three days after baking). Serve warm or room temperature.
This recipe is a variation of one published by King Arthur Flour. Vera Dawson, author of the high-altitude cookbooks Baking Above It All and Cookies in the Clouds, (available at The Bookworm in Edwards and Next Page Bookstore in Frisco), is a high-altitude baking teacher. Her recipes have been tested in her Summit County kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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