Rum Raisin Cake

Next to the cookbooks written by my great-grandmother Olena, my other beloved ones are by the Ukrainian food writer Daria Tsvek. I love her voice, advice, and of course, recipes that highlight the flavorful Galician cuisine of Tsvek’s native Lviv. Last week I tried Tsvek’s rum raisin cake that comes from a book called For the Festive Table (До Святкового Столу). Published in 1973, it offers menus and recipes for holidays and celebrations, along with suggestions on how to organize one’s time and host dinner parties.

I picked up the book for my cookbook collection, but I ended up cooking so much from it that I made a photocopy to use in the kitchen. Tsvek’s imaginative and inventive flair fill the pages. She’s able to concoct an elegant feast out of the simplest ingredients, and reading her book I’m not even aware of the endemic Soviet shortages that must have made the task of a recipe writer difficult. Her rum raisin cake turned out to be buttery, crumbly and fragrant, a recipe to add to my baking repertoire.

A few years ago I became curious about Soviet era cookbooks and little by little acquired most of them, a task made easy by the fairly small size of the cookbook publishing business in the USSR. What becomes obvious is how centralised and state-directed was even this innocuous industry. One main aspect of the Soviet policy was Russification and general standardization of culture, which meant that most cookbooks featured the identical recipes, even if they purported to showcase national cuisines. For instance, the mayonnaise laden salad of boiled potatoes, eggs, pickled cucumbers and bologna sausage appears in the Uzbek cookbook as Salad Tashkent, in the Belorussian cookbook as Winter Salad, and in the Georgian cookbook as Salad Gruzia, and so on. There are other absurdities, especially in the introductory sections that quote the Party persona de jour and their views on feeding the masses. You can still find authentic regional specialties in these books, and for all of the faults, they’re fascinating historical documents.

Daria Tsvek’s cookbooks are different. For one thing, they were published in her hometown and she, rather than a group of editors in the distant Soviet capital, oversaw all steps of the process, down to food styling. Tsvek was a respected chef and professional caterer, and her books reflect her expertise. She also longed to share her knowledge of Ukrainian customs and traditions, a politically sensitive task–and achieved it splendidly.

The raisin cake comes from the section on the October holiday marking the Bolshevik revolution of 1917. After writing the obligatory line about “the most beloved celebration of every Soviet person,” Tsvek describes Ukrainian harvest traditions and gives suggestions on decorating the table (“add a colorful leaf next to each place setting”) and making a picnic basket. Why spend holidays in the city (read, marching in those dull October Day parades)? Why not enjoy nature and autumnal colors, especially since “the forest in the fall is indescribably beautiful: everything is still and serene as if feeling the majestic approach of winter.” The cool days call for tea with a slice of cake, and Tsvek’s rum flavored loaf packed with raisins, walnuts and candied orange peel is perfect.

Tsvek offers a fail-proof method of incorporating eggs into the sugar-butter mixture in order to avoid curdling–whip sugar and butter until pale and then start adding eggs, interspersing each addition with a spoonful of flour. Once all eggs are added, perfume the batter with vanilla, cognac and fold in the rum soaked fruit. Once baked the cake can be eaten right away, but it’s even better aged for a day.

Rum Raisin Cake (Фруктовий Кекс)

Serve 8-10

You can use any proportion of dried fruit and nuts that you like. I used 3/4 of raisins, 1/4 of walnuts and 1/4 of candied orange peel. Or try a mixture of dried apricots, dried cherries and pistachios.

Feel free to use only rum or only cognac instead of the rum-cognac mixture. It’s true that using two liquors gives a more complex aroma, but the cake is so flavor packed that substitutions won’t be obvious.

200g (1 stick and 6 Tablespoons) butter
225g (1 cup + 1.5 Tablespoons) sugar
6 large eggs
300g (2 cups + 2 Tablespoons) all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
250 g (6oz) dried fruit and nuts (raisins, chopped walnuts, chopped candied orange peel)
1 Tablespoon rum
1 Tablespoon cognac
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 175C/350F.

