Thankful Butterscotch Cake

Most people think of leftovers as being confined to savory offerings, but this cake will last forever. It’s a very adult dessert, as it includes a quantity of rum that doesn’t get cooked out, and it’s so rich that very thin slices are the way to go. If you store it in the refrigerator and can restrain yourself, you can snack on it for up to two weeks. But beware, you might not be able to resist.–Bill Telepan and Andrew Friedman

LC Liar! Note:

Not to sully the reputation of chef Bill Telepan, but we’re thinking he’s a liar, promising that a cake as sleek and stunning as this butterscotch besmeared stack “will last forever.” Please. Not in our households.

He’s sneaky in another way, too. Rather than making us fussily slice standard cake layers into skinny, crumb-ridden layers to achieve this stacked effect, he ingeniously bakes just a little batter at a time, essentially creating multiple sturdy, ready-to-layer cakes that are a dream to slather with icing. Sort of more than makes up for that fib he told.

Special Equipment: Candy thermometer

Butterscotch Cake Recipe

  • Quick Glance
  • 45 M
  • 2 H
  • Serves 16 to 20

Ingredients

  • For the butterscotch icing
  • 1 1/4 cups dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup corn syrup
  • 8 tablespoons butter
  • 3 cups heavy cream
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 3 tablespoons dark rum
  • For the cake
  • 3 1/3 cups flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 18 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 2 1/4 cups very fine turbinado sugar or granulated brown sugar (such as Domino’s Brownulated Sugar) or very fine turbinado sugar)
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup dark rum
  • 1 cup milk, preferably whole

Directions

  • Make the butterscotch icing
  • 1. Combine the sugars, corn syrup, butter, cream, and salt in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan to which you’ve attached a candy thermometer. Place it over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring continuously, until the butterscotch mixture comes to a boil. Have another pot of a similar size ready and on the side, off the heat. When the butterscotch mixture begins to boil, stir it frequently, taking care not to scrape the side of the pan. Cook at a full boil until the mixture reaches 242°F (120°C).
  • 2. Immediately pour the butterscotch into the empty pot. (Do not scrape the sides or bottom of the saucepan with the spoon, as this could cause the icing to crystallize.) Immediately and carefully add the vanilla and rum to the icing, pouring from a good height above the pot. (If you pour from too close to the pot, the icing will steam and potentially burn you.) Stir to combine. Let the icing cool for 20 minutes, at which point it should be thick yet pourable.
  • Make the cake
  • 3. Cut ten 8-inch circles of parchment or waxed paper. The baking will progress more quickly if you have at least three 8-inch cake pans. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).
  • 4. Combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg in a medium bowl and whisk lightly to combine. Using an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating after each addition. Reduce the speed to low and add half of the flour mixture. Blend well. Add the vanilla, rum, and milk and mix just until the liquid is incorporated. Add the remaining flour mixture and beat until smooth.
  • 5. Work with 3 cake pans at a time, pour a heaping 1/2 cup of batter into each pan. Use a spatula to evenly spread the batter in the bottom of the pans. They will be very skinny cake layers. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, or until the cakes spring back when lightly touched. Cool the layers in the pans slightly, then invert the cakes onto a wire rack to cool completely. Wipe the pans clean and continue to fill and bake with the remaining batter. You will need 9 layers for this cake.
  • 6. When all the cakes have been baked, line the inside of a clean, dry cake pan with plastic wrap. (If the plastic wrap sticks out above the rim of the cake pan, fold it over the outside of the pan.) Peel the paper from the top of one cake layer and invert the layer so it’s upside down in the pan. (Or really, right side up, given that it was upside down on the wire rack.) Ladle about 1/4 cup of the warm butterscotch icing over the cake. Top with another cake layer, paper removed. Continue ladling the filling evenly over each layer. The cake will grow higher than the cake pan as you fill; the cake pan is there just for a little foundational stability. Don’t worry if the edges of the cakes are a bit ragged; you’ll trim them before icing the sides of the cake. Just make sure the cake layers are evenly stacked, as it’s difficult to move a layer once it’s been placed on the icing. If at any point the butterscotch icing becomes too thick to pour easily, place it over low, low heat. Do not top the last cake layer with butterscotch. Refrigerate the cake until chilled completely through, at least 1 hour.
  • 7. Place an 8-inch circle of parchment on top of the cake. Carefully invert the entire stack of layers onto a wire cooling rack. Remove the pan and the plastic wrap. Hold a long, sharp knife lengthwise alongside the cake and trim about 1/4 inch evenly all around, making sure you are not tilting the blade. The cake should be uniformly shaped, not wider at the bottom than the top.
  • 8. Gently reheat the remaining butterscotch icing and pour it over the top and sides of the cake. Let stand until the coating is firm. Slide a metal spatula under the cake and transfer it a serving platter. This cake is best if made a day ahead, although it keeps beautifully for up to 5 days. Let it come to room temperature before slicing and serving.
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Comments
Comments
  1. Angie says:

    I don’t consume alcohol at all.. any suggestions for a substitute?

