From the Couch of Ben Johnson

Father, Principal Engineer at Prodigy Education, serial hyperbolist.

Lou’s Rum Cake

In April, my grandfather, Lou Siminovitch, passed after 100 incredible years.

He was famous in science circles for significant contributions to the study of genetics, the mentoring of hundreds of scientists, and sending letters to people to tell them how to do their jobs better. Later in life, the relationship he had with his wife provided fuel for the Siminovitch Prize in Theatre, the largest prize for theatre in Canada. He was honoured with the Order of Canada, the Flavelle Medal, and a slew of other awards. Personally, he had an incalculable impact on my worldview, ethics, motivations, and personality. He was a giant of a man.

But since he passed, the thing I keep thinking about is the rum cake. Of all his accomplishments, Lou wasn’t a great cook. It wasn’t an area that he was particularly interested in — a distraction from more critical pursuits. But he found himself in need of something he could bring to events he was invited to. Supposedly, some decades ago, my grandmother clipped a recipe for a rum cake out of a magazine and Lou made it ever since.

For as long as I can remember, he always had the ingredients to make this one cake on hand. They’re shelf stable, so they occasionally gathered dust. But if an event came up and he needed to bring something he’d whip up a rum cake the night before.

I don’t know why this is the thing that I’ve been thinking about the most since he passed. I think it’s just something that I loved about him. It’s so utilitarian and yet thoughtful. Lou was all about striving for excellence. But his focus wasn’t on being a world class chef, it was about being a world class scientist. He didn’t have a huge range he could draw from, but he could make this one excellent rum cake, and that would do. It allowed him to focus on the things that he really felt were important, while also sharing some joy.

And it really is a ridiculously excellent cake.

Lou’s Rum Cake


The recipe calls for having a Bundt pan. You can do it without one, but it’s much better (and more traditional) with one. And then you’ll be ready to make huge 60’s-style jello moulds.




  1. Set oven to 350º F
  2. Grease and flour the Bundt pan.
  3. Place pecans at the bottom of the pan.
  4. Mix together all the cake ingredients and dump into the pan, and bake for one hour.
  5. About 15 minutes before the cake is done, make the glaze. Add the butter, sugar, and water into a pot. Bring to a boil while stirring vigorously. Boil for a few minutes and then take off the heat and add the rum.
  6. While the cake is still hot, poke a bunch of holes in the top with a knitting needle or a chopstick. You want enough holes that the glaze can drip into the cake, but not so many that when you turn the cake out it’ll fall apart. Drizzle the glaze over the cake (and into the holes).
  7. Allow the cake to cool and then turn out.