During the first drafting of the recipes for this book, I had several cakes that, after comparing the ingredients, seemed to be variations of one another. My buttermilk lemon pound cake, marble pound cake, and hot milk cake all seemed to be cousins if not siblings of one another and seemed a bit redundant to include in a book that wasn’t just about cakes.

I chose this one because it’s delicious (of course), but also because I found it thumbing through my mother’s old cookbook. Handwritten on a tattered piece of Detroit Public Schools pink stationary from my mother’s many years as a high school counselor, this cake brought back many great memories of my mother in the kitchen. I do have to warn you, though: this cake is incredibly addictive.–Scotty Scott

Kentucky Butter Cake FAQs

Does rum extract contain alcohol?

Rum extract is an ingredient that’s typically made from rum. It has a very concentrated rum flavor, but a much lower alcohol content than actual rum. How much just depends on the manufacturer. That said, alcohol-free extracts are available.

What is the difference between pure vanilla extract and imitation vanilla?

There is a considerable price difference between the two, but for good reason. To be considered ‘pure’ or ‘real’ vanilla, the extract must contain ONLY vanilla beans, water, and alcohol. Imitation extract also contains these ingredients, but other flavors and synthetic vanillin are also added to imitate a natural vanilla flavor.

Can I freeze leftover cake?

Yep. Make sure it’s wrapped well (we like to double up) in plastic wrap, and then again with foil. It should keep in the freezer for up to three months.

A Kentucky butter cake on a white plate with a slice cut from it on a plate in the background

Kentucky Butter Cake

5 / 2 votes
This cake brought back many great memories of my mother in the kitchen. I do have to warn you, though: this cake is incredibly addictive.
David Leite
Servings16 servings
Calories383 kcal
Prep Time25 minutes
Cook Time1 hour 5 minutes
Total Time1 hour 45 minutes


For the cake

  • 2 sticks (8 oz) unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for the pan
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon rum extract
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons table salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk

For the butter sauce

  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Make the cake

  • Preheat the oven to 325°F (165°C). Butter and flour a 12-cup Bundt pan.
  • In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar until very creamy and almost white, 4 to 6 minutes. Mix in the rum and vanilla. Add the eggs, one at a time, and mix on low speed until incorporated, 2 to 4 minutes.
  • In a medium bowl, sift the flour before measuring, and then measure and resift with the baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in increments, alternating with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Pour into the prepared Bundt pan.
  • Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 45 to 60 minutes. Remove cake from the oven.

Make the butter sauce

  • While the cake is baking, place the sugar, water, and butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat and cook until the butter melts. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla.
  • Let the cake cool for 15 minutes, then run a knife around the edge to loosen the cake. Invert the Bundt pan onto a plate and remove the pan from the cake.

    ☞ TESTER TIP: To allow the sauce to really penetrate the cake, use a skewer to poke holes all over the warm cake while still in the Bundt pan. Pour some sauce over the cake before removing it from the pan and then finish glazing the cake with the remaining sauce.

  • Pour the butter sauce over the warm cake and devour.
Fix Me a Plate Cookbook

Adapted From

Fix Me a Plate

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Serving: 1 sliceCalories: 383 kcalCarbohydrates: 53 gProtein: 5 gFat: 17 gSaturated Fat: 10 gMonounsaturated Fat: 5 gTrans Fat: 1 gCholesterol: 89 mgSodium: 253 mgFiber: 1 gSugar: 35 g

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

Tried this recipe?Mention @leitesculinaria or tag #leitesculinaria!
Recipe © 2022 Scotty Scott. Photo © 2022 Scotty Scott. Photo © 2022 Rambo Elliot. All rights reserved.

Recipe Testers’ Reviews

This is a really nice cake. It’s so nice to have a buttery moist cake that is just as good, if not better the next day.

A partially cut Kentucky butter cake on a blue and white plate

My advice would be not to rush the creaming of the butter and sugar. Almost white is a good description and in my cold kitchen using a stand mixer it took me 9 minutes to achieve this. I did scrape down a couple of times as well. I added the flour in 3 additions with the buttermilk in 2. It works in almost any cake recipe so I just went with it. The final batter was wonderfully light and being a raw batter taster, it was delicious.

