The Boozy Addition That Makes Kentucky Butter Cake True To Its Name

Kentucky butter cake is a vanilla-scented pound cake baked and topped with bourbon. Left to sit for hours soaking in its bourbon glaze, this butter cake is for alcohol-loving adult audiences only. Originating in 1960, Kentucky butter cake is popular with bourbon enthusiasts. However, other alcohols can be swapped for bourbon if you aren't keen on that quintessential bourbon whiskey taste. Sherry is a good option.

Bourbon butter cake originated sometime in the 1960s and rose to popularity in 1963, when the cake was entered into the Pillsbury Bake-Off and won a prize. It's been a hit ever since, both in and out of the southern United States. Mixing bourbon, butter, and sugar isn't for the faint of heart, but it does make for a cake that's both unique and easy enough to prepare in advance. Really, though, this cake is a fun excuse to eat something slightly sweet and dripping with whiskey. 

Better by the soak

The cake itself is a dense vessel created to support the weight of a bourbon glaze soak. This glaze is poured over the cake when it's still hot, and left to sit in the pan for several hours before serving — the longer this cake sits, the stronger the flavor becomes, a bit like a bourbon-glazed buttermilk donut! Thanks to the glaze, butter cake can be easily kept at room temperature for several days and travels well, making it an ideal cake to bring to any event.

Without jumping too far down the 'whiskey versus bourbon' debate hole (and it's a deep one), Kentucky butter cake traditionally calls for bourbon — the main difference is that bourbon is made in the United States, usually in Kentucky. But that doesn't mean you must use Kentucky bourbon if you have some other whiskey (or whisky) on hand. Just keep in mind that the alcohol added to the glaze is not heated, making its flavor very prominent, so don't use a whiskey that you don't enjoy drinking!

Better with bourbon

Allowing the bourbon time to sink into this cake creates a moist crumb akin to dipping a cookie in coffee or another type of soaked dessert like rum baba or tiramisu. The alcohol infuses the cake with flavor, so eliminating the bourbon from this cake isn't recommended. As mentioned above, though, you can add another type of alcohol such as Cointreau, Bailey's, or sherry. On the other hand, if you want to try butter cake without booze, you can make the glaze sans alcohol — you just won't get the same deep flavor profile. Mixing fruit into the batter or adding flavoring to the glaze can help to offset the lack of bourbon taste.

Bourbon enthusiasts will argue that using the best bourbon you can buy will make a difference to the flavor of this cake, and it might to those who are connoisseurs. However, if all you can find is whiskey in a plastic jug, that will work too.