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Kentucky Butter Cake

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Kentucky Butter Cake

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This old-fashioned vanilla butter cake drenched in syrup is the 1963 winner of the Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest.

Kentucky Butter Cake

I have no clue why this delicious butter cake is named for the state of Kentucky, but the recipe has been around since at least 1963, when Nell Lewis of Platte City, Missouri entered it into the Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest and won. It’s an old-fashioned vanilla buttermilk pound cake drenched in a luscious butter and sugar syrup. The syrup not only adds exceptional moisture to the cake, but it also creates a crisp coating on the surface, almost like a glazed donut. Kids love it, grown-ups love it—this simple butter cake is hard to beat. A big thank you to my longtime reader, Karen Tannenbaum, for sharing the recipe with me.

What you’ll need To Make Kentucky Butter Cake

ingredients for Kentucky butter cake

Before we get to the step-by-step instructions, a few words about the method. This butter cake is a “high-ratio” cake, which means that the weight of the sugar equals or exceeds the weight of the flour. Instead of the more common “creaming” method (where the butter and sugar are beaten together before the eggs, flour, and liquid are added), high-ratio cakes can be made using the “high-ratio” method, which involves mixing all the dry ingredients with the butter and some of the liquid first, then adding the remaining liquid ingredients.

The high-ratio method is not only easier than the traditional creaming method, but it also yields super tender and fine-textured cakes. (Other high-ratio cakes on the site include yellow cake, pound cake, rum cake, and marble cake.)

How to make kentucky butter cake

buttermilk, eggs and vanilla in bowlIn a medium bowl or liquid measuring cup, combine the buttermilk, eggs, and vanilla.

whisked buttermilk, eggs, and vanilla in bowl

Whisk and set aside. (Note that the mixture will start to look curdled as it sits; that’s okay.)

dry ingredients in mixer

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or beaters, combine the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Beat on low speed for 30 seconds to combine.

mixing dry ingredients in mixer

Add the soft butter and half of the buttermilk mixture. adding butter and buttermilk mixture to dry ingredients

Mix on low speed until moistened but still a little crumbly, about 1 minute.

mixing wet and dry ingredients

With the mixer running on low, gradually add the remaining buttermilk mixture.

mixing wet and dry ingredients

Increase the speed to medium and mix for three minutes, stopping once to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. The batter should look pale and creamy.

Kentucky butter cake batter

Transfer the batter to a Bundt pan sprayed with Baker’s Joy or Pam with Flour.

Kentucky butter cake ready to bake

Bake for 1 hour, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Set the pan on a cooling rack.

baked Kentucky butter cake cooling on rack

How to make the glaze

While the cake cools, make the glaze. In a small saucepan, combine the butter, granulated sugar, water, and vanilla.

glaze ingredients in a sauce pan

Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the sugar is dissolved, about 1 minute.

simmering glaze ready for cake

Using a skewer or toothpick, poke about 40 holes in the bottom of the still-warm cake, going about 3/4 of the way down.

poking holes in bottom of Kentucky butter cake

Spoon half of the glaze evenly over the bottom of the cake. spooning glaze over cake

If the glaze starts to pool on the surface, poke more holes to help it sink in. Leave the cake on the rack to cool for 30 minutes.

poking more holes in cake

Invert the cake onto a serving platter.

Kentucky butter cake inverted on platter

Brush the remaining glaze evenly over the top and sides of the cake, letting it soak in as you go. (Go slowly so that the cake absorbs the glaze.)

brushing the glaze over the top of the cake

Let the cake sit for at least one hour before serving. Right before serving, use a fine sieve to dust the top of the cake with confectioners’ sugar.

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Kentucky Butter Cake

This old-fashioned vanilla butter cake drenched in syrup is the 1963 winner of the Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest.

Servings: One 10-in Bundt Cake
Prep Time: 20 Minutes
Cook Time: 1 Hour
Total Time: 1 Hour 20 Minutes, plus 1 hour and 30 minutes to cool

Ingredients

For the Cake

  • 1 cup buttermilk (see note)
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour, spooned into measuring cup and leveled-off
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • Confectioners' sugar, for dusting

For the Glaze

  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup water
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Instructions

For the Cake

  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F and set an oven rack in the middle position. Spray a 12-cup Bundt pan with nonstick cooking spray with flour, such as Baker's Joy or Pam with Flour.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, eggs, and vanilla. Set aside. (Note that the mixture will start to look curdled as it sits; that's okay.)
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or beaters, combine the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Beat on low speed for 30 seconds to combine. Add the soft butter and half of the buttermilk mixture and mix on low speed until moistened but still a little crumbly, about 1 minute. With the mixer running on low, gradually add the remaining buttermilk mixture, then increase the speed to medium and mix for three minutes, stopping once to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. The batter should look pale and creamy. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl again, making sure the batter is evenly mixed.
  4. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and bake for 1 hour, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Set the pan on a cooling rack. Using a skewer or toothpick, poke about 40 holes in the bottom of the still-warm cake, going about ¾ of the way down. Spoon half of the glaze evenly over the bottom of the cake. If the glaze starts to pool on the surface, poke more holes to help it sink in. Leave the cake on the rack to cool for 30 minutes.
  5. Invert the cake onto a serving platter. Brush or spoon the remaining glaze evenly over the top and sides of the cake, letting it soak in as you go. (Go slowly so that the glaze gets absorbed.) Let the cake sit for at least one hour before serving. Right before serving, use a fine sieve to dust the top of the cake with confectioners' sugar.