    • Hi Angie, I don’t consume alcohol either and have been learning how to cook without it for many years. It’s tricky with baking. The flavor and texture will be different. For the caramel: I would leave out the rum and add 3 Tbsp additional cream. In the cake, substitute an additional 1/4 cup milk for the rum. In both cases you can use a bit of rum extract if you adjust the amount of liquid to equal that of the recipe. Just remember, that won’t completely cook off either. You could also increase the vanilla, although it can be bitter if too much is used.

      Happy Baking,

      Donna Rose

  2. Sandy Hill, LC Recipe Tester says:

    I would substitute the 3 Tbls. rum in the filling with 1 tsp. vanilla or almond extract and increase the cream slightly to make the liquid correct. Then, substitute the 1/4 cup rum in the cake with 2 tsp. vanilla or almond extract and increase the milk slightly to make the liquid correct in the cake batter. I’ve done the same substitutions when I didn’t have the correct liquor needed in a recipe and it comes out great, but with a vanilla or almond flavoring. Good luck and happy baking!

    • mary says:

      Vanilla extract has an alcohol content roughly equivalent to rum. So using it as a sub for the rum does not solve the problem for someone who wants to avoid alcohol. In fact, she should avoid all extracts, as they are all alcohol.

      • Beth Price, LC Director of Recipe Testing says:

        Hi Mary, I make my own extract and you’re right, it does pack a wallop. Thankfully, there are non-alcoholic extracts as well as rum syrups that can be easily substituted.

      • David Leite says:

        Mary, thanks for the comment. As you can see below many people have chimed in with non-alcoholic options for vanilla extract during the past two years, but it’s always good to have a reminder.

  3. Michelle, LC Recipe Tester says:

    Angie, I’m a HUGE fan of citrus with caramel. Two substitutions that will give you very different but equally delicious results would be straight up lemon juice, or undiluted orange juice concentrate. Fresh orange juice isn’t bossy enough for me. Hope that helps.

  4. Marilyn Canna, LC Recipe Tester says:

    Hi, Angie. At first I thought this fabulous sounding recipe would be fine with some molasses instead of rum, or an increase in the vanilla, even if using a non-alcoholic extract. The thing is, it’s a two-part question when it comes to a baking recipe—you need a substitute not just for the flavor but also for the moisture, right?

    In the vast cyber culinary universe, I found a great site that actually offers a full alcohol recipe substitution list, http://www.gourmetsleuth.com. They suggest extra non-alcoholic vanilla or rum extracts or pineapple juice flavored with almond extract. It also offers liquid measurement equivalents if you just aim to use water or fruit juice.

  5. Marcia Pilgeram, LC Recipe Tester says:

    Angie, a good substitution for dark rum is Torani Butter Rum syrup. It captures the flavor and aroma of golden rum without the alcohol! Substitute equal amounts in the filling and the cake batter.

  6. Angie says:

    Wow! I’ve never had so many answers for a question! Thanx everyone 4 ur help. I guess i’ll be baking this cake soon. It looks delicious! I’ll make sure to leave a comment here as soon as i eat it :). Thanx again.

  7. Jodi Calhoun says:

    Angie, I have also substituted the Torani Butter Rum Syrup as Marcia suggests, though I “cut” it with half water because I felt like the full rum syrup dose would be too strong.

  8. Joey says:

    Made this over the weekend. Maybe the best cake I’ve ever made. It was AWESOME, and while it was easy to make — both in terms of not having to split layers and using a pourable icing — it looked and tasted like I’d just made something super fancy and impressive. Delicious. Will definitely make it again.

    • Renee Schettler Rossi, LC Editor-in-Chief says:

      You just made my week, Joey. Love to hear that sort of response to a recipe. Appreciate you letting us know…

  9. Tracey says:

    Just made & ate this! Left out the rum & nutmeg and it was still excellent. Will definitely be making this again, thanks.

    • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

      Lovely, Tracy. Glad to hear that you could make the recipe your own. Thanks for letting us know….

    • Julie says:

      Tracey: Did you substitute anything for the rum? I am mostly worried about the butterscotch consistency without it. I don’t mind the flavor, but trying to make this kid-friendly.

  10. Ok, sorry this comment is like 15 yrs after the post, but I just ran across it on Pinterest. I am so absolutely excited to try this recipe, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for posting it. I took one look at the picture and knew right away it was a recipe close to my grandmother’s. Unfortunately, I never got her recipe from her, and it has and will always be a huge regret of mine (she’s suffering from dementia and was recently placed in a nursing home). I’m also *FLOORED* to find out that my grandmother more than likely didn’t painstakingly cut 157,000 layers in her cake with a knife like I always thought she did, and I CAN NOT believe it is as simple as making 3 batches of 3 very thin cakes. Brilliant, and thanks again for the post!!!

    • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

      Amber, your comment is the reason that we do what we do for a living every day. We are, to say the very least, so pleased that this cake reminds you of your dear grandmother’s butterscotch cake. We’ll be waiting to hear if it’s indistinguishable from hers in taste as well as in appearance. (Our fingers are crossed…) And lest we tarnish your grandmother’s legendary reputation, let us just say that it’s entirely possible that she did have a deft touch with a knife when it comes to slicing cake layers, as not every Southern home cook knew of this trick. But then, who knows? We’ll let you shape your memory as you choose. Whatever you do, kindly let us know how it goes. And many thanks for taking the time to write.

  11. matt phillips says:

    Hi everyone wanting to know what to substitute the rum with ….. at those temps with the icing being 242 degrees and baking the cake at 350 all the alcohol evaporates, so all you get is the flavor. I don’t drink either but I use it when I cook for the flavor but I promise if I make you a rum cake you won’t get drunk from it. Have a great day

    • Beth Price, LC Director of Recipe Testing says:

      Hi Matt, yep, cooking does burn off a large percent of alcohol but some can still remain, even after baking and boiling. For those of us that don’t have alcohol sensitivities, that tiny bit won’t cause a problem. For those with sensitivities, it is best to use a substitute or consult the USDA website for an accurate measurement of the alcohol that remains after different cooking methods over measured periods of time.

  12. Julie says:

    Amazing. I had made this twice in the past and decided to make it for Christmas Eve this year. Previously I just baked the cakes in 2 8″ pans and carefully sliced them into 4 layers each. This time I bought another cake pan and baked as suggested. Impressive cake, and despite its size it does feed a ton of people, 20 at least.

    • David Leite says:

      Julie, so good to hear. And I think it’s instructive that you originally cut each cake into four layers. NOTE TO READERS: There’s more than one way to slice a cake…. (Sorry, I just had to say it.)

  13. Amy says:

    I made this cake last night. All was going well until I went to “gently reheat” the remaining butterscotch icing for the top/sides and it completely separated! I was so upset since it took like 45 minute to make that damn butterscotch :( Any idea what i did wrong? I definitely had the heat on very low and constantly stirred it.

    I poured off all the butter that separated out and used it anyway. It’s not the smooth texture it should be but it still tasted good, so hopefully it will be fine to serve…

    • Beth Price says:

      There are a few reasons why this may have separated. It may separate during the reheating process due to an abrupt temperature shift. Did you gently warm it? Also if the pan was thin, hotspots could cause the separation. It could also be due to a warm humid kitchen. Do any of these should like the culprit?

      • Amy says:

        Hi Beth, thanks for the reply! Hmm, it could def be due to a humid kitchen. Also I started out with a pot that wasn’t very thick so it could be that as well. Luckily I was able to salvage it enough to spread on the cake even if it wasn’t as pretty :)

    • Julie says:

      Amy, I have made this cake several times and the same thing happened to me on the last go around. It was the night before Christmas Eve and I was extremely busy so I threw caution to the wind and continued to heat it until it came back together. It wasn’t ideal texture, but I still heard raves over it. The only thing I could think that I did differently this last time was using European style (Plugra butter).

  14. Gloria says:

    If you substitute cream for the rum as I have just now found, you are greatly increasing the oil to sugar ratio! EEks.

    • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

      You say that as though it’s a bad thing, Gloria! The creamier the better, we hope?

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