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This is what a rum cake should taste like

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Heather Gillis was helping out a friend when she came across a stack of handwritten traditional recipes.

Her eyes lit up.

She asked her friend if she could have them and then spent the following weeks testing them in the kitchen.

“There was a loquat chutney, cassava pie, hot water ginger bread and all these Bermudian recipes,” the 55-year-old said. “They were all good, but the rum cake was my favourite.

“It was so moist and delicious and had a really smooth texture. I thought, this is what a rum cake should taste like.”

She loved them so much she started selling Bermudaful Black Rum Cakes just over a year ago.

The treats are made without chemicals, additives or preservatives.

“About a year ago Kenny [Rawlins] from Kenny's Kitchen invited me to start baking for him,” she said.

“We went to the corporate shopping nights and started to take orders for the rum cakes. Last Christmas alone we made a couple hundred of them. At that point they had taken off with locals. People really loved them.”

They became a hit with tourists after she started selling them at Go Jo's, a crafts shop on King Street, St George.

“My friend owns the store and I said to her, ‘I have an old Bermuda recipe for rum cake that's very old and very good. I found it while helping someone clean out their grandmother's house — it was actually in her grandmother's own handwriting. It's the best recipe out there. We have to put this in your shop'.”

Ms Gillis worked in corporate support at CellOne before she started her baking business.

“It was pretty smooth sailing setting up a small business,” she said. “I think my experience in the business world helped me and all the contacts I had were useful. Word of mouth was also a huge help. We sent out e-mails and messages on Facebook and encouraged people to come get their rum cakes at Kenny's. It was the locals that pushed my business and from there the word of mouth just travelled around.

“I think the cost of them is important too, because they aren't overpriced. They cost between $8 and $45, which is reasonable for the average person to buy.”

Ms Gillis wakes up at 4am to ensure customers get rum cakes made that day.

She makes them in small batches so she can “bake the love into them”.

She stuck to the original recipe as much as possible, but had to make a few tweaks.

“One of the challenges when I first started trying out the recipe was getting the temperature correct,” she said. “The recipe didn't say what temperature and how long the cake should cook for.

“You don't want it to be dry, but if it's too moist that's not good either. We got it down to the right temperature and proper amount of time through trial and error.

“Another thing was there was no amount of rum listed on the recipe either, so we experimented with that as well. The trick is to add lots of rum — that's what makes them so good. I think over a cup of rum is key. You don't just want to smell the rum, you want to taste it in every bite.”

Ms Gillis is originally from Halifax, Nova Scotia. Her husband Darren Edwards encouraged her to leave her job and pursue her passion for baking.

“Growing up my mother was a great baker and I just tagged along as a young girl with her in the kitchen,” she said.

“I would make all types of fine chocolates and wedding, birthday and special-occasion cakes. I do all the rolled fondant with beautiful handmade sugar flowers. It was always my hobby, all my life.

“I would work in the corporate world all day and then come home and bake in the evening to unwind. That was my release, to relax.”

She admitted to having to adjust. At CellOne she'd made quick decisions and answered customer calls and e-mails at lightning speed.

“I was in constant motion so it took a long time for me to be able to slow down and really focus that energy into my creativity and my cakes,” she said.

“There's a peaceful side to what I do now, but I did miss the corporate world because I had done it for so many years. Now I like the slower pace of life. I just want to bake and cook all day, every day.”

• E-mail hmgillis@gmail.com or phone 333-8378.

Heather Gillis has sold hundreds of her Bermudaful Black Rum Cakes since she found the traditional recipe while helping out a friend. (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Heather Gillis has sold hundreds of her Bermudaful Black Rum Cakes since she found the traditional recipe while helping out a friend. (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

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Published December 22, 2015 at 8:00 am (Updated December 21, 2015 at 11:08 pm)

This is what a rum cake should taste like

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