Wash raisins, drain well, dry with a paper towel and sprinkle with 1 Tablespoon of rum. Set aside.

Sift flour with baking powder.

Whip butter and sugar with a handheld mixer until pale. Add eggs one by one, mixing well after each addition and alternating each egg with a spoonful of flour. Once all eggs have been added, mix in vanilla extract and 1 Tablespoon of cognac. Fold in the rest of the flour and mix well.

Sprinkle dried fruit and nuts with a little bit of flour and mix. Fold into the dough.

Butter and flour a 8 3/4″ x 4 3/4″ (22cm x 12cm) rectangular mold. Pour in the batter, smooth the top and make a cut in the middle with a damp knife. Bake at 175C/350F for 40min. Then reduce to 160C/320F and bake for about 30-40min or until a wooden stick plunged into the middle of the cake comes out dry. Cool in the mold. Enjoy!

Дарія Цвєк, До Святкового Столу. Видавництво “Каменяр”, Львів, 1973.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

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68 Comments

  • Liz: I enjoyed the story you shared as much as the recipe. My daughter loves to bake, maybe I can inspire her to try it. February 1, 2017 at 8:38am Reply

    • Victoria: I also like dishes with stories. It’s a pleasure to cook from this book, not to mention that it has great recipes. February 1, 2017 at 9:46am Reply

  • Phyllis Iervello: Victoria, I love your stories and your recipes. I used to love rum raisin ice cream and I’m sure I would love this cake. February 1, 2017 at 9:55am Reply

    • Victoria: That’s my favorite ice cream flavor, after chocolate and hazelnut! This cake reminds me of it. When I made it last weekend again, I macerated raisins in rum overnight, and the flavor was even stronger. February 1, 2017 at 10:00am Reply

  • Gina: This is so easy! I am Ukrainian, too, but never read her cookbook. I did just read the iconic Classic Russian cooking : Elena Molokhovets’ A gift to young housewives. February 1, 2017 at 9:55am Reply

    • Victoria: I cooked from Molokhovets’s book a lot, and although her recipes are sketchy, I enjoyed the results. The translation in English omits some of my favorite recipes, however.

      Tsvek was never translated into English, and even in Ukraine only one of her books (Sweet Baking, a gem) was republished. That’s a shame, because she’s so creative and her recipes are easy and delicious. February 1, 2017 at 10:04am Reply

      • Gina: Thank you for translating and converting for nonmetric! Unfortunately, I am not fluent in Ukrainian. I know a few words here and there. My great grandparents came over around 1900, and so much language and tradition has been lost. February 1, 2017 at 10:06am Reply

        • Victoria: At least, you know some words, which is already impressive, considering how long ago your great grandparents left Ukraine. Have you ever visited? February 1, 2017 at 12:20pm Reply

          • Gina: I took a Ukrainian class for 12 weeks and learned to read Cyrrilic and a lot of nouns/names of things and greetings. I would love to visit but have not due to time and money. I only get 10 days off per year, including sick time. I have gone to Egypt and Europe. I want to visit Moscow, St. Petersburg, India, Ukraine and Prague. But, that requires lots of time for any of those trips from U.S. My grandfather’s family is from Chornyi Lis. Grandmother’s is from Drohobych. February 1, 2017 at 12:25pm Reply

            • Victoria: I completely understand, Gina. The first three places on your list are either expensive (the Russian visa alone is several hundred dollars) or require a long time to explore (India, which can’t be done in a week). If your family is from the western part of Ukraine, you can visit Lviv quite easily and probably combine it with Prague. No visa required either. Although of course, traveling to Europe from the US still requires significant time commitment. February 1, 2017 at 1:00pm Reply

            • AndreaR: Gina, I hope one day you will be able to travel to Ukraine. I traveled there a number of years ago on a folk arts tour and was lucky enough to visit the ancestral villages of my maternal and paternal grandparents in western Ukraine. It was a journey that made my spirit dance and my soul sing. February 1, 2017 at 4:48pm Reply

