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Bourbon Layer Cake with Bourbon Ganache and Milk Chocolate Buttercream

Bourbon Layer Cake with Bourbon Ganache and Milk Chocolate Buttercream

I kind of shot myself in the foot when I made that incredible Rainbow Cake last year. As my little sister’s birthday approached, I kept thinking, “how on EARTH am I going to top the rainbow cake?” I mean, seriously. The only things that top rainbows are sparkles and unicorns.

Or booze.

And since a unicorn cake is entirely beyond my skill set, I went with the later. And set out to make the booziest, bourbonyest cake I could.

Bourbon Layer Cake with Milk Chocolate Buttercream

Bourbon buttermilk cake. Bourbon chocolate ganache. Milk chocolate buttercream. And I did not skimp on the bourbon, either. There’s a half a cup in the cake alone. You can literally smell the aroma the second you cut into it.

Bourbon Layer Cake with Bourbon Ganache and Milk Chocolate Buttercream

I’m not sure if it was the bourbon or the buttermilk or the butter, but this cake was so incredibly moist and buttery that the frosting and ganache had trouble sticking to it. Or maybe it was an issue with the frosting itself. I’ll say that’s why there’s not a slice photo here for you to see, but in reality it’s because we devoured that thing before I could find a free moment to snap a shot. You’ll just have to use your imagination.

Kentucky Bourbon Trail - Four Roses

What really sealed the deal and made this cake *officially* better than last year’s was the experience that went along with it. A day in Kentucky, experiencing a small part of what they call the Bourbon Trail. Even if you’re not a bourbon drinker seeing the process of how it’s made is incredibly intriguing. The science and precision and craft is awe inspiring. And the 10am bourbon tastings that come with the tours? Let’s just say I’m not complaining.

Kentucky Bourbon Trail - Buffalo Trace

Yup. I think my sister had the best birthday (and best birthday cake) ever. No unicorns necessary.

Bourbon Layer Cake with Bourbon Ganache and Milk Chocolate Buttercream

Yield: 1 8-inch layer cake (about 16 servings)

Ingredients:

For Cake:
1 vanilla bean split and scraped, seeds reserved
1/2 cup (4 ounces) bourbon
2 cups (13.5 ounces) all purpose flour, sifted
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
5 eggs, room temperature
2 egg yolks
1 1/2 cups buttermilk

For Buttercream:
4 ounces dark chocolate
6 ounces milk chocolate
2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2-3 cups powdered sugar, or more as needed
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For Ganache:
4 ounces dark or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon bourbon

Directions:

Combine the bourbon and vanilla bean together in a small bowl. Steep overnight, or as long as you can before proceeding.

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Butter and line 3 8-inch round cake pans with parchment paper. Butter parchment.

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

Combine the sugar, butter, and reserved vanilla bean seeds in the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat on medium speed for 10 minutes, until very light and fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl periodically as needed.

Reduce the speed to medium low and add the eggs and egg yolk, one at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition.

Add the flour mixture, one cup at a time, alternating with buttermilk, mixing on low speed until incorporated. Immediately add the bourbon (discard the vanilla pod) and mix until combined.

Divide the batter among prepared pans and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until tops are lightly browned and springy. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack until cool enough to handle. Run a small knife around the edges of each pan, then gently invert onto wire racks. Cakes should come out cleanly. Allow to cool completely. At this point, the cakes can be frozen until ready to use, up to 1 month. Simply wrap each layer individually in a double layer of plastic wrap and then store inside a large zip top bag. Personally, I always make my cakes a few days in advance and freeze them. I find the frozen cake to be much easier to level and frost than fresh cakes.

For the ganache, place chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Bring cream to a bare simmer over low heat. Pout hot cream over chocolate, and stir until smooth. Add bourbon. Set aside and allow to cool until thickened slightly (the room temperature ganache should be about the consistency of peanut butter). If it's too thick, you can add a little bit more hot cream and stir until smooth.

For buttercream, melt chocolates in a microwave or double boiler over low heat until smooth. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.