For the Glaze

  1. In a small saucepan, combine the butter, granulated sugar, water, and vanilla. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the sugar is dissolved, about 1 minute.
  2. Note: If you’d like to make your own buttermilk, check out the easy method here.
  3. Make-Ahead Instructions: This cake keeps well for several days. Once cool, store in a cake dome (or cover with plastic wrap) at room temperature until ready to serve.
  4. Freezer-Friendly Instructions: The cake can be frozen for up to 3 months. After it is completely cooled, double-wrap it securely with aluminum foil or plastic freezer wrap, or place it in heavy-duty freezer bag. Thaw overnight on the countertop before serving.

Nutrition Information

Powered by Edamam

  • Per serving (16 servings)
  • Calories: 379
  • Fat: 17 g
  • Saturated fat: 10 g
  • Carbohydrates: 53 g
  • Sugar: 35 g
  • Fiber: 1 g
  • Protein: 5 g
  • Sodium: 87 mg
  • Cholesterol: 254 mg

This website is written and produced for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and the nutritional data on this site has not been evaluated or approved by a nutritionist or the Food and Drug Administration. Nutritional information is offered as a courtesy and should not be construed as a guarantee. The data is calculated through an online nutritional calculator, Edamam.com. Although I do my best to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures should be considered estimates only. Varying factors such as product types or brands purchased, natural fluctuations in fresh produce, and the way ingredients are processed change the effective nutritional information in any given recipe. Furthermore, different online calculators provide different results depending on their own nutrition fact sources and algorithms. To obtain the most accurate nutritional information in a given recipe, you should calculate the nutritional information with the actual ingredients used in your recipe, using your preferred nutrition calculator.

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Comments

  • Oh. My. Gosh! This cake is amazing!!! I made a half version in a 6 cup Bundt pan as it’s just my husband and I. Wow, it came out great! I didn’t sprinkle any confectioners sugar over the top, it didn’ touchdown lions oh my God good for them on Monro Saint whatever his name is yeaht need it. Would have been great with berries and vanilla ice cream if I had it. We ate it plain and it was delicious. Those that said it was dry or crumbly maybe over cooked it? It cooked for a little over 40 minutes in that smaller pan for half recipe. Next time, I might make it in individual cakes like steak houses do. I can’t imagine this wouldn’t be amazing in any vessel! Thanks Jen for another great recipe!

    • — Marla D. on January 21, 2024
    • Reply
  • This is an excellent recipe! I messed something up the second time I made it, as the bottom didn’t stay moist and “goo-y” like the first time. The only difference was that the syrup cooled a bit by the time I poured it in the holes because I made it while the cake was in the oven instead of after it had come out. Do you think that would have made the difference?

    Also, which cookbook is the other version in?

    Thank you!

    • — Cristina on January 7, 2024
    • Reply
    • Glad you like it but sorry you had a bit of a problem with it the second time around. I wouldn’t think that the syrup being a little cooler would have made a difference, but all things being equal (if you didn’t make any other changes), I’d have to guess that was the issue. And this recipe isn’t in either cookbook. My Kentucky bourbon cake is in my second cookbook.

      • — Jenn on January 10, 2024
      • Reply
  • I’ve used this recipe for butter cake so many times and each and every time it’s fantastic! Super easy and over the top delicious. I sometimes double the sauce for serving and saturating. One of favorite websites for recipes and great cooking!

    • — Jen on December 24, 2023
    • Reply
  • I commented before, but thought I would add, you can add a rum sauce instead of the sugar syrup. Also, this takes 1st place but runners up are: Banana Cake with Kona Coffee butter frosting, and Lilikoi (passion fruit) cheesecake. If you have these 3 in your recipe file, you are set.

    • — Chris on December 10, 2023
    • Reply
  • I accidentally ran across this today. I am so happy. I lost my original Kentucky Butter Cake recipe a couple years ago and couldn’t find any anywhere. Thank goodness! This is THE MOST INCREDIBLE cake to bake for Christmas. I even bought mini bundt cakes to make little ones for gifting neighbors. It is SOOOOOO delicious. Worth all the trouble with the syrup. So very very good. I would like to rate it 10 stars, as there is not better cake.

    • — Chris on December 10, 2023
    • Reply
  • Apologies if this question has been asked: I have a 10 cup Bundt pan from Nordic Ware. How would I adjust the recipe for 10 cups? Does less just get poured in?

    • — Krystyna L on December 2, 2023
    • Reply
    • Yes, that’s correct – I’d just pour less batter in. Bake time will likely be a little shorter, so keep a close eye on it. Hope you enjoy!

      • — Jenn on December 6, 2023
      • Reply

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