Bourbon Buttermilk Layer Cake (one huge slice of cake)

This cake isn’t particularly bourbon-y per se, but rather the bourbon adds a certain toasty je ne sais quoi that helps set this apart from a straight up vanilla cake. If you don’t have any bourbon, obviously you must not live in Kentucky.

Just kidding. This recipe is highly forgiving with variations. It’s a crazy good way to use up flat champagne. Who knew? So use what you’ve got, provided it doesn’t sound like a stupid idea.

1 vanilla bean split and scraped, seeds reserved
4 ounces bourbon
14 ounces sugar
1 Tbsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp almond extract
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
8 ounces unsalted butter, room temp
5 eggs, room temp (important!)
2 egg yolks
13.5 ounces all purpose flour, sifted
13 ounces buttermilk

One day before: combine the bourbon and vanilla bean together in a small pot. Bring to a boil, shut off the heat, and cover. Steep overnight. Of course you can cheat and cut the time down to whatever is convenient for your circumstances, but your mileage may vary.

Preheat the oven to 350°

Combine the sugar through butter, along with reserved vanilla bean seeds in a mixing bowl. Use a paddle attachment to cream them together for ten minutes on medium speed. Seriously. Ten minutes. (I eschew the “until light and fluffy” schtick, I mean, how subjective is that?)

Every three or so minutes, stop the mixer and scrape the bowl down completely.

Turn the mixer down to medium low and while it’s running, add the eggs and then yolk, one at a time, mixing after each until thoroughly combined.

Turn the mixer down to the lowest speed and add in the sifted flour a cup at a time. Immediately add the bourbon (minus the bean itself) and slowly pour in the buttermilk.

Once you’ve finished adding the buttermilk, shut off the mixer and finish incorporating with a spatula.

To make the “slice of cake” cake from All Your Cake Are Belong To Us, use a 12” cake pan lined with parchment and lightly greased.

Otherwise bake off as 2 1/2 dozen cupcakes or use 3, 8” cake pans (prepared as described above). Don’t do this in two cake pans or you’ll have to clean up a cake volcano. Three pans.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan or pans (about 19.75 ounces per 8” round or 1/3 cup of batter per cupcake) and bake for 30-35 minutes, until lightly browned. If you press the surface gently with your fingertips, it should still leave a slight impression.

Great with Milk Chocolate Buttercream or any other variation thereof. If making a traditional layer cake and not a giant slice-o-cake, check out my crumb coating tutorial for more details on how to frost the cake.

For information on how to store the finished cake, see this post from the Kitchn.


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Any questions?

Sep 12, 2011 ·  1:10 PM

Hi Stella! This cake sounds amazing. I have a question – do you think another frosting would work as well? I’m going to make this cake for my mom’s birthday, but she’s not crazy about milk chocolate (she prefers dark), and she’s even claiming that she doesn’t want a buttercream (gasp!) because of all the delicious butter calories. She suggested a dark chocolate ganache, but I thought that a dark chocolate might overpower the delicateness of the cake. A vanilla buttercream would work, flavor-wise, but might be… boring? What do you think?

 · Kat · 

Sep 12, 2011 ·  2:44 PM

@Kat, you could make the buttercream with all dark chocolate, and I don’t think that would overwhelm the flavor of the cake. The butter/sugar would keep the flavor profile from being too overwhelming for the cake itself. I’ve made it that way before too.

Calorically speaking, I don’t know that there’s any real benefit to ganache vs buttercream (if that’s her true concern). Buttercream gets half its volume from meringue, which is fat free, but also less calorically dense than cream or butter. Whereas ganache gets half its volume from cream, which packs a fairly hefty punch. I’m no nutritionalist, so that’s a layman’s analysis. But, if she simply isn’t too wild about buttercream and would just rather have ganache, it would certainly be delicious. A touch overpowering, perhaps, but your mom may appreciate using the cake as a vehicle/excuse to consume a heap of dark ganache, in which case it would be a great birthday present. Happy Birthday to her! Let me know how the cake turns out!


Sep 12, 2011 ·  3:57 PM

You know, I thought the same thing about the cream in the ganache vs. the butter in the buttercream. I’ll probably end up trying the cake out with both ahead of time. Because, you know, I need an excuse to make more cake.

I’ve just started reading your blog, and I love it! Your recipes all sound so complex and interesting, and the pics are amazing. Also, I love reading a well-written food blog by a fellow Southern gal. P.S. You’re making me totally want to move to Kentucky!

 · Kat · 

Sep 13, 2011 · 12:19 PM

@Kat, Southern gals unite! So glad you found me and are enjoying the blog. But definitely, you should make as much cake as possible. I mean, it’s what a good daughter would do.


