I started working on the recipe for this cake after dreaming of the spice sheet cake of my youth. And the creamy icing that topped the perfectly cut cake square the nice cafeteria lady handed me. But I wanted the cake updated…steeped in a syrup of some sort…something denser than my grade school fluff cake…with hints of rum…and orange. No easy feat for me. My projects, culinary or otherwise, are typically crazy great or resounding, flat-out failures. And if the project was too involved there was a good chance I might lose interest and walk away. That happened often when I decided to rearrange my bedroom during those difficult teen years. I couldn’t move my furniture around until I had separated the mountains of clothes into ‘these are to be hung up and put away’ and ‘these are dirty’. They had to be addressed; there was no manner of walking through my room without shuffling through clothes up to your knees. That in itself was project and took the better part of a couple of hours. But let’s pretend I did tackle that portion of redecoration. Because after that labour books, shoes, plates, record albums, tennis racquets and tennis balls all had to be dragged out from under my bed and also put away. I know I drove my mother cray-cray. By then I was exhausted and the bedroom truly looked as though a bomb went off. There was a good chance my “new look” would take a day or two. Dust bunnies the size of grape fruit were not uncommon. Eventually I would finish because I had to sleep somewhere. What a mess. And Mama always, without fail, instructed our housekeeper, Frankie, NOT to help me in any way. Well, sometimes my recipes are kind of like that. I add this, I take out that. I go back to the grocery store for the third time that day. I forget to take out my butter…or eggs. I spend a fortune on quality ingredients and the end result turns out to be disappointingly mediocre…at best. But every now and again I come up with something even I like. And this is one of those recipes. It was a spiced rum cake steeped in a brown cane sugar syrup until my son, James, had a taste. “This isn’t new.” Me, “Yes, it is! I just made it for the first time.” James, “Mama! C’mon. You make this all the time.” And that’s when I realized why the cake tasted so familiar. The ingredients are somewhat similar to the celebrated Greek honey and spice cookie, the Melomakarona. Except my cake doesn’t call for honey. Rum, baby. It calls for rum…not much, just enough to make its mark. Hope you enjoy it!
This cake has the density of a pound cake and, like pound cake, the flavor is markedly better, fuller, a day or two after baking. The syrup is rich and earthy due to the base of panela, also known as piloncillo, a minimally processed product of cane juice boiled down to a thick syrup which is then hardened into a hard-as-a-rock brick or cone-shaped “pilon”.
Panela is pure and clean with deep notes of earth and smoke…an almost scorched flavor. It speaks of rum and caramel and butter. Rock hard, it can be grated into baked goods, BBQ sauce, rum and tequila drinks or, as in this recipe, melted stove top. It can be found in the Hispanic section of your grocery store or in any Latin American market. Easy to find, it puts the standard, one-dimensional brown sugar to shame. This stuff is cheap, stores well and is downright magical. You’ll love it!
Greek Spiced Pound Cake
- 1 cup chopped pecans
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 2 teaspoons nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup butter, room temperature
- 2 cups brown sugar, light or dark
- 6 eggs
- 3 tablespoons fresh orange zest, about 1 large navel orange
- 1 cup milk
- 1/3 cup spiced rum
- 2 cups water
- 1 pound Panela or Piloncillo
- 2 tablespoons spiced rum
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Pre-heat oven to 350°.
- Cover the inside of a 10″X3 1/2″, or 12-cup, bundt pan with non-stick cooking spray.
- Scatter the pecans evenly over the bottom of the sprayed bundt pan and set aside.
- In a medium size bowl combine the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, ground cloves and salt. Whisk the dry ingredients until all are completely combined. Set aside.
- In a large bowl cream butter until light and fluffy.
- Add the brown sugar to the butter and mix well.
- Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat the batter at each addition only until you no longer see the yolk.
- Add the orange zest and mix just to combine.
- Gradually add the flour mixture to the butter mixture alternating with the milk and 1/3 cup of spiced rum. Begin and end with the flour. Mix only until ingredients are incorporated to avoid a tough cake.
- Pour batter into bundt pan and smooth the top of the batter.
- Bake for one hour or until the cake pulls away from the sides of the pan.
- Cool on a rack
- While the cake is cooling, pour into a medium saucepan 2 cups water. Add the panela and simmer, stirring occasionally to help break up the panela.
- Simmer until the syrup thickens and coats the back of the spoon.
- Remove from heat and stir in the 2 tablespoons of spiced rum and vanilla extract.
- Spoon evenly over the top and sides of the warm cake, cover with plastic wrap and allow the cake to sit in the bundt pan over night.
- So as not to scratch the pan, use a plastic knife to loosen the inner and outer edges of the cake.
- Invert onto a platter and serve.