  • Kaitlin: This sounds delicious! I love the smell of rum in baked goods. Thanks for sharing! February 1, 2017 at 10:05am Reply

    • Victoria: It’s definitely one of my favorite liquors for baking, so I was happy to discover this recipe. February 1, 2017 at 12:19pm Reply

  • Phyllis Iervello: Rum raisin is high on my list of favorites (in ice cream and gelato). My other favorites are pistachio and vanilla. When I get a gelato cone, it’s usually one scoop of pistachio and one scoop of rum raisin. Now I am craving a gelato! February 1, 2017 at 11:55am Reply

    • Victoria: Me too. I was also thinking that one could substitute pistachios for walnuts in this case. That would look very pretty–a mosaic of green, gold and chocolate on the yellow background. February 1, 2017 at 12:21pm Reply

    • maja: Those are my faves, too. Vanilla, pistacchio, rum and coffee. 🙂 February 2, 2017 at 11:04am Reply

  • Susan: Thanks for the delightful article and recipe, Victoria.
    After reading this morning, I was inspired for an afternoon of baking – headed out to my local bulk store for the raisins, peel and nuts. I’ve just taken the cake out of the oven and it looks and smells heavenly.
    A special treat for a snowy day.

    On another note, my chosen perfume today is Oranger en fleurs. It reminds me of a sunny day I spent in Marrakech at the Badi Palace. All the Orange Trees were in blossom. February 1, 2017 at 4:17pm Reply

    • Victoria: Wow! I’m so happy that you liked it. Incidentally, I think that orange flower water would also work well with that mixture.

      Enjoy the cake! February 2, 2017 at 3:18am Reply

  • AndreaR: I love reading cook books and this one sounds especially interesting. I’m tempted to find a copy of Daria’s book even though I don’t read Ukrainian. I love the story of the potato, egg and mayo salad recipe making its way across the Soviet Union under different names. I did find a similar recipe for a potato, egg and sour cream casserole in Savella Stechishin’s Traditional Ukrainian Cookery. It’s served hot and not as a salad. All so interesting. February 1, 2017 at 4:41pm Reply

    • Victoria: There were a few others, but this salad is the most prominent one. I also found in a Kazakh cookbook right next to the chapter on cooking camel. 🙂

      I think that Savella’s version is a Hungarian inspired dish called rakkott krumpli. My mom also makes a delicious fish casserole with potatoes and eggs. February 2, 2017 at 3:16am Reply

  • Olivia: Lovely back story. I can’t wait to make this for my husband; he will love it. Thank you for putting non-metric measurements, as an American I breathed a sigh of relief upon reading the recipe! February 1, 2017 at 5:02pm Reply

    • Victoria: Some recipes are hard to covert, but this wasn’t one of them. I like that these days even the American cookbooks publish baking recipes with the metric and non-metric measurements. Makes it comfortable for all. February 2, 2017 at 3:12am Reply

      • Olivia: Good. We need to get on the metric bandwagon. Getting into perfume has taught me I can think in milliliters rather than ounces. 😉 February 2, 2017 at 10:40am Reply

        • Victoria: It’s easier, I think! Certainly, baking with a scale is way easier and quicker than baking with cups, not to mention more reliable. I got my little Salter scale in the States for about $20. February 2, 2017 at 11:12am Reply

  • zephyr: Victoria, this looks delicious, perfect with hot tea or coffee! I can’t have gluten so will try it with one of my gluten-free mixes. February 2, 2017 at 12:41am Reply

    • Victoria: Yes, it calls for a cup of tea and coffee. Perfect on these cold days. February 2, 2017 at 3:10am Reply

  • Notturno7: Thank you so much! I can’t wait to try this!😋💖 February 2, 2017 at 1:08am Reply

    • Victoria: Hope that you like it! February 2, 2017 at 3:10am Reply

  • Jillie: Oh yes, rum and raisin, a fabulous pairing. Like several readers, these flavours have long been a favourite of mine in ice-cream – even when I was just a little girl! Can’t wait to try this.

