For the Cakes
- 2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- Pinch of salt
- 2 1/3 cups of sugar
- 2 plump, moist vanilla beans, split lengthwise, seeds scraped out and reserved, or 1 1/2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
- 6 large eggs, preferably at room temperature
- 2/3 cup of heavy cream
- 2 1/2 tablespoons dark rum
- 1 stick plus 7 tablespoons (15 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
For the Syrup
- 1/3 cup water
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup dark rum
Getting Ready: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 8 1/2-x-4 1/2-x-2 1/2 -inch loaf pans, dust the insides with flour and tap out the excess. (Even if the pans are nonstick, it’s a good idea to butter and flour them.) Place the pans on an insulated baking sheet or on two regular sheets stacked one on top of the other.
Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together.
Put the sugar and the pulp from the vanilla beans, if using them, in a large bowl and, working with your fingers, rub them together until the sugar is moist and thoroughly imbued with the fragrance of vanilla. (If you are using vanilla extract, add it later, after you’ve added the eggs.) Add the eggs and whisk them into the sugar, beating until they are thoroughly incorporated. Whisk in the extract, if you are using it, then whisk in the cream, followed by the rum. Continuing with the whisk or switching to a large rubber spatula, gently stir in the dry ingredients in 3 or 4 additions; the batter will be smooth and thick. Finish by folding in the melted butter in 2 or 3 additions. Pour the batter into the pans, smoothing the tops with a rubber spatula.
Bake for 55 to 60 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean. (As soon as the cakes go into the oven, make the syrup.) After about 30 minutes in the oven, check the cakes for color–if they are browning too quickly, cover them lightly with foil tents.
Meanwhile, Make the Syrup: Stir the water and sugar together in a medium saucepan over medium heat until the sugar melts, then bring to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the rum. Pour the syrup into a heatproof bowl and let cool.
When the cakes test done, transfer them to a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes before unmolding them and turning them right side up on the rack. Place the rack over a baking sheet lined with wax paper and, using a thin skewer, cake tester or thin-blade sharp knife, poke holes all over the cakes. Brush the cakes all over with the syrup, working slowly so that the cakes sop it up. Leave the cakes on the rack to cool to room temperature.