In a large mixing bowl, beat butter until fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. Add powdered sugar, 1/2 cup at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add cooled chocolate and beat until smooth. Add heavy cream and vanilla and beat until light and fluffy. Add more powdered sugar or heavy cream as necessary to acheive desired consistency.

To assemble, level each cake layer by cutting of the domed top with a long serrated knife. Place one layer, flat side down, on a cake stand or serving platter. To keep the platter clean while frosting, place 4 small strips of parchment or waxed paper just under the edges of the cake. This will allow you to frost the cake and then remove these strips cleanly later.

Spread half of the ganache evenly over top of layer, followed approximately 1/2 cup of buttercream. Position second layer on top and press to adhere. Repeat with remaining ganache, another 1/2 cup of buttercream, and final cake layer, flat side up.

Cover the entire cake with a thin layer of buttercream. This "crumb coat" will make frosting the cake easier. Refrigerate for about 15 minutes to allow this crumb coat to set.

Remove cake from refrigerator and frost with remaining buttercream, reserving some if you'd like to add any decorative details or borders.

Cake base adapted from BraveTart.

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85 CommentsLeave a Comment →

  1. 1
    Posted On January 19, 2012 at 10:05 am

    I wish I had a sister like you! I cannot believe how much booze you managed to squeeze into this cake, I am super impressed.

    Reply

  2. 2
    Posted On January 19, 2012 at 10:08 am

    I don’t drink at all, but I have no problems eating my alcohol, and there’s half a bottle of Maker’s Mark in my cabinet just waiting for a great recipe. I think I just found it!

    Reply

  3. 3
    Posted On January 19, 2012 at 10:15 am

    Can you be my sister? :) this is beautiful!

    Reply

  4. 4
    Posted On January 19, 2012 at 10:24 am

    Yikes! I’m usually not attracted to alcohol but this cake is going to have to be an exception. This cake looks yummy. Happy birthday to your sister!

    Reply

  5. 5
    Posted On January 19, 2012 at 10:30 am

    Well, at first I was mad you made this cake and didn’t save me a slice. BUT, then I realized it was for your sister’s birthday! haha… I think I know what cake I’m making for either my or Nathan’s next birthday!!!

    Reply

    • Posted On January 19, 2012 at 10:48 am

      You should totally make this your post-baby celebration cake. :)

  6. 6
    Posted On January 19, 2012 at 10:32 am

    Lindsay! Oh my goodness…I wish it were my birthday. Delish!

    Reply

  7. 7
    Posted On January 19, 2012 at 10:39 am

    WOW! What an amazing cake. I’m sure your sister loved it :)

    Reply

  8. 8
    Posted On January 19, 2012 at 10:51 am

    Geez, how perfect looking is this cake??? Love it!

    Reply

  9. 9
    Posted On January 19, 2012 at 10:52 am

    I am seriously jealous of your icing skills. They’re impeccable! I need you to come by and give me a lesson :D My brother would be head over heels in love with this cake. In fact I might have to make it soon. Thanks!

    Reply

  10. 10
    Posted On January 19, 2012 at 10:53 am

    Ah YUM. I haven’t made a cake in a while after my Christmas baking, but i feel like I have been inspired again.

    Reply

  11. 11
    Posted On January 19, 2012 at 11:03 am

    WOW, that sounds absolutely fantastic :) And your cake decoration skills are totally amazing.

    Reply

  12. 12
    Posted On January 19, 2012 at 11:12 am

    Wow!! I love bourbon. I love cake. I love chocolate. And I wouldn’t be opposed to having a little “how-to” party on cake decorating ;)
    The cake is absolutely beautiful!

    Reply

  13. 13
    Posted On January 19, 2012 at 11:29 am

    This cake is lovely! I need more bourbon in my life.

    Reply

  14. 14
    Posted On January 19, 2012 at 12:12 pm

    Wow thats sounds fantastic….a very tempting cake.

    Reply

  15. 15
    Posted On January 19, 2012 at 12:14 pm

    It’s soooo beautiful!!!