    I am always intrigued to see just how similar recipes and tastes are in the different countries that make up Eastern Europe. It should be no surprise I suppose – boundaries there are usually human-made, not oceans – and the Winter Salad is a dish that my Polish friend always makes for me. It is no surprise either that the Russian government even took ownership of cooking ……

    Your collection of cookery books must be amazing. February 2, 2017 at 1:44am Reply

    • Victoria: To me the regional cuisines and tastes are very different, apart from a few standard recipes that everyone makes. Of course, you find potato salads in different countries, but by same token you can find this winter salad as far as Italy and Spain too, where it’s a standard offer until the name of Insalata Russa. And in Iran. When I was planning my wedding in India, our caterer kept insisting that we included “the Russian salad” as part of the spread, because “everyone likes it.” I imagined vats of mayonnaise laden salad stewed in the tropical heat and vetoed the idea.

      In my family, winter salad, or salad Olivier, is usually made with boiled potatoes, boiled carrots, boiled eggs, canned peas, bologna sausage and gherkins, all cut into small cubes and dressed with mayonnaise. I’m not a fan.

      The original Salad Olivier created sometime at the end of the 19th century includes vegetables, langoustines, grouse and caviar. A bit different. 🙂 I don’t think I’ve met a grouse until I moved to Belgium, and in the Soviet times the very name was associated with the “decadent” bourgeoisie that does nothing but eats “grouse and pineapple” and exploits the working classes. Yes, you can write a whole history using this salad alone! February 2, 2017 at 3:10am Reply

      • Jillie: Oh, you’ve just triggered another childhood memory/nightmare – a truly horrible tinned “Russian Salad”. It comprised little cubes of undercooked potato and carrot, lots of synthetic, vinegary salad “cream”, and strange peas. Yuk.

        Yes, Russian Salad at your wedding – not a good, appropriate or tasty idea! February 2, 2017 at 4:05am Reply

        • Victoria: Can’t even process this idea or imagine the taste. Which is probably for the best. 🙂 February 2, 2017 at 4:23am Reply

  • Michael: Victoria, your Rum, Raison Cake recipe will send me to the fat farm, but I’m still going to try it at least once. 🙂 February 2, 2017 at 3:29am Reply

    • Victoria: A slice of cake won’t do quite that. 🙂 It’s delicious enough, though, so it might be hard to stop at only one piece. February 2, 2017 at 4:22am Reply

  • maja: Thank you! I have been craving something with raisins soaked in rum for a long time and might tackle this recipe on Sunday since it will rain 🙂
    I got a Soviet cooking book (with recipes from all Soviet republics) as a gift from my Russian teacher a long time ago but have never cooked from it as there are no pics. Silly, I know.
    Hugs! February 2, 2017 at 11:03am Reply

    • Victoria: Do let me know how it goes!

      I think I know which book you have. Most of those compilations are hard to cook from, because the recipes are too sketchy. Also, many of them are boring. Oddly enough, some of the best Soviet cookbooks are the manuals for the food industry from the late 1930s or 1950s. The earlier ones shamelessly plagiarize the pre-revolution cookbooks, but they offer thoroughly tested recipes, while the latter have an interesting assortment and more regional dishes. February 2, 2017 at 11:20am Reply

  • Jeanne: This recipe sounds delicious! I want to try it with cherries, apricots and pistachios. Would you soak the cherries in cognac before baking? February 2, 2017 at 11:07am Reply

    • Victoria: I would! I just don’t recommend adding too much, since you don’t want to make the batter too wet. 1-2 Tablespoons will be plenty. February 2, 2017 at 11:21am Reply

      • Jeanne: Hi Victoria-I made the cake with dried cherries and apricots and toasted hazelnuts. I soaked the fruit in Grand Marnier Natural Cherry liqueur. It was fabulous. I would definitely use pistachios next time I make it though!😊 February 8, 2017 at 1:02pm Reply

