In Which Not Even Burnout Can Stop the Blogger from Baking a Most Amazing Cake…

Rich, sweet, buttery, dense… What more could you possibly ask for?

The thing about burnout is that it practically takes forever to recover from.  When I was diagnosed as having burned out over three years ago, my doctor warned me that I was not to expect myself to recover immediately, that it would probably take years before my body could bounce back – and, alas, there was always the possibility that, while I would eventually recover, I would never bounce back to the way I used to be.

But life goes on as it invariably does and many people in this country still think of burning out as a sign of weakness, of inadequacy, of undesirability, and of worthlessness.  (Small wonder, thus, that so many Filipinos suffering from depression and burnout never seek professional help for fear that people would think the worst of them!)  That said, I find myself slogging along the path of life, hobbling – both literally and figuratively – while others are sprinting on the fast track to either success or a too-early downfall.  It hurts to know that people in this country are so unsympathetic towards those of us who have either burned out or are suffering from one form of depression or another.  They think that, as a nation of machos and “bionic women”, we should not cry, we should not break down, nor should we bow down to pressure.

It sounds brutal, but it is, alas, the dismal truth about this country whose current slogan is “It’s more fun in the Philippines.”  There’s no fun for those of us – myself included – who choose to be bookworms and writers and thinkers and dreamers; we continue to be persecuted by beach-bunnies who believe that beauty is all on the outside, beer-swilling bullies, and brats spoilt by being born into power and privilege.

Some choose the medical solutions route and spend their money on shrinks whilst poisoning their bodies with chemical antidepressants what will only lead to multiple organ failure later on in life.  Others take the easy way out, putting themselves out of their misery with a single shot to the head, or a noose around one’s neck, or even leaping from some precipice into an abyss of no return.  Some move away and find acceptance elsewhere (a route open to me at the moment; och, for the bonny lochs an’ braes of the Scots Highlands!), and others put their anger and dismay to good use through the arts.

And there’s what I do: I take a cue from the character Mikage from Banana Yoshimoto’s Kitchen and cook.  Even on my darkest days, I find that the act of preparing and serving food is what gives me purpose; it is what reminds me that my life still has meaning, that it still has – so to speak – plenty of flavor.

Cake and ice cream are lovely things to have on the crummiest days…

I was feeling more than a little poorly over the weekend, but my mom asked if I could bake a rum cake.

Now, the thing about rum cakes is that they do tend to be more than a little time-consuming to make.  I’ve been baking them for a while and you’ve seen some versions on the blog, but they were all rather flawed: too tough, underbaked, not enough syrup, and all that.  I even tried baking without the syrup and this resulted in a Madeira cake of unimpeachably buttery fluffiness – but even that sort of fell short of my expectations.

So, really: a rum cake isn’t really what most people suffering from burnout want to bake.  You have to sift the dry ingredients, wait for the butter and eggs to come to room temperature, bake the thing for nearly an hour, cook the syrup slowly over low heat, poke holes into the cake and pour the syrup over it, and wait for another half-hour before turning the cake out because it needs to absorb all that syrup.  It is not a cake for the faint of heart nor one for the easily discouraged.

But I actually find comfort in baking cakes as complicated as these.  Tired as I am both physically and mentally, I actually enjoy the challenge of going through the paces of the recipe, of seeing which flavors go best together, of trying out new ingredients and techniques in the hope of improving the end product.  Taking the cake out of the oven, I feel a sense of accomplishment that I have seldom felt at work or in my ministry in church.  And, while baking for my family and friends earns me nothing in the way of cash, the look of delight on their faces at the sight, smell, and taste of my cakes is payment enough for me.

The cake that came out of my oven when I made this was just plain perfect: all golden and moist, smelling deliciously of the cappuccino-flavored rum and the vanilla bean I used to flavor it.  It was deliciously sweet and buttery, properly rich and unctuous.  Whilst still warm, my family lumped scoops of chocolate and vanilla ice cream on generous slices.  Even after the cake had been chilled in the fridge overnight, it was still delightful: each vanilla-speckled slice was moreish and comforting – just the perfect thing to soothe a battered soul.

Cappuccino-flavored white rum: the baker’s secret weapon

Seriously Decadent Rum-and-Butter Cake

For the cake:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1-1/2 cups softened salted butter
  • seeds scraped from 1 vanilla pod (save the pod to make vanilla sugar)
  • 1 teaspoon almond flavoring
  • 1/2 cup dark rum
  • 1/4 cup coffee-infused white rum
  • 3 whole eggs
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 cup granulated white sugar
  • 1/2 cup vanilla sugar

For the syrup:

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup dark rum
  • 1/4 cup coffee-infused white rum

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and soda.  Set aside.  Grease a 9- or 10-inch round, fluted cake tin.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees / Gas Mark 4.

Cream together the plain sugar, vanilla sugar, vanilla seeds, and softened butter until light and fluffy.  Whisk in the eggs and beat until well-combined.  Add the almond flavoring and the rums and stir till the mixture looks curdled.  Add half the milk; stir, and add 1/2 of the flour.  Add the rest of the milk; give it a good stir, and add the remaining flour.  Mix until well-combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared tin and bake for 55 minutes.

In a saucepan, combine all the ingredients for the syrup and cook over medium heat till the butter melts and the syrup starts to boil.  Lower the heat and simmer whilst stirring till slightly thickened.  (Keep stirring lest the syrup ends up scorched!)

Poke holes into the surface of the baked cake with a wooden skewer and pour the syrup evenly over it.  Set aside for about 30 minutes.

Turn the now-syrup-soaked cake onto a serving plate.

Depending on how you slice it, this baby can serve from twelve to twenty-four.

Variations…  Tanduay, the maker of Boracay Cappuccino Rum, also makes a variant in coconut.  To turn this cake into a coconut-almond syrup cake, swap the cappuccino rum for the coconut-flavored kind, take out the vanilla bean and use two teaspoons of almond flavoring instead of just one, and add 1/2 cup of coarsely-chopped toasted almonds to the batter before adding the milk and flour.  Proceed as usual.  If desired, top the cake with freshly-grated coconut or the sweetened dessicated kind; crushed almond brittle would also make a delightful topping.  Serve with either macapuno [coconut] or vanilla-almond ice cream.