Jan 26, 2012 ·  2:01 PM

I really need a picture of this. And damn it, I’m trying to be Gluten Free here but you’re making it exceedingly difficult!

 · YogaAndBirth · 

Jan 26, 2012 ·  2:05 PM

@YogaAndBirth, hey girlie! There is a picture of it, actually on my facebook page (good thing we’re friends!). John made it last year for my birthday. Sorry to be bumming you out with the gluten, but I do have a TON of GF recipes here (about 75% of my recipes are), so you should be able to find something yummy!


Jun 01, 2012 · 12:24 AM

Hi Stella – I would like to employ your vanilla infused bourbon technique for a bourbon pecan pie I’m making tomorrow This particular pie recipe doesn’t call for vanilla in any form but it does use 1/2 tsp of grated lemon peel for an interesting kick. I figured some vanilla would a nice addition and don’t see any reason the infused booze would hinder my results or clash with the hint of lemon. Thoughts?

 · Kate C · 

Jun 01, 2012 · 11:12 AM

@Kate, some people don’t like the flavor of lemon and vanilla because vanilla’s deeper notes tend to counteract lemon’s bright ones. You might try using a Tahitian vanilla, it has a brighter, floral note that might work better with the lemon. But it depends on what you want your end result to be. If you want the lemon to stand out, I think the vanilla might be distracting. But I’m a vanilla with pecans sort of girl, so I’d rather play up vanilla than lemon. Let your taste buds guide you!


Jun 01, 2012 ·  8:47 PM

Thanks for the advice. I think my gut knew that and is why I asked. My head tried convincing me it’d be okay. I like to get carried away with additions. I have to remember less is more… I’m going to forgo the lemon and use the vanilla bourbon still sitting my on stovetop from last night : )

 · Kate C · 

Jun 01, 2012 ·  8:58 PM

ps – You’re always spot on…partly from the culinary training I’m sure but more so from your inherent gift and passion. Either way it’s nice being able to ask you for advice. You and your blog are a world of inspiration. Keep doing what you do!

 · Kate C · 

Jun 02, 2012 · 12:02 PM

@Kate C, vanilla, bourbon and nuts, you can’t go wrong! Although I’m admittedly biased, lemon’s not one of my favorites. But so long as you’re following your palate, it’ll work out. Thanks for the kind words, happy baking!


Jul 02, 2012 · 10:31 PM

I couldn’t find when to add the nutmeg, salt, baking powder & soda, nutmeg, or almond extract? Am I missing something? I just did the dry with the flour and the almond extract with the bourbon, hope that that is correct!

 · Aimee · 

Jul 03, 2012 ·  8:56 AM

@Aimee, I’m sure it will turn out just fine! It’s in the second step, “Combine the sugar through butter” so starting with sugar and every ingredient in this list through butter gets added together. I like doing it that way because it mixes all of the other ingredients so thoroughly during the creaming stage, but it works the other way too. I hope you enjoyed your cake!


Sep 16, 2012 · 10:13 PM

I have made bourbon buttermilk vanilla cupcakes and they were unbelievable. I would like to make w/o bourbon due to tea totalers in group. ( I realize no alcohol after cooking), respectfully for them…what can I substitute for the vanilla liquid?

 · Mickey · 

Sep 17, 2012 ·  9:48 AM

Hi Mickey! I say, give the teetotalers tea! I’d use black tea with a short steep time, maybe just 2 minutes. Perhaps an Assam? That would give you some of the warm, oak-y flavors without the booze.


Nov 01, 2012 ·  7:26 PM

Stella, I’m making this as a wedding cake for an impromptu wedding this weekend. Thanks for the great recipes and fun writing style!

 · marian  · 

Nov 04, 2012 · 10:54 AM

Hi Marian. Impromptu wedding?! How fun! Happy baking!!


Nov 14, 2012 ·  2:44 PM

Hi Stella, after removing the cakes from the oven, how long do they stay in the pan?

 · luv2cook · 

Nov 14, 2012 ·  6:54 PM

Hi luv2cook! I like to let my cakes cool in the pans all the way. If you’re using parchment on the bottom, I’d say to do the same. If you’ve just greased, or greased and floured, the bottoms, turn the cakes out onto a cooling rack after letting them cool for about ten minutes so they don’t stick. Hope that helps!


Nov 14, 2012 · 10:47 PM

Hi again, can this recipe be doubled? If so, what size pans do you recommend? I need to make a cake that will serve 30 people. Thanks for all your help.

