Sunday, June 26, 2011

Kentucky Butter Cake (aka Wedding Cupcakes)

Yesterday, my next-door neighborsand dear, dear friendsgot married. It was a lovely ceremony, on top of a defunct volcano up the hill from our house, full of green trees and a distant mountain and good friends and so much love that I think my heart exploded a little bit. And cupcakes.

I spent the last several weeks baking batch after batch of cupcakes, wrapping them well and stashing them deep in the freezer (and the freezers of others when I ran out of space). I learned more than I thought there was to know about frosting, from using an Italian meringue in the service of a not-too-sweet-and-meltproof buttercream, to white chocolate's ability to secretly stabilize a June-proof cream cheese frosting (thanks, Cake Bible!). I baked rich, moist chocolate cupcakes; tangy, summery lemon-yogurt-strawberry cupcakes; and the cake I hadn't had since I left high school: Kentucky Butter Cake.

This recipe comes from the bakery where I worked as a teenager, and tastes the way you remember childhood yellow cakes tasting (instead of the disappointing, one-dimensional sugar bombs they seem to have become). These are rich and buttery (natch), drenched in a syrupy glaze (when they're not also enrobed in buttercream), but light from careful preparation and the lovely lift of buttermilk. But who wants to talk about cupcakes? It's really about love.

But it's hard to find the words to capture that. So I'll leave you with those of James Salter:

Life is weather. Life is meals.
Lunches on a blue checked cloth on which salt has spilled.

The smell of tobacco. Brie, yellow apples, wood-handled knives.

Happy wedding, and happy happy life to my loves. And cupcakes for everyone.

Kentucky Butter Cake (aka wedding cupcakes)

adapted from The Baker's Cafe

yields a 9” bundt cake, or 24 cupcakes

3 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
heaping ½ tsp salt
1 cup butter, softened to room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 eggs (best if these are at room temperature)
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup buttermilk (best if this is at room temperature)

½ cup sugar
¼ cup butter
1 ½ tsp vanilla
2 Tbsp water

Preheat your oven to 350. Grease and flour a 9” bundt pan, or place liners in 2 dozen muffin cups. Set aside.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

Using an electric mixer, beat the softened butter until light and fluffy. Add the sugar, and beat until light and fluffy again, stopping a few times to scrape down the sides. Add the eggs, one by one, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides regularly. Add the vanilla, and mix well.

Lower the speed of the mixer, and add 1/3 of the dry mixture, mixing on low until just barely combined (stop just shy of a uniform mixture to avoid over-mixing), and scrape down the sides/bottom to enure there are no un-mixed pockets. Add half of the buttermilk, and again mix until barely combined. Repeat the process, adding half of the remaining flour mixture, all of the remaining buttermilk, and then all of the remaining dries. Pour into the prepared bundt or cupcake pans, and bake until a tester comes out clean (~50 minutes for a bundt cake, ~20 for cupcakes).

While the cake is baking, prepare the glaze. Combine all of the glaze ingredients in a medium saucepan. When the cake comes out of the oven, stir and simmer the glaze until the mixture begins to bubble. Pour the warm glaze over the warm cake in its pan.


  1. It sounds amazing. I definitely don't use my bundt pan enough!

    I love the James Salter quote, as well.

  2. My Aunt made Kentucky Butter Cake for lots of birthdays, and now her son (my cousin) makes it for special occasions. I tried (pre-veegs) to make it once but was scandalized by the amount of butter and so I cut it back. Needless to say, the cake was not very good!

  3. This cake is all about scandalous amounts of butter. But it comes together well -- all sunny and buttery, not heavy and greasy.

    And we had your husband for dinner last night - dairy-free shortcakes with strawberries and cashew cream instead of butter cake.

  4. My husband is a lucky man :) thanks for treating him right!

  5. Can you please share what you would add to the recipe for your chocolate version?

    1. My chocolate cupcakes are actually a different recipe entirely — I'm fond of this one. It's very moist and tender, so I added a bit more flour for wedding cupcakes (when crumbling all over the place isn't advised), but it's fairly perfect as is.