This unique Kentucky Butter Cake is tender, moist and deliciously unique. The cake is soaked with a wonderful Butter Sauce then topped in an amazing Butter Glaze.
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I love baking cakes, and I love sharing my cakes with friends and relatives and, sometimes, total strangers. But not everyone feels the same way I do about heating up the oven and whipping up a yummy, homemade cake from scratch. I know lots of folks who cook all the time, but tend to shy away from baking cakes from scratch because they do not feel they can do better than a box mix. I think that’s baloney! There are many awesome cakes out there that are easy to make, and a hundred times better than anything you can get out of a cardboard box. This recipe for Kentucky butter cake, for instance, is one of my favorites.
I have a long history with Kentucky butter cake. This recipe has been made in my kitchen for more than 20 years. It was originally made in a Pillsbury Bake-off contest in 1963, believe it or not. The recipe comes from a Nell Lewis. (As I write this, I’m glancing at the cookbook from that bakeoff, believe it or not! It was one of the first cookbooks I ever owned.)
The recipe for this moist butter cake is almost exactly the same—the “almost” used here because this recipe does allow you the option to use rum extract, or not. The original butter sauce was flavored with rum extract, and that was sort of set as the standard for making that butter sauce. If you’ve made butter cake recipes from scratch before, you may have included that rum extract. I have found, however, that the butter sauce is even more popular when served plain, without the rum extract flavoring.
I love this cake for a lot of reasons. It’s unique texture and flavor is one. Even without the butter sauce, the finished cake is darn good… unique, but good. If you glance at the ingredient list, you might think it’s a recipe for pound cake. That, however, is where similarities with pound cake end. The fact is that this cake tastes nothing like a pound cake. The flavor and texture is more like a cross between cornbread (minus the corn) and a plain pancake. Seriously! Just imagine!
Which, admittedly, sounds a little unusual. And the truth is that this cake is pretty plain without the ridiculously good butter sauce. It soaks deep into the cake, while also leaving it crispy and sweet on top (sort of like a Kentucky butter crunch cake). The moist cake absorbs a lot of the sauce, giving it a rich, sweet, and really unique flavor. You’ll definitely want to try it out for yourself.
But, wait, that’s not all this cake has. It’s topped with a glorious Butter Glaze. My family has always made this cake with this fantastic butter glaze. I haven’t seen any other recipes for Kentucky Butter Cake topped with a glaze. This glaze is the star of the show for me! Honestly, I could eat gallons of it with a spoon.
You can use almond extract in both the cake and the sauce, which is a nice variation on the vanilla used in the traditional recipe. I’ve also tried peppermint and orange flavors before, just to shake things up a little. If you’re looking to make a Kentucky butter rum cake, you’ll want to add 2-3 tablespoons of rum to the batter, and 1 teaspoon of rum extract to the butter sauce and to the glaze. Or, make a true Kentucky butter cake with bourbon sauce by using… you guessed it! Bourbon.
Whatever you decide, try making the cake the day before. Like many cakes, I really think that the flavor and texture of this cake is best the day after it’s made. I wrap the unglazed cake (once it has completely cooled) tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. Then I’ll glaze it a few hours before serving.
Is this the best ever butter cake? Try it and let me know what you think.
Kentucky Butter Cake
- 3 Cups All-Purpose Flour
- 1 Teaspoon Salt
- 1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
- 1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
- 2 Cups Sugar
- 1 Cup Unsalted Butter at Room Temperature
- 4 Eggs
- 1 Cup Buttermilk Well Shaken
- 2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract
- 3/4 Cup Sugar
- 1/3 Cup Unsalted Butter
- 3 Tablespoons Water
- 2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract
- 1 1/4 Cup Powdered Sugar Sifted
- 1/4 Cup Unsalted Butter
- 2 Tablespoon Milk
- Place oven rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Spray a 1o cup Bundt pan with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside.
- In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl of a stand-up mixer, beat butter at medium speed until fluffy. Gradually add 2 cups of sugar and continue to beat on medium for 3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Reduce speed to low and flour mixture and buttermilk alternately in batches, beginning and ending with flour and mixing until just incorporated. Stir in vanilla.
- Pour batter into prepared pan and bake in preheated oven 50-60 minutes, or until a cake tester or bamboo stick comes out with just a few moist crumbs.
- Meanwhile, make the Butter Sauce: In a small saucepan combine 3/4 cup sugar, 1/3 cup butter, water, and vanilla. Cook over medium heat until butter is completely melted. Do not allow mixture to come to a boil.
- When cake comes out of the oven, prick surface with a bamboo stick or chopstick, make 30ish holes. Slowly, spoon Butter Sauce over cake. Allow cake to cool completely in the pan before removing.
- When cake is completely cooled, make the glaze; Place powdered sugar in a medium bowl. Set aside. Melt butter in microwave then pour over powdered sugar, add 2 Tablespoons of milk and whisk until smooth. Thin glaze as needed with milk. Pour over cake and let sit out until glaze is set.
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Recipe Notes for Kentucky Butter Cake:
Equipment: There aren’t a lot of recipes that I will lug my big, heavy, stand up mixer out of the lower cabinet for, but this is one of them. The recipe calls for an especially long “beating” time, so I strongly suggest using your stand up mixer if you have one. If not, a handheld mixer will work fine, just know that your hand might get a little tired. J
The final cake is pretty heavy. I wouldn’t use a regular nonstick cooking spray, because it’s just not strong enough to do the job. The cake will still stick, and you’ll be left with a huge mess when you try to get it out of the pan. Instead, I use Baker’s Joy spray to prep my Bundt pan (regular or non-stick). Using this method, I’ve never had any problems with the cake sticking or breaking up when inverted.
Poking the Cake: This recipe says to use a long, tined fork to pierce the cake several times. A meat fork or something like that will work if you want to use it, but I typically use the small end of a chopstick or kebab skewers. I’ll try to widen the holes a little bit as I poke the cake.
I’ve found that using a toothpick doesn’t work at all—the cake just doesn’t come out right. The holes are too small and not deep enough, they don’t let the butter sauce penetrate the cake properly.
Butter Sauce: I love letting the butter sauce drip down the sides so that there are streaks of sauce three-fourths of the way down the cake. If you want to do this, just make sure you do it slowly so the butter sauce doesn’t cascade down the sides and end up pooling near the bottom.
I typically wait until the cake comes out of the oven to begin making the butter sauce. I just don’t like pouring the sauce on the cake when it’s super hot, right out of the oven. If the cake is too hot when you pour the sauce on, the sauce tends to just roll down the sides and it doesn’t go into the holes you’ve created. A couple of minutes it takes me to whip up the sauce is just the right amount of time to let the cake cool. Those few minutes leave the cake at the perfect temperature for saucing!
Storage: This cake freezes really well. Just wrap it up in plastic wrap or foil, and freeze. Give it ample time to thaw and return to room temperature before serving.
Variations: Paula Deen’s Kentucky butter cake (she calls it her “Original Gooey Butter Cake”) uses a yellow cake mix instead of mixing from scratch. While this can work in a pinch, I’ve always found that the cake comes out better following this set of measurements. The ingredients for this cake are readily available, so you shouldn’t have much trouble coming up with them.
If you want to try something really different, make Kentucky butter cake cookies! I would use a half recipe, and but ice cream scoop-sized balls of the batter onto your cookie sheet. Then follow the same instructions for poking holes, saucing, and glazing.
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