Love and Olive Oil

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


For Cake:
1 vanilla bean split and scraped, seeds reserved
1/2 cup (4 ounces) bourbon
3 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


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.

All images and text © / Love & Olive Oil

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  1. Rating: 5

    One of the best cakes I’ve ever made.  Made this exactly as recipe is written for husband’s birthday – he loves bourbon and chocolate, but not too dark chocolate and this was perfect.  Used Maker’s Mark bourbon.  I weighed flour and made sure butter and eggs were at room temp – which is key.  Used Guittard bittersweet for the dark chocolate and Guittard milk chocolate chips for the milk chocolate.  Perfect.  

  2. 2 cups of flour does not weight out to the amount listed. Is it 2 cups of flour or 13.5 ounces?

    • You’re right – I went back to the original recipe to check and the weight is correct, so should read 3 cups, not 2. Sorry about that!

  3. hi! 
    I just made this cake this weekend in honor of my sister in law’s 21st birthday! Shes officially allowed alcohol, so felt this was the perfect birthday cake possible. 
    OHHHH MYYYY GAWWWD it is heaven!!!! The cake was so moist and “juicy” i was blown away by it. I knew from the get – go this cake would be something else when the directions said to cream the butter and sugar for TEN MINUTES! 

    The whole thing was out of this world … my sister in law was so grateful (as was the rest of the family :) 

    Thank you for the recipe .. it is a keeper forsure! 

  4. Was just revisiting your blog today and wanted to say –

    I found this recipe last summer and made it for my boyfriend’s birthday. He still brings it up in conversation (frequently) as the best cake he’s ever had–ever–and was particularly impressed that it “looked just like the picture.” Looks like this one is going to have to be on the baking docket every May 30. Thanks for an awesome recipe!

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

  6. How much almond extract did you use?

  7. 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.

  8. 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?

  9. 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!

  10. 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.

  11. 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!

  12. 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!

  13. 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.

  14. 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!

  15. 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.

  16. 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!

  17. 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.

  18. 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 :)

    • 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. :)

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

  20. 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??

  21. 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!

  22. 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! :)

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


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

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

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

  27. 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.

    • 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!

  28. 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.

    • 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!

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