        • Victoria: I’m so happy to hear that it was a success. Thank you very much for letting me know. February 9, 2017 at 10:13am Reply

  • irem: The cake looks delicious, just the right thing to go with a nice cup of tea. I have one question: Is there really no leavening agent in it? Your baked cake looks nicely risen. I sometimes get squatter loaves despite adding baking powder. February 2, 2017 at 11:24am Reply

    • Victoria: There is 1 teaspoon of baking powder. Actually, too much of leavening can actually make cakes sink. Also, to get a nice rise, it’s important to start off the cake in the hot oven and then lower the temperature. February 2, 2017 at 11:47am Reply

  • Liz: I don’t typically like any liquor flavor in baked goods, or any desserts for that matter. But, the rest of this recipe sounds so good that maybe I could try it and substitute the rum for Cointreau which doesn’t have as strong of an alcohol flavor. Or would anyone have a non-alcoholic suggestion for soaking the raisins? February 2, 2017 at 2:09pm Reply

    • Victoria: You can skip alcohol altogether and just add vanilla and lemon zest for flavor. Raisins don’t really get soaked, just perfumed. So I would just wash them and let them be. With all of these ingredients, and minus rum, you will still have a delicious cake. February 2, 2017 at 2:26pm Reply

  • Austenfan: I love cakes with rum-soaked raisins. I used to do an apple pie with rum soaked raisins and cinnamon, that was quite nice.

    On another note, I don’t know if you are a fan of The Great British Bake Off, I somehow never watched it, though I had seen interviews with Mary Berry, but recently the 2015 winner was a guest on Graham Norton. She was such fun, and seems to have gotten so much out of it, that I rewatched some of those episodes; very enjoyable and rather hunger-inducing. February 2, 2017 at 4:25pm Reply

    • Victoria: I tried little pastries from Patisserie Holtkamp in Amsterdam filled with cooked apples and rum soaked raisins, and those were fantastic. That shop is probably one of my top 5 favorite bakeries anywhere.

      I love the Great British Bake Off, and I’m disappointed that the show will either be cancelled or proceed without Mary Berry and the Mel & Sue duo. It won’t be the same. The 2015 season was one of my favorites, and I loved Nadia. I watched a show following her return to Bangladesh, and it was moving, and of course, very interesting. February 3, 2017 at 3:34am Reply

      • Austenfan: I rather thought that you would enjoy the program. It’s a shame about the show not continuing in its current format, just such a great mix of people. Nadiya is something else isn’t she? I watched a bit of her story about Bangladesh, and I agree.

        I know you love Holtkamp. I still intend to buy his book. I don’t bake very often though, as it mostly means I will have to finish the result by myself, but when I do, I enjoy it very much. February 3, 2017 at 3:42am Reply

        • Victoria: I don’t remember what was the issue, either the channel changed management or it was sold. Either way, Mary, Sue and Mel left.

          I made only a few things from Holtkamp’s book, but the recipes were easy and successful. February 3, 2017 at 3:59am Reply

          • Austenfan: The production company sold it to Channel 4, upon which Mel and Sue immediately announced they would leave it, and Mary followed a little later. February 3, 2017 at 4:20am Reply

            • Victoria: I will miss them. February 3, 2017 at 11:43am Reply

              • Austenfan: I completely understand. Shame about such a lovely programme, but maybe it’s better this way. At least they ended on a high. February 4, 2017 at 4:56pm Reply

  • Aurora: A recipe post, wonderful! I made a rum raisin cake not long ago but this recipe is more sophisticated and I love the idea of rum + brandy. I am also relieved that all those eggs are used whole – I never know how not to waste either yolk or egg white with some recipes. February 2, 2017 at 5:07pm Reply

    • Victoria: Egg whites freeze well, but honestly, I always forget that I froze them. Generally, I just save them to use in an omelet. But I like not having to separate eggs. February 3, 2017 at 3:36am Reply

  • Inma: Hello!
    Very lazy for cooking these years. Just the very basic things. Fortunately, my daughter who is 14 likes it very much. Our oven is broken and she is asking me a new one. This article reminds me the pleasure I feel when cooking with enough time and not just becuse “I have to”. For me it is absolutely different.
    The article also makes me feel that my daughter deserves a new oven so she can practice the recipes that are taking her attention!

