It’s that time of the year again. The time when Chicago dyes its river bright green and the drunks come out to play by the droves. When everyone is suddenly Irish and people think a green tutu is acceptable day wear. It’s the time I develop insatiable cravings for corned beef, pints of Guinness and pretty much anything soaked in whiskey. Which is why I’ve been baking Whiskey Cakes like a maniac.
Growing up, my grandmother used to send us little treats from Neiman-Marcus, usually an intensely boozy bundt cake she called “cognac cake”. I only recall the chocolate version though I’m sure there were others and it was drenched with something intensely alcoholic, though doubtfully real cognac. Whatever it was, they were delicious and I swear my 8-year-old self would catch buzzes off the fumes. They came in a round tin, weighed a zillion pounds and lasted for months. Over many many weeks, the cake would slowly disappear, thin slice by thin slice. Looking them up now, I wonder if they’re still the same. For $55 + shipping, I’d rather make my own.
This year, for St. Patrick’s Day, I started making Whiskey Cakes reminiscent of those Neiman Marcus treats because nothing says March 17 like booze. It’s not minty, nor bright green and I am absolutely fine with that. I’ve never understood how those two things came to signify “Irish” desserts anyway.
This is a moist cake with a tender crumb that’s been soaked with a sugary boozy glaze. What more could you want? By far, the best one I made was the cake I inverted and submerged into the whiskey glaze for a really good soak. This was much easier with the smaller cakes but I somehow pulled it off with a large one. You just have to work quickly and delicately. If you don’t have the balls, don’t feel bad. This is a four star move and rather challenging with a hot delicate cake – a really good soaking with a pastry brush works just as well.
And now a public service announcement: A large bundt pan is needed here, a 12-cup capacity pan, or one with several smaller molds. Do not use this mini-bundt pan – the stupidest most difficult to clean pan in the world. No matter how well I butter, flour and grease this thing, my cakes come out in pieces or not at all and stuff gets stuck in the creases for all eternity. I hate it and it will be making an appearance at a Brown Elephant resale shop very soon where it can terrorize someone else. That said, the small 3/4 cup bundt pan from the same manufacturer makes lovely cakes but only if you butter and flour the damn thing well. It’s a pain in the butt to clean too but I love how the cakes turn out – so petite and lovely – so I deal with it occasionally.
STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: SLAINTE! As usual, booze and butter save the day. Got plans for St. Pat’s? Bring one of these along and be the star of the show. If you make them small, they make delightful little gifts. And who doesn’t want a whiskey cake? And sure, go ahead, and wear the green tutu, just stay the hell away from me.
On this blog two years ago: Fresh Paczki (the best donut you will ever make in your entire life)
On this blog one year ago: Irish Oatmeal Pudding
Other St. Patrick’s Day appropriate recipes from this blog: Soda Bread Tarte Tatin, Guinness Stout Floats, Corned Beef & Potato Pancakes, Chocolate Banoffee Tart, Irish Soda Bread, Lamb & Ale Stew
Makes 1 large bundt cake or 8 small bundt cakes
For the cake batter:
2 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 cup light brown sugar (sift or break up all clumps with your fingers)
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened (2 sticks)
4 large eggs, room temperature
3 large egg yolks
½ cup buttermilk
2 Tablespoon Irish whiskey
1 Tablespoon orange zest
1 teaspoon vanilla
for the whiskey glaze:
8 Tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature (1 stick)
1 cup + 2 Tablespoons sugar
pinch of kosher salt
½ cup Irish whiskey
- Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 325°F.
- For the cake: Butter and flour well a 12-cup standard Bundt pan or mini bundt pan. Set aside.
- In a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, flour, sugar, brown sugar, baking powder and salt until well combined, about 2 minutes. (Note: you want no brown sugar clumps whatsoever.)
- In a separate bowl, whisk the remaining ingredients – eggs, egg yolks, buttermilk, whiskey, orange zest and vanilla – and set aside.
- Increase the mixer speed to medium and add 1/3 of the liquid ingredients.
- Mix for 2 minutes then stop and scrape the bowl and beaters.
- Add another 1/3 of the liquid ingredients; beat for two minutes, stop and scrape.
- Finally, add the remaining 1/3 of the liquid, beat for two minutes, stop and scrape.
- Give the batter a final vigorous stir to make sure everything is incorporated and scrape batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.
- Bake for 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake emerges clean. (35 minutes for small bundts)
- Cool the cake in the pan on a rack for 5 minutes, then invert onto a cooling rack set over a parchment lined sheet pan.
- For the glaze: while the cake is cooling slightly, melt the butter in a small saucepan then stir the sugar and 2 Tablespoons of the whiskey.
- Boil for 4-5 minutes, stirring constantly until the sugar dissolves.
- Turn off the heat and stir in the remaining whiskey – careful it will bubble up.
- With a toothpick or a skewer, poke the cakes several times on all sides.
- With a pastry brush, brush the warm glaze on all sides of the warm cakes. Let sit for a few minutes then continue until you’ve used all the glaze (sometimes with smaller cakes, I’ll carefully dip the whole cake in the glaze.)
- Cool to room temperature before serving. The cakes keep for several days, tightly wrapped.