    Reply

  16. 16
    Posted On January 19, 2012 at 12:20 pm

    This looks delicious! I want to try making it as cupcakes :)

    Reply

  17. 17
    Posted On January 19, 2012 at 12:38 pm

    What a beautiful cake! Your decorating skills are something to be admired – and I’m sure this tasted amazing!

    Reply

  18. 18
    Posted On January 19, 2012 at 12:41 pm

    This is genius. Have you been to the Dickel distillery yet? I actually grew up five minutes from there, 15 minutes from Jack Daniel’s, and despite Dickel being my bourbon of choice, only went on a tour there for the first time over Christmas. It’s about an hour from Nashville–you should go sometime!

    Reply

  19. 19
    Annette
    Posted On January 19, 2012 at 1:23 pm

    Cannot WAIT to try this! Chocolate and bourbon are two of my favorite things. Was the picture of the barrels taken at Buffalo Trace? I swear I stood in the exact same place and took that same picture.

    Reply

    • Posted On January 19, 2012 at 2:02 pm

      Buffalo Trace indeed! :) I know it’s not technically “on” the bourbon trail but we found it very interesting!

    • Annette
      Posted On January 19, 2012 at 7:05 pm

      Pretty funny, Lindsay. I had to pull mine up to compare. The lighting on yours is better, but you can see it here: http://pinterest.com/pin/172192385722508745/ Thanks for the memory!

    • Stephen
      Posted On August 17, 2012 at 5:39 pm

      Lindsay:

      We did the whole Bourbon Trail – got the T-Shirt. The best was off the trail at Buffalo Trace. So, what bourbon did you use for the cake – or does it matter? A wheat one which is sweeter or a rye one for the bite?

      I want to make this cake so badly!

      Na Zdrowie! (Cheers)

      Steve

  20. 20
    Posted On January 19, 2012 at 1:32 pm

    I can imagine it wouldn’t be so easy to beat your rainbow cake!
    I loved it so much I want to keep it as my desktop wallpaper <3
    This one looks amazing too – all these skyscraper cakes that you make are great :D

    Reply

  21. 21
    Posted On January 19, 2012 at 1:47 pm

    Looks incredible! I’m not sure which part sold me first… chocolate, cake, frosting, bourbon or moist. Love it. :)

    Reply

  22. 22
    Posted On January 19, 2012 at 1:56 pm

    Dear your sister, can we trade places, please, just for a day??? I promise to save you a few crumbs when we switch back the next day.

    By the way, bourbonyest. That’s my new favorite word of the day.

    Reply

  23. 23
    Posted On January 19, 2012 at 2:07 pm

    bourbon
    chocolate
    cake
    dessert with booze in it

    Yep, that about summarizes everything right with the world and this post :)

    Reply

  24. 24
    Posted On January 19, 2012 at 2:34 pm

    You have got a lucky sister! This cake looks A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!

    Reply

  25. 25
    Posted On January 19, 2012 at 3:27 pm

    That is complete perfect from top to bottom. *LOVE*

    Reply

  26. 26
    Posted On January 19, 2012 at 3:48 pm

    Wow this is so beautiful and it’s making my mouth water. I’m planning to make a birthday cake soon…maybe I’ll muster the courage to make this.

    Reply

  27. 27
    Posted On January 19, 2012 at 3:56 pm

    I was just commenting to my husband that I really should cook or bake with all the bottles of alcohol that we have but never seem to drink from . This is perfect!

    Reply

  28. 28
    Posted On January 19, 2012 at 3:59 pm

    Wow! The cake itself is so incredible and the bourbon tour makes the whole celebration even that much more special. What an amazing birthday. Two words: September 7. :-)

    Reply

  29. 29
    Posted On January 19, 2012 at 4:11 pm

    oh WOW….just WOW!!

    I think the title alone has Mr Shady Pine over here just swooning!

    Reply

  30. 30
    Posted On January 19, 2012 at 4:13 pm

    I just want to eat straight out of the bowl of frosting that you used on that cake!