The cake goes really well with a hot cup of coffee. I now understand why butter coffee became popular. On day three the top of the cake is a touch dry so next time I will save a bit of sauce to glaze the top of the cake after it’s been taken out of the pan. That should fix it.

My husband and I could not stop eating this Kentucky butter cake! It is so good. The cake is dense and moist, with a perfectly crisp golden brown crust. The butter sauce, though, is what really takes it over the top – so be generous with it! Pour some over the warm cake, let it soak, pour some more, let it soak… make sure you catch all the drips so that you can pour even more over the slices when you serve them. It’s like a vanilla-y, buttery, maple syrup. It was a struggle for me not to eat it all with a spoon before using it on the cake.

A partially cut Kentucky butter cake on a grey plate

The only thing I’d change if I make this again is how I prep the pan, I have never had great luck with flouring Bundt pans and I had some stickage this time as well, so I’ll stick with my usual method of using vegetable oil and a pastry brush to coat every nook and cranny. The cake is quite big so I think it would be good for a gathering, but it has also kept nicely at room temperature for a couple of days. I’m keeping the extra butter sauce in the fridge and microwaving for a few seconds to soften it before pouring it over a slice.

Warning, if you do not like butter, do not make this Kentucky butter cake!  It is full of buttery goodness.

The cake is simple to make with simple ingredients. When spooning it into the Bundt pan, the batter was light and fluffy.  The glaze only has 4 ingredients, equally easy to make. I think the bites of cake with glaze are the best. Really nice sweetness and as the sugary glaze cools, it offers a nice texture.

This cake is great for any brunch or buffet table. It’s simple, not too sweet and perfect with a cup of tea.

The brief write up about how this recipe came to be submitted spoke to me. It was compared to different pound cakes and was found by the baker written on old pink stationary from where his mother had worked. Reading this reminded me of my grandmother. I have many of her wonderful recipes scrawled on whatever paper was available. I had to give it a try. 

The batter came together easily and was very thick and dense. I used the rum flavoring but I think you could easily substitute any flavor you like and it would be good. I will try this recipe again with lemon or almond. I thought it unusual to sift the flour twice. If you are thinking all this sifting would produce a light fluffy cake like I was, you and I would both be wrong. The cake is very dense, as a pound cake should be, but the texture is almost creamy. 

Don’t skip the butter sauce! I put my cake on a cooling rack with parchment paper underneath and poured the sauce over the hot cake, drenching the whole thing.  As it cooled it created a crisp, sweet shell on the cake that was delicious, adding flavor and texture. 

This isn’t the first recipe for Kentucky butter cake that I’ve seen, but I haven’t made one in ages, and it seemed to be the right time to make it again. I didn’t have a big enough Bundt pan, so I opted to use a round ring-mold pan that I normally use for larger layered Jell-o molds. It was the perfect size for a full recipe. I recommend measuring your pan with water first IF you don’t know it’s a 12 cup pan ‘for sure’. 

The batter comes together easily. I chose to replace the rum extract with a tablespoon of Woodford Reserve Bourbon and doubled the vanilla extract. I didn’t understand using rum when Kentucky is known for bourbon. The only other change I considered was adding a bit of grated nutmeg, but I decided against it. Little flecks would not have been attractive, although having flecks of vanilla pod would have been OK with me!

This recipe had me at “Butter Cake” and then I was doubly interested when it called for rum extract! A delicately sweet, moist, dense crumb like you would expect from a really good pound cake and the glaze causes the cake to have a sweet, buttery crust that gives such a nice texture contrast between the exterior and interior.

Once of my biggest complaints about cake is when it is overly sweet or all one texture and this is neither of those things. It is excellent as is but a scoop of vanilla ice cream, handful of fresh berries or lightly sweetened whipped cream wouldn’t go amiss.

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.

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  1. I want to make this and take it to someone’s house. So I’m going to leave it in the bundt pan, use a skewer to poke holes in it and pour the butter sauce over it and let it seep in. I hope that’s okay.


    1. Ellen, we had several testers make it this way with great success. You may want to reserve a bit of the butter sauce to pour over the cake when take it out of the pan. Please do let us know how it turns out.