 · luv2cook · 

Nov 15, 2012 · 12:03 AM

No problem! Sounds like you’re baking up a storm. I don’t think you can double this recipe, unless you’ve got an industrial mixer. It will nearly fill up a Kitchen Aid bowl as it is. You might try baking it in two 10” cake pans; if you cut smallish portions, I think it would do for 30 (especially if there were other desserts, or ice cream, etc). But if you want to have big slices, you’d need to make it twice, or make another cake to supplement.


Nov 15, 2012 · 10:00 AM

Thanks so much!

 · Luv2cook · 

Nov 15, 2012 · 11:01 PM

i halved the recipe to fit it into 2 6 inch pans for a friend’s (4 people gathering) bday..and you know how when you take them out of the pans and there are some moist crumbs stuck on the sides? i scraped at them, and boy were they YUMMY!!! I think i’m going to add some espresso powder to dark chocolate buttercream for the frosting thanks for the recipe, stella!

 · megan ·

Nov 16, 2012 ·  6:35 AM

Hi Megan. Muahahaha, I know exactly what you mean. Those things are so, so good. My husband always gets angry if I throw them away…


Nov 17, 2012 · 12:44 PM

Hi Stella, it’s me again. Which buttercream is best for piping decorations? My piping skills are not good. I just want to do a simple design and write Happy Birthday. Thanks again

 · luv2cook · 

Nov 17, 2012 ·  7:54 PM

Hey again. All the buttercreams here are more or less equal in piping. They do great for piping borders (shells and pearls) and dots and writing, but they aren’t very good for roses (because they stay soft). So just let your taste buds be your guide and whatever you choose will work well for your purposes. Good luck!


Jan 13, 2013 ·  6:47 PM

I have a Butter cake recipe that I used for all my wedding cakes but have found that I always have a lot of tunneling even though I only mix to incorporate after the 10 minute creaming process. Is this cake your standard yellow cake? Mine is the butter cake but I am wondering if this might have a better crumb to it.

 · Joan · 

Jan 13, 2013 ·  8:52 PM

Is this cake your go to yellow cake? I used a buttercake recipe for my wedding cakes but found the crumb is not as fine as I like. I realize this is probably due to overmixing but the taste is really good and no one ever noticed. I didn’t see a yellow type basic cake on your blog so thought I would ask.

 · Joan · 

Jan 14, 2013 · 12:12 AM

Hi Joan! It’s not super “yellow” but this is a go-to butter cake recipe for me. Tunneling can occur for a variety of reasons beyond over mixing, so that may not necessarily be to blame. A batter that’s too stiff (ie, not enough liquids) or too cold can also result in tunneling, in my experience. That might help you diagnose what’s going on in your recipe, if nothing else. Cheers!


Mar 25, 2013 ·  9:49 AM

I made this cake with the caramel variation of the swiss buttercream for my mom’s birthday. It turned out great. I was just wondering if you think a variation of this cake could be used for a coconut cake. Would it be possible to switch out the bourbon or some of the buttermilk with coconut milk?

 · Jessica · 

Mar 25, 2013 · 10:16 PM

Hi Jessica! Generally, I’m all about variations, but this cake has a very fussy balance of ingredients, and I’ve noticed that messing around with the bourbon and buttermilk can really hurt the final texture of the cake. I’ve played around with coconut milk myself, and while it works well in most other recipes, it doesn’t turn out well with this one.


Jan 28, 2016 · 12:19 AM

Hi Stella! I made this recipe years ago and recall wondering at that time if the 13 ounces buttermilk was by weight or 13 fluid ounces. I can’t remember what I chose to do but it worked out well! Is your measurement fluid ounces or by weight? Sorry for the silly question, it must be because I’m Canadian and we rarely work in ounces

 · Snow White · 

Jul 27, 2016 ·  3:33 PM

Okay, I know this is likely just calling out into the aether, seeing as this post is quite a few years old…but I have to try. Would you say that creaming for 10 minutes is normal for cakes?
Because if so, you’re blowing my mind left right and center. I love the chemistry side of baking, and like to know the hows and whys (only recently have found your work on Serious Eats and it’s AMAZING), and can’t find anywhere a remotely precise prescription for creaming time (King Arthur Flour has come closest, suggesting you do it for around 4 and 1/2 minutes). Now I’ve looked at two of your recipes and one (for your sugar cookies) say 5 minutes, while this one says 10. So is there no standard creaming time? And in a tangential point, in this current climate of admonitions to “not over-mix at any point” are we severely under-creaming things? Because I’m beginning to think I have been…
Thank you very much!

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