“Make no mistake, this cake is a BOOZY affair!” Thus were the first words we heard from our recipe testers about this moist, tender, ridiculously-hard-to-stop-eating Southern bourbon cake. And each person thereafter said pretty much the same thing. Not that this is a bad thing in their esteem or ours! Not at all. But it does merit the caveat to reach for a quite decent bottle of bourbon seeing as it plays such a prominent role in the cake’s flavor profile, which can also be used to make a Derby cocktail. Thank us later.–Julie Richardson

How long will this Kentucky bourbon cake last?

Our testers unanimously agreed that while the cake was good on day one, it was superb on the second day. The flavors had time to meld and really soak into the cake. By day three, the cake was still tasted sublime but was starting to dry out. If you’re not planning to finish it off in those first few days, tightly wrap it and stash it in the freezer to buy yourself some time.

A fancy Bundt Kentucky bourbon cake on a silver platter.

Kentucky Bourbon Cake

4.89 / 52 votes
UPDATE: This Kentucky Bourbon Cake has people going so bonkers, we decided to publish it again just in time for the Kentucky Derby. This is the real deal, an authentic Southern recipe classic. It’s much like a pound cake given its, er, obscene amount of butter and its tender, perfect crumb. And oh, baby, wait’ll you taste the bourbon glaze.
David Leite
CourseDessert
CuisineSouthern
Servings10 servings
Calories648 kcal
Prep Time45 minutes
Cook Time35 minutes
Total Time1 hour 5 minutes

Equipment

  • One 10- or 12-cup Bundt pan or two 6-cup Bundt pans

Ingredients 

For the bourbon cake

  • 3 cups sifted cake flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 2 sticks (8 oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup really quite smooth and decent bourbon (we like Bulleit)
  • 1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature

For the glaze

  • 6 tablespoons (3 oz) unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup really quite smooth and decent bourbon (we like Bulleit)

Instructions 

Make the bourbon cake

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Adjust an oven rack to the center position. Generously butter a 10- or 12-cup Bundt pan or fluted metal tube pan or two 6-cup Bundt pans.
  • In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, soda, and salt, then whisk the mixture by hand to ensure that the ingredients are well mixed.
  • In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium-high speed, beat the butter and sugars together until fluffy, about 5 minutes. As you make the batter, stop the mixer frequently and scrape the paddle and the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Blend in the eggs 1 at a time.
  • In a small bowl, combine the bourbon and buttermilk. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture in 3 parts, alternating with the buttermilk-bourbon mixture in 2 additions, beginning and ending with the flour. After each addition, mix until just barely blended and stop and scrape the bowl. Before the last of the flour has been incorporated, stop the mixer and complete the blending by hand with a rubber spatula. The batter should be smooth and shiny, like liquid silk.
  • Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and spread it evenly. Place the pan in the oven and bake until the cake is golden and springs back when gently pressed, 40 to 45 minutes if using a 10- or 12-cup Bundt pan and 30 to 35 minutes if using a 6-cup Bundt pan.

Make the glaze

  • In a small saucepan over low heat, combine the butter, sugar, and bourbon just until the butter melts and the sugar dissolves, whisking to combine.
  • Remove the cake from the oven but leave it in the pan. Poke holes all over the top of the cake with a wooden skewer. Pour 3/4 of the glaze slowly over the cake, saving the remaining glaze. Let the cake to cool for 30 minutes.
  • Invert the cake pan and glazed cake onto a cake stand or serving plate and gently remove the pan. If desired, brush the top of the cake with the remaining glaze. (If the glaze has thickened to the point where it doesn't want to budge, simply rewarm it over low heat.) Slice and serve.
Vintage Cakes Cookbook

Adapted From

Vintage Cakes

Buy On Amazon

Nutrition

Serving: 1 portionCalories: 648 kcalCarbohydrates: 84 gProtein: 8 gFat: 29 gSaturated Fat: 17 gTrans Fat: 1 gCholesterol: 145 mgSodium: 391 mgFiber: 1 gSugar: 57 g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe?Mention @leitesculinaria or tag #leitesculinaria!
Recipe © 2012 Julie Richardson. Photo © 2012 Erin Kunkel. All rights reserved.

Recipe Testers’ Reviews

Bourbon lovers will adore this Kentucky bourbon cake. The crumb was dense and moist with a lovely golden brown exterior. The bourbon both inside the cake and in the glaze provided a wonderful rich bourbon flavor with the burn of the alcohol. It is easy to come together and bakes in under an hour. With batter smelling like a sweet bourbon cocktail and the bottle still sitting out, I will admit to mixing up a Kentucky Mule for myself while waiting for the cake to bake and cool. (That would make a great adaptation to the original recipe: add some ginger and some lime zest as well as some lime juice to the glaze. Oh, my, I think I need to get some more bourbon!)

