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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 moistens the cake (and I mean really moistens) 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. Why does this matter? 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” or “quick-mix” method. This involves mixing all the dry ingredients with the butter and some of the liquid first, then adding the remaining liquid ingredients.

This method is not only faster and easier than the traditional creaming method, but it also yields incredibly tender and fine-textured cakes.

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.

sliced Kentucky butter cake

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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.

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Comments

  • This has been a family favorite for over 45yrs. Found the recipe in Pillsbury cookbook my mother gave me when married in 1976. The original recipe, by Nells Louis, still have the book. I guess your version, mixing the buttermilk, eggs and vanilla, makes quick work of it, but the original recipe has never failed me. I will continue to use the original method, sifting dry ingredients together in one bowl. Mixing butter and sugar until creamed, then adding eggs one at a time, then vanilla, then dry ingredients and buttermilk alternately until smooth.

    • — Connie Martinez on September 23, 2022
    • Reply
  • This cake is fabulous and I’ve gotten rave reviews when I’ve made it. I need to take a 13 x 9 cake to a fundraiser dinner. Would this recipe work in that size pan?

    • — Holly on September 14, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Holly, So glad you like it! I haven’t tried this in a baking dish that size but one reader commented that she did successfully so I think it’s worth a try. Bake time will be shorter so keep a close eye on it. I’d love to hear how it turns out if you try it!

      • — Jenn on September 15, 2022
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  • Hi Jenn. This reminds me in a lot of ways of a Rum Cake recipe that I’ve been making for years that people love (likely your Nonny’s recipe)…Your cook book has a Bourbon version of this Kentucky Butter Cake…I know with the Rum Cake it only gets better as each day goes by and the alcohol seems to preserve it…Question: If I make the Bourbon version of this cake do you think it would stay good wrapped in my fridge for a week until I bring it to a party? Or is it better to freeze it? Thanks for all you do.

    • — Diane on July 21, 2022
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    • Hi Diane, Yes, it’s similar to the rum cake! I would freeze it a week out. Hope all is well 🙂

      • — Jenn on July 22, 2022
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      • Great to know–thanks a million, as always, Jenn. Think of you and all your skillful advice all of the time. Appreciate you!

        • — Diane on July 27, 2022
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  • Hi Jen,
    I am trying to cut my sugar intake, so I usually half the sugar from recipes. However, I realize that you described this as a “high ratio” cake. Was wondering if it’s possible for me to cut the sugar by half while keeping the amount of flour the same? Will it affect the cake’s texture? Thank you!

    • — Patrick on July 21, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Patrick, You’re correct that a high ratio cake will not work with less sugar. I’m sorry!

      • — Jenn on July 21, 2022
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  • My house smelled amazing. People were mmming outloud. Made exactly as instructed and it turned out perfect. Very transportable in warm weather (we drove a couple hours to a cabin).

    • — Lisa on May 22, 2022
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  • Looking forward to making this cake today!! As mentioned in a previous comment, if I make half of this cake and my pan is a loaf pan, do you bake it for the same amount of time as above? Thinking it should be for less. Can you give me some advice?

    • — Dianne on April 18, 2022
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    • Hi Dianne, I’d start checking it at 50 minutes. Hope you enjoy!

      • — Jenn on April 19, 2022
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  • Only change was to use lemon juice in place of vanilla and water in the glaze. It was a perfect cake, got rave reviews, and was a great base for strawberries and whipped cream

    • — Bonny on April 16, 2022
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  • I made this cake tonight and it’s awesome. The cake is moist, tender and delicious! Thank you for this recipe; I will definitely make it again.

    • — Diane on March 1, 2022
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  • Made the bourbon version from the cookbook for a dinner party and people were super into this cake! And it’s so easy to make, too. I will definitely be making this frequently!

    • — Lesley K. on February 18, 2022
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  • PS.. Using Rum extract in place of Vanilla is a terrific variation!!

    • — Catherine Carmel on February 5, 2022
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  • This recipe makes the very best cake on the planet- period! It is absolutely wonderful in every way…great flavor, perfect crumble, a bit crunchy on top & not too sweet, It is amazingly delicious!! 🍒❤️😊

    • — Catherine Carmel on February 5, 2022
    • Reply
  • Hi Jenn,

    I don’t have a Bundt pan — can I use a regular cake pan instead? Thank you!!

    Cheers,
    Pat (big fan)

    • — Patrick on January 27, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Pat, You can use two 8-inch round pans. The cook time will be less so you’ll need to keep an eye on it. Enjoy!

