Let me just say this right now – this cake is so decadent you might need to leave it under lock and key or it will be gone within hours after you make it. I made this cake for my bourbon-loving husband’s birthday…….and then ate the rest for breakfast the next day.
You can leave the bourbon out and it will be just as decadent, but as a Kentucky born and bred pastry chef, I am a firm believer that everything is better with bourbon. Or not. Up to you. But I urge you to try it. The Kentucky Derby is less than two weeks away and I can’t think of anything better to be munching on as you watch the horses round the turn towards the finish line than this bourbon soaked cake. Take this opportunity now to “Derby-fy” your chocolate cake for the big race this weekend!
Oddly my 9-year-old daughter was the inspiration for this cake. When I asked her what we should make for my husband’s birthday she said “Well, daddy likes bourbon and caramel. How about a bourbon caramel cake?” And so there you have it – a bourbon soaked chocolate cake covered in chocolate ganache and bourbon smoked sea salt caramel, inspired by a 9-year-old. Yep, we definitely live in Kentucky, the bourbon capital of the United States.
The cake itself is the easiest cake to make. You don’t even need a mixer, you can do it all by hand. Personally I love recipes where I don’t have to pull out my huge Kitchenaid and I can just mix everything quickly in a bowl. Plus I think it sometimes results in a cake that is more moist and delicate. But mainly I love having less to clean up.
Keep a little of the caramel aside to drizzle over the cake slices before you serve this dessert. Trust me, this will take this already decadent chocolate cake to an unbelievable point of richness.
Or just eat the caramel straight from a saucepan with a spoon. Or over vanilla ice cream. It is so incredibly yummy I could drink it with a straw if that was possible.
Bourbon Soaked Chocolate Cake
First, assemble all of your ingredients. I cannot say enough how this makes a recipe easier to complete. I learned this in culinary school (called mise en place) and even years later at home I cannot prepare a recipe without having all of my ingredients measured and ready from the get go.
You can use hot water in place of the hot coffee but I believe that completely changes this recipe. I use a strong robust coffee and it makes a huge difference with this cake in bringing out the chocolate flavor. You can use decaf if you prefer.
Next, sift all of your dry ingredients in a large bowl.
Mix the eggs, vanilla and milk in a separate bowl.
Pour the oil into the dry ingredients and mix. The batter is still very dry at this point so just stir enough to mix into the dry ingredients.
Add the egg mixture and again, stir just to incorporate. The mixture at this point is still very dry.
Pour the coffee into the dry ingredients and mix. The batter will start off clumpy as the coffee is incorporated. I start mixing with a spatula and then switch to a wire whisk to fully mix all the ingredients.
Add the bourbon last and incorporate. Do not overmix the batter or the cake may come out tough.
Pour the batter into your cake pans and bake at 350 degrees. For a bundt pan, bake for approximately 45-50 minutes. For 9 inch cake pans, bake for approximatley 35 minutes.
While the cake is in the oven, you can prepare the other components of the cake.
Bourbon Simple Syrup
Place the sugar, water and bourbon in a small saucepan over medium high heat until sugar is dissolved. Simmer for 2-3 minutes to concentrate flavors. Let cool before using,
Place chocolate chips in a glass or stainless steel bowl. Heat heavy cream in a saucepan over medium-low heat until cream just begins to simmer. Watch it carefully because it will boil over quickly. Pour hot cream over chips to cover and let stand for 2-3 minutes.
Stir to incorporate until ganache is smooth and creamy.
Use when it is at desired thickness. Ganache will continue to thicken as it sits.
If it becomes too thick, heat over a double boiler to desired thickness. You can keep extra ganache in the refrigerator for up to a month.
Bourbon Smoked Sea Salt Caramel
You can make a Sea Salt Caramel for this recipe, but if you have never tried Smoked Sea Salt, or in my case, Bourbon Smoked Sea Salt, you are definitely missing out. I LOVE Bourbon Barrel Foods Bourbon Smoked Sea Salt.
I began using this product when I owned my bakery and chocolate business and tried to find as many ways as possible to use it. The smokiness of the salt adds an extra layer of complexity to the sea salt caramel. These salt crystals are smoked over repurposed bourbon barrel staves, giving them a rich buttery aroma. Add this smoked sea salt to the caramel and you have a superbly divine combination.
Place all ingredients in a heavy bottom saucepan over medium to medium-low heat. Stir to mix well.
Cook for 7-8 minutes, stirring as caramel cooks and thickens.
Remove from heat once caramel has thickened to desired consistency. Add bourbon slowly and stir to incorporate. Caramel will bubble when bourbon is added so be careful.
Let caramel cool slightly before using.
Assemble the Cake
When the cake comes out of the oven, liberally brush it with the Bourbon Simple Syrup. Don’t drown it, but feel free to give it a good dousing in the syrup.
Next is a trick I learned in pastry school. If you have a cake board, or large enough plate, place the plate on top of the cake pan and invert the cake, leaving the cake pan on. Let the cake cool sitting on the cake board/plate. This will keep the moisture in and give you a rich moist cake. Also, for this cake, it will help concentrate the bourbon flavor.
Once the cake cools, remove the cake pan and brush the top of the cake with more Bourbon Simple Syrup.
Next, cover the cake with chocolate ganache. If using a bundt cake, spoon over top and let fall over sides. If using 9 inch cake pans, spread a thin layer of ganache in between cake layers, and then spread over the top of the cake, letting the ganache fall over the sides of the cake.
Then drizzle the Bourbon Smoked Sea Salt caramel over the chocolate ganache. Use as much or as little as you desire. You can never have too much Bourbon Smoked Sea Salt Caramel (well, ok, maybe you can, but I can’t think of a situation like that right now).
If you have any caramel left, you can keep it and drizzle the cake slices with the caramel when serving.
This cake is perfect for any upcoming Kentucky Derby festivities, but personally I could eat it every day, all year, whether it’s Derby season or not.
As noted above, you can make it without the bourbon. Just follow the recipe and omit any steps with the bourbon. Instead of a Bourbon Simple Syrup you can make a regular simple syrup to brush on the cake with simply sugar and water. Follow the same instructions as above for the simple syrup.