    Thank you, as always, for your article and have a nice weekend! February 3, 2017 at 8:47am Reply

    • Victoria: During our first few months in Belgium we didn’t have an oven in our apartment, and I realize then how much I missed it. Yes, I think your daughter need a new oven. 🙂

      Have a nice weekend! February 3, 2017 at 11:44am Reply

  • Tara C: Looks delicious, I will try it! I love baking. Thanks for sharing the story, photos and recipe. February 3, 2017 at 10:19pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you. Do let me know if you end up trying it! February 4, 2017 at 8:42am Reply

  • Toni: Victoria your recipes are wonderful!
    I made the rum raisin cake with spiced rum from a bottle I bought in Grenada. Only 3 oz. of liquid were allowed through customs, so I poured it out and kept the bottle with spices. I was told if I added rum it would pick up the spice. I soaked the raisins in it and then poured some of the extra into the batter.
    Then, I couldn’t find candied orange peel, but thanks to Martha Stewart I made my own. Thank you for this delicious recipe. February 6, 2017 at 2:14pm Reply

    • Victoria: I’m very happy to hear this. Spiced rum can only improve the recipe even further. Enjoy it! February 7, 2017 at 10:56am Reply

  • Doreen: Love these old recipes. Somewhere in storage I have some old Bohemian cookbooks which make little sense to modern chefs/bakers.

    I want this bread right now! February 6, 2017 at 2:34pm Reply

    • Victoria: I have one cookbook published in Prague in the 19th century in the kind of German font that looks beautiful (and to me, almost unreadable). February 7, 2017 at 10:57am Reply

      • Doreen: Ah – thanks for your response! Sorry to take so long to answer – I moved into a new home and things went crazy for a time. But during the move I found the old Bohemian cookbook! (That one you have sounds super).

        On the back cover it says the book is a direct translation from a book printed in 1906 originally. There’s no measurements and somewhat vague quantities – it’s just short little paragraphs Just wonderful!

        No rum raisin, but you have inspired me to try the poppy seed cakes… March 2, 2017 at 9:10pm Reply

        • Victoria: Sounds really good. I love anything with poppyseeds. March 3, 2017 at 2:44am Reply

          • Doreen: and rum. giggle! March 3, 2017 at 3:49pm Reply

  • Neva: This recipe sounds lovely. I love juicy cakes flavoured with rum and vanilla! I will try it out during the weekend for sure. Thanks so much for sharing.
    My grandmother was a cooking teacher during in the 1940-ies and 1950-ies. I have a huge notebook with her recipes written by hand in ink divided into sections like Soups, Meat, Fish, Entrees, Stews, Sauces, Salads, Potato dishes, Souffles, Doughs, Puddings, Cremes, Various cakes, Small pastry. I think there are some 300 recipes in total. When I’m in the mood and have plenty of time, I love to recreate some of her dishes, mostly meat and cakes. It’s so different from today’s recipes because it uses only the basic ingredients. February 6, 2017 at 4:20pm Reply

    • Victoria: You’re so lucky to have those cookbooks. Which recipes do you make most often from them? February 7, 2017 at 11:00am Reply

      • Neva: I never do something twice. The recipes are very complicated, my grandma’s handwriting is hard to read so I must rewrite it first. I’ve tried a few cakes: a chestnut cake, a “white cake”, mocca cake. I’ve tried also her chicken pate, stuffed chicken, veal with peas, some soups… February 8, 2017 at 3:58pm Reply

        • Victoria: It also sounds very haute cuisine and delicious. February 9, 2017 at 10:17am Reply

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