    Reply

  31. 31
    Posted On January 19, 2012 at 5:05 pm

    Lindsay, absolutely gorgeous cake. You are a great sister! I am fascinated with the way that alcohol is made, thanks for the fun photos!

    Reply

  32. 32
    Posted On January 19, 2012 at 8:30 pm

    I just wept a little. Bourbon and cake. Two of my favorite things. Together at last. Pinning this to must make board. Thank you.

    Reply

  33. 33
    Posted On January 19, 2012 at 10:00 pm

    I am speechless! that cake is absolutely gorgeous!! I wish I could have a slice right now!

    Reply

  34. 34
    Posted On January 19, 2012 at 11:38 pm

    Gosh!!! with that kind of alcohol in the cake..its gonna be one happy party!! :)

    Reply

  35. 35
    Posted On January 20, 2012 at 12:01 am

    Wow, I love the gorgeous simplicity of the outside and the flavor combos sound delicious!!

    Reply

  36. 36
    Posted On January 20, 2012 at 1:16 am

    Lindsay, your grandmother would have approved. Bettie had 2 bourbons every night before dinner. I’ll bet she would have been on this cake in an instance!!!

    Reply

  37. 37
    Posted On January 20, 2012 at 2:32 am

    Ohhh it’s soo good and pretty. Yummy!!

    xoxo

    Reply

  38. 38
    Posted On January 20, 2012 at 8:08 am

    The cakes I’ve made with a lot of booze in always tend to turn out beautifully moist so I’m guessing that’s what did it for yours. Very impressed with how much you managed to squeeze in! And the frosting looks perfect – far more grown up and delicious than a unicorn cake (although I bet you’d do an awesome job of that too!)

    Reply

  39. 39
    Posted On January 20, 2012 at 9:36 am

    this is my dream in a cake. seriously.

    Reply

  40. 40
    Posted On January 20, 2012 at 12:06 pm

    I think I’m in love. No seriously. I’m in love. :-)

    Reply

  41. 41
    Posted On January 20, 2012 at 12:28 pm

    “The only things that top rainbows are sparkles and unicorns.” LOVE IT!

    Reply

  42. 42
    nina
    Posted On January 20, 2012 at 12:35 pm

    I’m so grateful to you for including the weight of ingredients in your recipes. I can’t wait to make this one! many, many thanks

    Reply

  43. 43
    Posted On January 20, 2012 at 1:23 pm

    I love bourbon. This looks fantastic! Do you think this would work well with dark chocolate buttercream?

    Reply

  44. 44
    Posted On January 20, 2012 at 3:12 pm

    This is exactly what I need right now to cure this terrible cold I’m going through. Looks delicious and it is so prettily decorated.

    Reply

  45. 45
    Posted On January 20, 2012 at 3:29 pm

    I have bourbon, I have chocolate. I must have this cake. Sounds and looks amazing!

    Reply

  46. 46
    Posted On January 20, 2012 at 4:30 pm

    That cake looks like it was to die for! Yellow cake with chocolate frosting is my favorite combo- especially with all those layers! Yum!

    Reply

  47. 47
    Posted On January 20, 2012 at 7:11 pm

    nothing wrong w/ eating it up before anybody can snap a picture – happens here all the time… LOL

    Reply

  48. 48
    Posted On January 20, 2012 at 7:35 pm

    I tried cutting thisrecipe in half to make as cupcakes but it didnt work out for me, the cake came out really gummy but the aroma was heavenly. Im no novice so Im totally baffled as to what went wrong.

    Reply

    • Posted On January 25, 2012 at 10:29 pm

      Yvette, I just made the cake and it also turned out really gummy. Not sure why. I was hoping for a light, fluffy cake. The batter was also really liquidy before I baked it.
      Lindsay – any thoughts? The taste was amazing but the texture was very off.

    • Posted On January 25, 2012 at 11:09 pm

      I will acknowledge that the texture of this cake wasn’t light and fluffy like some cakes. So much so that the frosting didn’t stick to it. But I saw it as more moist, not necessarily gummy. Wondering if maybe the batter got overmixed?