I used an older, thinner, 10-cup Bundt pan that I had laying around. I’d really recommend the Nordic Ware style that is heavy and nonstick. Had some major issues with sticking in the grooves even though I buttered the pan really well. Still delicious, though!

Make no mistake, this Kentucky bourbon cake is a BOOZY affair. I made two gorgeous 6-cup Bundt cakes with this recipe. Because of the small pans, I needed to shave 10 minutes from the bake time so 35 minutes at 350°F. I also discovered that it was completely unnecessary to save a portion of the glaze to brush over the cakes after removing them from the pans because the glaze that I poured over the cakes while they were in the pans conveniently coated the tops of the cakes with a glorious bourbon-y sheen! My mother would have referred to this as “the stuff of dreams.”

We took these cakes to my wife’s office, and everyone raved about them. These are either brilliant cakes or it was the booze talking. The only thing I’ll do differently is opt for Wild Turkey, as the final 1/4 cup bourbon wasn’t baked into the cake but rather poured over the cake, which soaked up the glaze like a sponge. Because of this, the flavor was very apparent. I have no complaint against any of the fine Kentucky bourbons out there, but for my money and palate, I prefer Wild Turkey. It’s simply delicious straight from the bottle.

This Kentucky bourbon cake was such a delight. The actual cake itself has the texture of a pound cake laced with hints of bourbon. The glaze adds a nice layer of sweetness and texture. The cake is even better served warm. I thought the glaze was going to be too sweet, but it was actually just right. I’ll be adding this to my list of go-to cakes.

At 45 minutes, my cake was almost set. When poked for doneness, the knife didn’t come out clean. I had to put it back in the oven for an additional 20 minutes. I used a fluted metal tube pan, which gave me some problems. When I went to un-mold the cake, the pan pulled a little cake from the bottom so my top surface wasn’t smooth. This also could’ve happened because the cake needed to cool some more.

I don’t usually like cake, but this Kentucky bourbon cake is the exception, especially right out of the oven when it’s just been glazed. I could hardly wait the last of the 30 minutes of cooling time before serving it. I generously gifted 2 slices to a couple who visited right after I baked this. They saved the cake for the next day, and I received the following text: “Your cake was awesome. I do feel a tad bit guilty. Mat slept in, and I ate his piece too. The good thing is he didn’t know it was there. Ha ha!”

I used a 10-cup (2.4-liter) fluted metal tube pan. I had considered other options, including a Bundt pan, but I was happy I used exactly what was called for. My bake time was a little longer than the 40 to 45 minutes noted; at 52 minutes, it seemed perfect. And, apart from using a different shape than the photo, this cake was as picture-perfect as the accompanying photo.

The first words to come to mind after tasting this Kentucky bourbon cake are “simple” and “decadent.” The cake itself is made with very simple ingredients that you most likely already have in your pantry. The use of cake flour and buttermilk gives this scrumptious cake a lighter-than-air texture (a great crumb, if you will) that’s sort of like a spongecake—the whole thing just melts in your mouth.

The use of a bit of Kentucky bourbon in the cake itself and as a glaze on the top and bottom of the cake is the utterly decadent part. I adore this cake and am looking forward to a second slice for dessert this evening.

In terms of the recipe itself, I used a regular 12-cup Bundt pan. The cake took 1 hour to cook all the way through in this pan. Unlike the photo, my cake was not dark brown—it was more lightly browned but still very pretty. This is one of those recipes that we loved so much that I can’t wait to make it again and share the recipe with other bourbon (and dessert) lovers.

Cake is a rare treat for us, but this Kentucky bourbon recipe tempted me. The result was a beautiful, moist cake with a perfect crumb. A combination of pan sizes and a desire to not let myself eat it all made me try this in a smaller Bundt pan for us as well as in 4-inch and 6-inch round cake pans for gifting. Although now I really want a super heavy and larger fancy swirly pan like the picture, I made it work fine using a classic 6-cup lightweight Bundt from Nordic Ware.

I generously buttered all 3 pans. The little ones didn’t have a center tube. If you do what I did, you’ll also want to make a little extra glaze for the ones you give away. The batter looked very promising going into the pans. Because my pans were smaller, I checked them at 30 minutes but they all baked for 40 minutes. The glaze comes together easily (and smells delicious, reinforcing the more subtle bourbon flavor in the baked cake), but you might need extra glaze if you end up dividing the cake among multiple pans. I used Bulleit bourbon. My cake stuck a little to the lightweight Bundt pan, but the glaze covered any scars.

Also, if the entire cake is not going to be eaten when served, the glaze does firm up when you chill leftovers (but the cake keeps remarkably well for several days). You can slightly warm servings on the subsequent days (just 20 seconds in the microwave took the chill off). I can safely say the ones I gave away were successful—I received messages via text requesting “More, please” that night. I’m still rationing our cake out between the 2 of us—I would say, with self-control, it easily serves 12 to 15. It also goes nicely with coffee.