      • — Jenn on January 28, 2022
      • Reply
  • Like so many others have stated – Jenn has become my absolute “go-to” for any/all recipes. I have no concerns trying a recipe for the first time with company, as long as I have taken it from this website or the 2 “OUAC” books that I now have. This is so simple but so delicious and a crowd pleaser. Thank you so much Jenn – for this recipe and every other one. I will be making this cake yet again tomorrow for a birthday celebration – for any Canadians out there – it is like a sour cream glazed donut from Tim’s. Drench it in the sauce and maybe even make a double batch of sauce to serve when you slice the cake (only if you went too fast on the final step of glazing the cake. Go slow – it is worth it!)

    • — Jodie Clarke on January 14, 2022
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  • This is absolute dessert perfection; I have probably baked it at least a dozen times. Follow exactly as written, occasionally I’ll add a splash of almond extract if we want some zest, but it’s so perfect just as it is. My husband is a total dessert snob and keeps asking for this over and over again. Only tip: I use a metal straw for extra thick glaze lines.

    • — Mal on December 23, 2021
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  • I made this and it was in fact delicious. I kept thinking the sugar wasn’t dissolving for the glaze because it would cool in the pan and then harden and not be a syrup. I added some water and that solved it but I didn’t get the “frosted” glaze look as the syrup hardens once I poured it on the cake so now I get it 🙂 The bourbon was perfect amount to not be overly boozy – I had to reduce rum on the french apple cake because that was very boozy. Bourbon plays really well with this recipe. Also I was on vacation and didn’t have vanilla extract and the only thing in the house I could substitute was Mrs. Butterworths maple syrup. It worked thankfully 🙂 I know what you are thinking…..well how the heck did you have buttermilk and not vanilla extract. So the truth is I forgot the buttermilk when I went to grocery store so I went back a second time to pick that up and when I discovered I didn’t have vanilla I refused to show my face in that store again and looked at the “maple syrup” and said….be kind.

    • — Sarah McConnell on October 25, 2021
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  • I have your new cookbook that features the Kentucky Bourbon Cake, which my mom made and said it was amazing! Given pregnancy and little kids that might want to eat some dessert, would this recipe be a more “kid friendly” option? Or can I substitute the bourbon glaze with this cake’s glaze? Any suggestion would be helpful, thank you!

    • — Jess on October 14, 2021
    • Reply
    • The Kentucky bourbon cake should be fine for both you (considering you’re pregnant) and your kids, but I’d go with this one so you don’t have any concerns. It’s delicious!

      • — Jenn on October 15, 2021
      • Reply
    • I made this for the guys I work with and they told me I wasn’t allowed to bring this cake again. They each ate 4 pieces and didn’t save me a piece!! It is the most delicious cake! I took it to my family get together and everyone asked for the recipe. I am making it again,right now, for my daughter to take to her dad for his birthday. Thank you so much for sharing this with us!

      • — Deborah Donaldson on July 4, 2022
      • Reply
  • I would love to make this but there is just two of us.
    Can I cut recipe in half and use a different size pan, like a loaf pan?

    Would it be freezable please?

    thanks a bunch!

    • — Ines on October 1, 2021
    • Reply
    • Yes, I think a half recipe of this would work in an 8.5 x 4.5-in loaf pan. And it freezes nicely. See the bottom of the recipe for freezer-friendly instructions. Enjoy!

      • — Jenn on October 4, 2021
      • Reply
    • Make the recipe as written and freeze most of it in serving sized portions! You can enjoy whenever you like!

      • — Caroline on January 15, 2022
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    • I have cut this and frozen it. It’s so delicious that it won’t stay in the freezer long. You’ll want to eat it!

      • — Deborah Donaldson on July 4, 2022
      • Reply
  • This is by far my husband’s favorite cake. It’s simple to make and comes out rich and buttery each time I’ve made it. It’s definitely a winner at my house!

    • — Yvette on September 22, 2021
    • Reply
  • Hi Jenn!
    I have beeb baking a lot of your recipes lately and seriously every time it yields a delish result!
    I have noticed that your bundt cake recipes often require either a 10Cup pan or a 10″/25cm pan.
    I am needing to buy a bundt pan and was wondering if you can recommend one size that would work with all your bundt cake recipes?

    Thanks so much!

    • — Jennifer Patzer on September 10, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi Jennifer, I’d go with a standard 10-inch (12 cup capacity) Bundt pan. Hope that helps, and so glad you enjoy the recipes!

      • — Jenn on September 11, 2021
      • Reply
  • Hi Jenn,

    Would this work if I make my own buttermilk using white vinegar and 2% milk ?

