South Park Magazine

November 15, 2012

Snapshot: Ken Vining

Former White Sox pitcher trades his baseball glove for oven mitts.

This former White Sox pitcher and current stay-at-home dad has traded his baseball glove for oven mitts. Encouraged by his wife, photographer Kristin Vining, to take his hobby to the next level, Ken Vining founded A Bum’s Rum Cake out of his home kitchen. Hand-made rum cakes are shipped to customers across the country, and Vining proudly describes the confections as “so moist you’ll need a spoon.” With an assortment of flavors like vanilla, coconut and chocolate, A Bum’s Rum Cakes is a pitch that’s tough to resist heading into the hectic holiday season. $39.95 per cake (free shipping).

I started baking rum cakes after I tried one on vacation in the Caribbean seven years ago. A couple months after I returned home, I decided to make a rum cake myself. At the time, I didn’t know the first thing about making cakes. I taught myself how to bake. I’ve always enjoyed experimenting with flavors and recipes; cakes are fun to make because you’re constantly inventing ways to make it better.

Friends and family inspired me to trade baseball for baking. My family kept this cake in constant demand, and it started to become a requested dessert at friends’ parties or a gift for my kids’ teachers during the holidays. People kept telling me to sell my cakes, and when it was time to do something other than baseball, I went for it.

Throwing pitches and baking cakes both involve experimenting and tinkering with techniques. In baseball, you try to improve your mechanics to discover a new pitch or more efficient way to move your arm. With baking cakes, it’s important to figure out the mechanics of the recipe. Small adjustments on things like ingredient proportions, cook times and placement in the oven make a huge difference on the flavor of the cake. And on the business side, there are endless ways to improve advertising, packaging and shipping. Baseball and baking cakes are constant experiments.

A Bum’s Rum Cake is special. I have tried a lot of rum cakes and they were always pretty good. But those cakes were never moist enough and tasted like the rum was an afterthought; most cakes are so dry you need an entire glass of milk to wash it down. A Bum’s Rum Cake is extremely moist and has a great, intense rum flavor. I use good rum that’s on the sweeter side – and I use lots of it.

I can only tell you one of my secret ingredients: my wife, Kristin. Kristin and a close friend lit the fire beneath me to start this business, and Kristin gives me the motivation to keep going. It has been a tremendous learning experience. Surround yourself with people who help you grab life by the horns. That’s the secret ingredient to make great cakes and an even sweeter life.

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