May the last crumb of your Kentucky bourbon cake transport you to cake heaven a full hour before the devil knows it’s all gone. This recipe was a very easy preparation resulting in a dense, buttery, caramel-and-bourbon-flavored cake. I used my humble 10-inch tube pan. Our whimsical oven required a full hour for the cake to finally become golden brown and “springy to the touch.”

The initial application of glaze was absorbed within 10 minutes, and I had no issues brushing on the remainder of the glaze. I feared there might be some crumbling, but not to worry. Beautiful! With a modest spoonful of slightly sweetened whipped cream, this simple dessert was completely satisfying, as simple things done well are.

My grandmother was from Kentucky, and while she was an incredible woman with many skills and interests, cooking was not one of them. So my only encounters with Southern food came when our visits to her house coincided with her sister’s. But as a child, bourbon balls were not something I was willing to eat (what a fool I was). I can’t attest to the authenticity of this cake, but I know for sure that it is going to help me make up for lost time.

It’s somehow light despite the generous application of both booze and butter, and has a rich caramel flavor without being too sweet. I was having tea with a group of women in the north of England and compared it to one of their classic cakes, the lemon drizzle. It’s like a lemon drizzle, I said, but the lemon juice is replaced with bourbon. The cake platter emptied so quickly I did a double take, and I’ve been getting adoring messages about it ever since.

Making it was fairly straightforward. The batter came together easily. I used a traditional Bundt pan and needed the full 45 minutes to get this baked—I checked it at 35 and it was still very wet. The finished cake didn’t quite fill the pan and there was a bit of doming and cracking, but once the glaze was added it all settled down and turned out beautifully.

When I was making the glaze, the sugar never became smooth and shiny, which is why mine didn’t look exactly like the photo—the glaze ended up a bit cloudy and crunchy rather than shiny. It still looked nice, so I didn’t mind, but I wonder if granulated is the right type of sugar for this or I just went about it the wrong way. I kept it on a low heat for 10 minutes and was getting nowhere, so I raised the heat to medium and it seemed to be getting thereafter another 5 minutes but still crystallized as it cooled on the cake. I had 225 ml of the prepared glaze, so I measured out 170 ml for the bottom and 35 ml for brushing on top. This ratio worked well—the cake soaked up all the syrup without getting sodden and there was more than enough left to coat the top of the cake.

My cake lasted for 3 days and stayed pretty moist under just some plastic wrap, but I think this recipe would benefit from the addition of storage instructions.




About David Leite

I count myself lucky to have received three James Beard Awards for my writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. My work has also appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.


Hungry For More?

Chocolate Muffins

Those of us who prefer a restrained sweetness and a more pronounced cocoa taste will adore these muffins. Nothing overtly sweet here. And we’re okay with that.

1 hr

Seared Skirt Steak with Salsa

Hungry for something flavorful and good-for-you? This seared skirt steak is jam-packed with everything you need.

50 mins

Flourless Chocolate Cloud Cake

This lofty cake is so crammed full of chocolate and butter and air, there’s no room for flour–although we made sure to leave space for ample swoops of softly whipped cream.

1 hr 15 mins


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating




56 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    Outstanding! That is what was spoken at my house. This turned out a really impressive cake and it was fabulous on day one. And if it lasts that long, I am so looking forward to a slice on day two.

  2. I’m just prepping the ingredients to make tomorrow and realize when I sift then measure the cake flour I only had 300 grams. Your metric indicates 360 grams. To confirm, I should use 360 grams for this cake and then sift after measuring, is that correct?

    1. Denise, measuring by weight is definitely the most accurate way to go, so yes, weigh out 360 grams, then sift it. 300 grams seems very light for 3 cups of flour.

  3. We are bourbon drinkers but Bulleit is not in our current repertoire. In your in-house recipe using Bulleit, did you use the basic or the 10 year. We are up to purchase either or both, but since the bourbon surely makes a difference in this recipe 1/2 cup, we want to get the one you used. Then drink it, regardless of which one it is!!!

    1. Den, our testers actually used a variety of different bourbons when making this cake, all to great success. For those that did use Bulleit, they didn’t specify which one. My recommendation would be to use one that you enjoy as you will taste it in the finished cake.

    2. Den, our testers have baked this cake with many different bourbons and all had great success. If you have another bourbon in your cabinet that you enjoy drinking, then is the best one to use! If you make it, please do let us know how it turns out.

      1. Thank you for your response. I have my go to favorite which is Blantons and it’s allocated here in Florida, hard to come by. I just can’t get myself to use it on this cake. I will get a bottle of the better Bulleit which seems to be a crowd pleaser around here as well as easy to find on the shelf! Will make Saturday for the Derby gathering. Yay!

        1. Den, I’m sure you will enjoy the Bulleit and save the Blantons for sipping. I hope you and your guests enjoy the cake as much as we do!