Booze Up Your Apple Cake with Rum Sauce

We all harbor secret fantasies of moving away, starting a café, and feeding people. Every month, Sarah Kieffer from the Vanilla Bean Blog will be indulging us with stories and recipes from the Wolners, who own the Blue Heron Coffeehouse in Winona, Minnesota.

Today: Give boozy cakes a chance with this apple rum cake. 

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I took a lot away from my time at the Blue Heron Coffeehouse. There were the usual food service things: I could smile and banter with customers while simultaneously composing papers due that same afternoon; my math skills were put to good use on an old cash register that didn’t tell me how much change I needed to give back (this was when people still carried wrinkled dollar bills in their pockets); and I knew people by their insanely detailed, complicated drink orders. Still today, when I visit Winona, I see a face on the street and may not recall a name, but mutter there is medium half-caff hazelnut latte with no froth.

I also learned valuable kitchen skills. I was taught how to slice and dice onions properly, how to make yeasted breads, and how to bake the perfect scone. Colleen helped me through pies and cakes, and Larry instructed me on the importance of approaching my work confidently, but humbly. My time in the Blue Heron kitchen spilled over into my home kitchen, and their recipes and guidance followed me from dorm to apartment, and then from house to house. My basic kitchen work skills became a practice in my life, and I learned to expand on them in my own time, and share them with my own family. Looking back I see how all those nights mopping floors and making piles of Greek veggie sandwiches during the lunch rush eventually led to making that chocolate chip cookie with the perfect amount of salt and chocolate, and that simple apple cake soaked with rum sauce. 

Because that apple cake with rum sauce! So easy to put together, with some butter and sugar and flour and apples. The cake itself isn’t terribly fancy, but as the rum sauce spills down the sides and sinks into the very core, it’s a true Christmas miracle. Simple, honest, and earthy, with a hint of extravagant: It’s the Blue Heron all wrapped up in a cake.  

“I don’t know what rituals my kids will carry into adulthood, whether they’ll grow up attached to homemade pizza on Friday nights, or the scent of peppers roasting over a fire, or what. I do know that flavors work their own ways under the skin, into the heart of longing. Where my kids are concerned I find myself hoping for the simplest things: that if someday they crave orchards where their kids can climb into the branches and steal apples, the world will have trees enough with arms to receive them.”
-- Barbara Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Apple Cake with Rum Sauce

Serves 8

 cup all-purpose flour
 teaspoon baking soda
 teaspoon salt
 teaspoon cinnamon
 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
 cup sugar
teaspoon vanilla
 cup water
cup toasted pecans or walnuts, chopped

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by Sarah Kieffer

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A baker's soliloquy. You can follow along at


Baker B. January 12, 2015
Holy moly I will definitely be making this cake. Apple and rum and caramel go so well together. I'm thinking spiced rum though!
Stacy F. December 4, 2014
I love the story behind this cake. I need something traditional yet interesting to bring to the table at Christmas time and this will do the trick. Thanks for sharing and let the rum sauce keep coming.
Elizabeth S. December 4, 2014
Such a good quote. A nice reminder as we approach the holidays that the best memories aren't necessarily clear in the moment. They pop up later, with smells and texture and –– in the best cases –– a rum sauce soaked apple cake.
cucina D. December 3, 2014
Sarah ~ I love this recipe and will be trying it soon. I too adore boozy cakes, my recipe for a Babba Rum Cake is posted in my collection, a famiglia favorite at every holiday and on occasion, at a Monday evening dinner.