      Guess I’ll just have to make it again and see! :)

  49. 49
    Posted On January 20, 2012 at 8:15 pm

    This cake and I are planning a June wedding. You’re totally invited.

    Reply

  50. 50
    Posted On January 20, 2012 at 10:01 pm

    I can’t get over the look of that cake — amazing! The chocolate color is so vibrant and delicious!

    Reply

  51. 51
    Katie
    Posted On January 21, 2012 at 1:56 pm

    I am mid-making this cake right now and I just noticed that while nutmeg and almond are in the ingredient list for the cake, they are not mentioned at all in the directions. I wasn’t sure if I should put them in or not, since I wasn’t sure if the error was in listing them, or in omitting them.

    Reply

    • Posted On January 21, 2012 at 2:00 pm

      You know… I honestly can’t remember. They’re in the original recipe so it won’t hurt to add them in, but I’m kind of thinking I omitted them just to focus more of the flavor on the bourbon. Damn you, short term memory!

  52. 52
    Jeannie Sattler
    Posted On January 22, 2012 at 11:31 am

    FYI…I made this delicious cake last night. I wanted to let you know though that the Almond Extract is missing within the directions, so it got left out. I will need to make again and include the Almond Extract. Thanks for your fantastic blogs & recipes.

    Reply

    • Posted On January 22, 2012 at 4:10 pm

      The original recipe did call for almond extract, but I left it out to further emphasize the bourbon flavor. :) Recipe is now updated to reflect that. Glad to hear you enjoyed it!

  53. 53
    Posted On January 22, 2012 at 11:44 pm

    I’m usually not a cake person, but the buttermilk, chocolate and bourbon in this recipe could change all that! Gorgeous.

    Reply

  54. 54
    Posted On January 23, 2012 at 11:17 am

    Booze and chocolate has to be the all time yummiest combination. Excellent choice.
    And it looks so pretty too…

    Reply

  55. 55
    Steph
    Posted On January 23, 2012 at 11:35 am

    That looks SO SCRUMPTIOUS!
    I think i actually just drooled at my desk…
    thanks for sharing!

    Reply

  56. 56
    Posted On January 23, 2012 at 4:32 pm

    This looks absolutely delicious! What an achievement! Lucky sis…

    xox

    Reply

  57. 57
    Lisa.
    Posted On January 27, 2012 at 10:34 pm

    Wow, this looks so delicious. I have seriously been waiting for your sister’s brithday since you posted the rainbow cake. I can’t wait to make this. Maybe I just found Dad’s new birthday cake? His is coming up. Thanks so much! :)

    Reply

  58. 58
    Posted On January 28, 2012 at 7:53 pm

    Thanks for this recipe! Made it today, but switched out the bourbon for Kahlua. Bought the Kahlua for a recipe earlier this week that only called for 2 Tbsp. Was wondering how to use up the rest and thought of this recipe! It was yummy!

    Reply

  59. 59
    Posted On January 30, 2012 at 10:32 am

    considering i grew up stealing sips of my dads bourbon I cannot wait to try this cake out!! someone think of a good excuse to bake for me??

    Reply

  60. 60
    Posted On February 13, 2012 at 8:56 am

    Oh my! I’m almost speechless, what an amazing cake!

    Reply

  61. 61
    Virginia
    Posted On February 27, 2012 at 7:02 pm

    Lindsay (or anyone) – how long does it take frozen cake layers to thaw? I’d like to make this for a party but can’t figure out the timing – can I pull the layers out of the freezer and frost the morning of the event? Do they need more than a couple hours? I don’t want to serve anyone a frozen cake! Thanks :)

    Reply

    • Posted On February 27, 2012 at 11:03 pm

      I always do it the morning of. Take the cake out, level and frost it while it’s still frozen (easier to work with that way), and then stick it in the fridge until it’s time to serve. Never had an issue with frozen cake. :)

  62. 62
    Marie
    Posted On February 27, 2012 at 10:49 pm

    This cake is baking as I type. I wonder if the bourbon is part of the reason it got gummy for some people since it is sticky.

