Italian Birthday Cake

Italian Birthday Cake

Italian Rum Cake

Makes an 8-inch, three layer vanilla sponge cake sprinkled with rum syrup then filled with vanilla and chocolate pastry cream, topped with bakery-style buttercream and decorated with crushed peanuts - does it get any better?!?
Course Dessert
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 2 hours
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 2 hours 30 minutes
Servings 20


Ingredients for the bakery frosting (UPDATE: I now recommend stabilized whipped cream frosting, see link at end of this post for recipe):

  • 28 ounces of powdered (confectioners) sugar (7 cups)
  • 1 cup butter , room temperature
  • 1 cup shortening (use high-ratio, if available)
  • 1 teaspoon clear vanilla extract
  • milk to thin , if needed

Ingredients for the vanilla pastry cream filling:

  • 5 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 4 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream

Ingredients for the chocolate pastry cream filling:

  • 5 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup sugar plus 2 tablespoons
  • 4 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream

Ingredients for the sponge cake:

  • 1 cup sifted unbleached all-purpose flour; sift onto a sheet of waxed paper and then spoon into measuring cup and level to rim (4.25 ounces Vecchio Molino all-purpose flour)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 6 large eggs , separated; separate when cold. Can use cold in the recipe.
  • 1 cup superfine or regular sugar , divided
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 3 tablespoons water , cold
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Ingredients for the rum syrup:

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon rum extract

Ingredients to assemble the cake:

  • 2 cups crushed peanuts OR sliced almonds , lightly salted
  • 8- inch cake board (optional)


How to make the bakery frosting:

  • Combine butter and shortening
  • Add powdered sugar slowly, 1 cup at a time
  • Mix on medium-to-low speed to prevent air bubbles from forming
  • Add vanilla extract and mix to combine

How to make the pastry creams:

  • In a small bowl, add egg yolks and cornstarch. Whisk to blend and set aside
  • In a medium saucepan, add milk, sugar, salt, and vanilla or chocolate; heat until small bubbles form (scalded) and remove from heat.
  • Temper eggs by adding small amounts (about 4 ounces) of the hot milk mixture at a time, while whisking very QUICKLY to prevent the eggs from curdling.
  • After all of the milk mixture has been incorporated into the eggs/cornstarch, return everything to the saucepan and cook over medium heat and stir constantly until thickened.
  • My mother does this over a water bath because it quickly thickens and can very easily burn; I didn't use a water bath.
  • Cool the pastry cream and refrigerate until ready to use. (should be eaten within 3 days)
  • Whip heavy cream only until soft peaks form (overbeating will cause it to turn to butter) and fold together with cooled pastry cream (rewhip this if it has been refrigerated).

How to make the rum syrup:

  • Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and heat over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves and then cool or store in refrigerator.

How to make the sponge cake:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees and position rack in center of oven
  • Line bottom of pans (I used two 8-inch) with parchment paper (UPDATE, Feb 2015: I used three 8-inch pans and split the batter equally)
  • Combine flour with salt in a small bowl and set aside.
  • In a standing mixer, whip the egg whites on medium-low speed until foamy (not stiff) and then add the cream of tarter and continue mixing until the white become opaque
  • Add 1/2 cup sugar slowly to the side of the bowl and increase the speed of the mixer until soft but not stiff peaks form. Scrape the contents to another bowl and set aside
  • Using the same bowl, which is now empty, add the egg yolks and whip at high speed for 3 to 5 minutes until lightened in color and the mixture "ribbons" when the beaters are raised
  • Slowly add the remaining sugar (ie, 1/2 cup), cold water, and vanilla into the egg yolks and mix until combined on low speed
  • Sift the flour onto the egg yolks in two additions, and stir gently with large spatula to combine.
  • Gently but thoroughly fold in the whipped egg whites

How to bake the cake

  • Transfer mixture to prepared pans and bake for about 20 to 30 minutes until cooked through; if using one pan instead of 2 adjust time accordingly. (using 3 pans, I only needed 20 minutes)
  • Remove from oven, cool, and then run knife carefully around rim to loosen and invert to wire rack. After fully cooled, wrap and refrigerate or freeze. When ready to use, slice each cake carefully into 2 layers (will only need 3 of the 4 layers) (NOTE: see update below)
  • UPDATE: I used three 8 inch pans and split the batter equally among the pans and it worked just as well with no waste; that is, no need to split the layers if you use 3 pans.

How to assemble the cake:

  • Remove frosting from the refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature to facilitate spreading.
  • Using a teaspoon, spoon the rum syrup evenly over each of the three cake layers.
  • Place one cake layer on the bottom of an 8-inch cake board or cake dish (you may spread some frosting between the dish and bottom layer to prevent the cake from shifting)
  • Spread all of the vanilla pastry cream on top on the bottom layer and then top with another layer of sponge cake.
  • Spread all of the chocolate pastry cream on top of middle layer and then top with final layer of sponge cake
  • Frost cake, and add generous amount of crushed peanuts or sliced almonds to the sides of the cake.
  • Decorate the top if desired and refrigerate until serving.


If you are baking in 1 or 2 pans, freezing the cake makes it much easier to cut into layers. I'm now using 3 eight inch pans so I no longer split it.
Ensure frosting is at room temperature and fully softened before trying to frost cake.
5 tablespoons of light rum or 1/2 tablespoon of dark rum may be substituted for rum extract
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