Dessert was a rare thing growing up. I'm not sure if it's just because my mom doesn't have much of a sweet tooth, if it was more that she doesn't like to bake, or that Haitians in general aren't very big on dessert. Whatever the reason, we very rarely had dessert with an average meal.
I know of a handful of Haitian desserts, but the most common one seemed to be Haitian cake, and even that seemed to be limited to weddings and graduation parties (I can only assume that it came standard at those events because someone wanted a place to write someone's name and say congratulations).
I'm a fan of desserts, though, and I've kind of adopted the American mentality that a dinner party isn't complete without something sweet. My mom used to have guests bring the dessert for dinner parties, and I kind of defaulted to that for a while. However, given that I think Haitian food is the best, and that a good number of my friends had never had any Haitian food before meeting me, I wanted to give them a way to experience as much Haitian food as I could possibly dream up, which meant creating a dessert.
Unfortunately, because my baking experience is admittedly limited, and the recipe for Haitian cake seemed to be a well-hidden secret reserved for the one or two bakers in town, I went through a process of trial and error trying to come up with a real Haitian cake.
I scoured the internet looking for the right recipe, but everything always seemed slightly off. I finally found one that came close, but some of the measurements for the ingredients and the instructions resulted in a few disasters. After much trial and error, I’m happy to say that I was finally able to come up with something I think really works.
The recipe calls for rum and vanilla extract. If you can get your hands on some Barbancourt or Haitian Vanilla, you’ll end up with a real authentic cake, but feel free to substitute your favorite brand of rum and/or vanilla extract since those ingredients may be hard to come by.
I should mention that the recipe will make two cakes (or two layers, depending on what you do with it). Also, even when it was available, my mom always made sure we took off the frosting before we ate the cake (which is why I still eat cake without it). Since I'm not a big fan of frosting, I haven't included a recipe for it below. However, if you feel like you just can’t live without it (or if you, too, need a way to write a name on the cake), I’d recommend a cream cheese frosting.
Vanilla Lime Rum Cake (Haitian Cake)
Ingredients: 1 lime zest 3 eggs 1 1/2 cups of sugar 2 sticks of butter 2 tablespoons dark rum 1 can evaporated milk pinch of salt 2 cups all-purpose flour 3 teaspoons baking powder 2 tablespoons of vanilla extract
Directions: 1. Preheat oven to 350° F. 2. Using an electric mixer, mix sugar, eggs, butter, and lime zest on low speed for about five minutes. 3. Stir in rum, evaporated milk, and flour and turn the mixer to medium-low. 4. Add salt, baking powder, and vanilla extract and mix well for about 25 minutes until the mixture is smooth and fluffy. 5. Grease two 8” baking pans and pour the battered mixture into both pans (fill each only halfway to allow room for the cake to rise). 6. Bake both pans together for about 35 minutes. (To test, insert a knife or toothpick in the center of the cake. It is fully baked if it comes out clean).
P.S. I've been adding frosting to this recently. While I still prefer unfrosted, apparently most people disagree. This is a picture of the finished product.
📷 Cream cheese and coconut frosting