And to think that here I was, wishing the year would just turn to autumn already. Maybe it's because I haven't made my monthly work trip to Vermont (I know, I know, my life is tough!) since August. I've been dreaming about the resplendent foliage that turns the rolling hills a blazing red and vivid orange. I've been remembering the heavy, sultry smell of wood smoke, and how it hangs in the air, promising cozy scenes of porch-wrapped white houses: a golden retriever snoozing by the hearth on a soft rug and families sprawled on the couch after dinner eating cake and laughing.
And then today arrived, spitting rain and lashing the windows with wet leaves as the wind howled through the city. I had to pull on actual socks to go to the grocery store! Misery! I forget how nice it feels to be warm. Is there a way to be simultaneously cozy from the cold with all the pleasures of winter (rosy cheeks and snow and hot drinks) but also warm, somehow? Can someone invent this? (While you're at it, please also invent teleporting and popcorn that never burns, thank you very much.)
Of course, as I write this sappy ode to fall, I am packing to fly south to Florida where the forecast promises 5 solid days of 80 degree weather. I'm staying in a whitewashed bungalow 300 yards from a sandy beach. I had just packed away my jean shorts and sundresses and swimsuit: whoops. To be honest, this isn't a vacation getaway exactly, as one member of our household is racing in Ironman Florida on Saturday. Three guesses as to which one of us it is!
If you guessed me, you are WRONG. If you did not guess me, I am offended! Kidding: For those unfamiliar, an Ironman race consists of a 2.4 mile swim followed by a 112 mile bike ride and then a marathon (26.2 mile) run. I am actually tired just typing that. I will be spectating and cheering loudly and taking a nap during it.
Here is how you prepare for an Ironman in our house: One person does endless hours of exercise for a full year leading up to the race. They get up early and work out multiple times a day. They never complain. They pack their bike and their gear and their protein powder and their nutrition supplements every weekend.
The other person bakes a lot of cakes and cooks many, many dinners and says encouraging things like "you're awesome!" and "I took a 2-mile run today and I'm so tired!".
Whether or not you are planning on exercising for a solid 10-hour stretch this Saturday, you will still appreciate and love this cake. I consider this the creme de la creme of Bundt cakes: It has all the tenderness and moistness of a pound cake with a more nuanced flavor and a slightly less dense crumb. One of my coworkers chose it as his favorite all-time recipe from our company archives, and considering that I work at a 225-year-old baking company, that's quite a ringing endorsement.
If you don't have a Bundt pan, you can easily turn this batter into miniature cakes using any pans you have, like muffin pans or loaf pans. You can do this with any cake batter! Just don't ever fill the pan more than 2/3 of the way high, and check similar recipes (muffins for a muffin pan, quick breads for a loaf pan, etc.) to see approximate baking times.
Caribbean Rum Cake
Adapted from King Arthur Flour
For the cake batter
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
3 ounces custard powder (or sub a blend of 6 T. cornstarch + 2 T. sugar)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup rum
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
For the soaking syrup
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup water
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup rum
Preheat oven to 325°F.
Combine the flour, sugar, butter, custard powder, baking powder, salt, vegetable oil, milk, and eggs in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat until well-combined, scraping down the bowl as you go.
Add the rum and vanilla for mix for a minute.
Carefully grease a 10-cup Bundt pan and dust the inside with flour (if you want more flavor, dust the greased pan with granulated sugar for crisp crust to your cake).
Pour the batter into your prepared pan and bake for 60 minutes. I start checking my cake after 50 minutes, and take it out when a tester inserted into the center comes out clean.
Let the cake cool while you make the syrup.
Add all the ingredients for the syrup to a saucepan, and bring to a boil, then simmer and cook for 7 minutes until it thickens a bit. Remove from the heat. Bring to a rapid boil then reduce to a simmer and cook (without stirring) for about 5 to 8 minutes, until the syrup thickens slightly. Remove from the heat.
Poke holes over the entire cake while it's still in the pan. Slowly pour a bit of the syrup over the cake, letting it fully soak in, and then pour a bit more, repeating slowly until you use up all the syrup.
Cover the cake loosely with plastic wrap (still in the pan) and leave it for at least 8 hours to let the cake absorb the syrup. After it has, run a knife around the edges of the cake, and flip the pan over, tapping firmly on the pan to release the cake.