    Reply

  63. 63
    Eva
    Posted On September 26, 2012 at 9:25 am

    Question-I only have 2 9in round pans, I thought I would make this cake regardless and turn any extra batter into cupcakes. But just wondering-how much should I fill the pans? I’ve seen recommendations to fill the pans halfway elsewhere online, but how much did this batter rise, in your experience?

    Thanks so much for your help! I’m going to be making this for a friend’s 21st next week…can’t wait!

    Reply

  64. 64
    Clare
    Posted On November 18, 2012 at 8:36 am

    I have also been on the Bourbon Trail. Not really a bourbon drinker, but I loved the samples…not too bad. I can’t wait to try this cake, especially since we bought some bourbon while on the Trail.

    Reply

  65. 65
    Sam
    Posted On November 27, 2012 at 12:34 am

    Wow, what a cake! I made this for Thanksgiving this year, it was a hit!
    It is detailed in the making of but NOT in the eating of it! We found that as it sat the flavors grew. Thank you for sharing this prize!

    Reply

  66. 66
    Sammy
    Posted On November 30, 2012 at 11:27 pm

    I made this for my sister’s birthday after she requested something boozy. WOW! It was so good, everyone who tried it asked me what bakery it was from! If nothing else, this milk chocolate buttercream is UNREAL. One of the best frostings I have tried, ever.

    Reply

  67. 67
    Kristen E
    Posted On February 12, 2013 at 2:19 pm

    Well, it started with this recipe (today is my husband’s birthday, and the cake is in the oven), but the more I look around your site, the more things I find that I want to make! You’ve gained yourself a new reader, and I’ve gained a new favorite blog. Keep up the good work! Everything looks AMAZING!

    Reply

  68. 68
    Posted On April 26, 2013 at 12:11 pm

    As a Kentuckian, I can tell you that you did us proud with this one! You wisely used bourbon instead of whiskey and that made all the difference in the world! I’m pinning this in hopes that I’ll remember to make it for my husband’s birthday next year! He’d love it!

    Reply

  69. 69
    misty Palombo
    Posted On June 5, 2013 at 11:42 am

    I sorry to say I didn’t like this recipe. I did choose to make it into cupcakes and the sunk coming out of the oven. They tasted like pancakes and very heavy and eggy. Maybe I did something wrong but it wasn’t a good recipe for me.

    Reply

  70. 70
    Posted On September 20, 2013 at 5:52 pm

    Sad to say, this recipe didn’t work for me. I’m a very experienced baker, but this cake came out heavy and gummy as previous commenters indicated. I also didn’t care for the nutmeg flavor, which totally overpowered the bourbon. I guess I should have read the comments before making the cake! Anyway, if it had ever risen I would have said it fell, but since I was watching it, I can say that it barely rose and what it did, it did unevenly. I like the frosting though! I’ll just redo the cake with Smitten Kitchen’s yellow cake recipe and leave the bourbon to the ganache. Close enough!

    Reply

  71. 71
    Posted On November 20, 2013 at 12:55 pm

    Hi Lindsay, I’m in the middle of making this and just saw you say 2 c or 13.5 oz flour …. 3 cups is 13.5 oz…. Which is it?

    Reply

    • Posted On November 20, 2013 at 1:35 pm

      Depending on how you scoop the flour it can vary quite drastically. I’d get out your scale and do it that way. :)

  72. 72
    58Teresa
    Posted On January 8, 2014 at 12:21 pm

    oh – I was so sad – the cake indented instead of rising, and was pockmarked almost like I didn’t add all of the flour. didn’t try tasting it, although it sure smelled good.

    Reply

  73. 73
    Casey
    Posted On March 12, 2014 at 6:28 am

    How much almond extract did you use?

    Reply

  74. 74
    Ging
    Posted On April 14, 2014 at 11:45 am

    The directions mention almond extract but I don’t see it in the ingredient list?? Thanks

    Reply

    • Posted On April 14, 2014 at 1:41 pm

      That shouldn’t be in there, no. All you need is the vanilla bean for this one.

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