    • — Mlak on June 30, 2021
    • Reply
    • Sure, Mlak, that would be fine. Hope you enjoy the cake!

      • — Jenn on July 1, 2021
      • Reply
  • Can I make this cake in a torte pan? Looks delicious

    • — Susan on May 30, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi Susan, I don’t think that will work — sorry!

      • — Jenn on June 2, 2021
      • Reply
  • Hi,

    Can I make this into cupcakes?

    • — Nadia on May 3, 2021
    • Reply
    • Sure, but it may be a little messy with the glaze. Please LMK how they come out if you try it!

      • — Jenn on May 3, 2021
      • Reply
  • Oops—as I was just re-reading the recipe, I realized the directions say to add salt to the glaze, but there is no mention of salt in the ingredients for the glaze. Did I miss something?

    • — Carolynn on April 29, 2021
    • Reply
    • No, Carolynn, that’s a mistake on my part; there’s no salt needed in the glaze. I’m going to correct it now. Sorry for any confusion!

      • — Jenn on April 30, 2021
      • Reply
  • I just made this cake for the first time. Had some issues getting it out of the pan—maybe the Bakers Joy spray was old😞. I added 1/4 c bourbon to the glaze, which was fabulous! Then at the end, I added a cup of confectioners sugar and some buttermilk to the melted butter mixture and drizzled over the top so I could add multi-colored sprinkles to make it a birthday bundt cake! Even with some parts missing from the sides, it looks delightful. Thanks Jenn.

    • — Carolynn on April 29, 2021
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  • Hello. I did make this cake today. In fact I made 3. It was delicious. Made some for neighbors. They absolutely loved it. I will definitely make again. Very easy to make.

    • — Norma Makara on April 14, 2021
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  • I have made this cake dozens of times in the last 35 years and have never been disappointed with the results…moist, flavorful, company ready in no time. My mom made the comment “what bakery made this wonderful cake?” She was quite surprised when I told her I made it from scratch from a Bake Off Cookbook I had recently purchased…the cake was a huge hit whether topped with fresh fruit, orange sorbet, my dad’s favorite, or plain. The ingredients are always in my bakery stash.
    Note the reason it is called Kentucky Butter Cake is the original recipe calls for rum extract not vanilla…substitute for your flavor preference, either way delicious!!

    • — Nancy Kremer, Chicago, IL on April 3, 2021
    • Reply
  • Can this be made into a chocolate swirl cake or just a chocolate version???

    • — Mariah on February 9, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi Mariah, I suggest making my marble cake, which is a chocolate swirl version of this one.

      • — Jenn on February 9, 2021
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      • Ok do you have a chocolate version of this cake???

        • — Mariah on February 26, 2021
        • Reply
  • Delicious. Absolutely delicious. This cake melts in your mouth. It is perfect, buttery goodness.

    • — Terri on January 30, 2021
    • Reply
  • I have made this cake well over a dozen times. I have a good friend and had gifted this cake once to her family. They loved it so much I made a surprise birthday cake for her daughter, which given the pandemic, turned into her family of six each getting their own cake and handmade card from our family to theirs. If you can excite a 16-yr old to the point he asks when ‘Miss Karmen might deliver my cake…’ you have a winner! It’s become a thing and given my old corporate life, never saw me as a woman to deliver cakes. I’ve had people ask for the recipe, but also a few brazen friends as if I’ll just make them one:) Who knew!?

    • — Karmen Maurer on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • Oh my gosh! This cake is amazing. So moist and buttery. I am not an experienced baker but had no problem turning out an amazing dessert that my husband raved about. I like the idea of using an injector to get the glaze deeper into the cake. Will definitely make this again; it’s a perfect dessert for company and a special event.

    • — Janet M. on January 28, 2021
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  • I also added 2 tablespoons maple syrup to the cake batter and 1 tablespoon to the glaze

    • — Suzanne on January 25, 2021
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  • Great cake! I have made this a couple of times. I found that using an injector works great for getting the glaze deep in the cake.

    • — Suzanne on January 25, 2021
    • Reply
  • This cake turned out beautifully! Moist with a lovely buttery flavour. My family loved it! Will definitely make it again! Thanks for another great recipe Jenn!

    • — Linda on December 6, 2020
    • Reply
  • My cake was a GORGEOUS as Yours Jenn!
    Definitely a Show-stopper….BUT, it was waaaaaay too sweet for us!! If you’re a diabetic which we are NOT and not trying to be, this is not the cake for you! IJS. Just bummed that I took time…

    • — Gigi B on November 26, 2020
    • Reply
  • I tried this cake and felt it was missing something. I have made butter cake before and they always turn out nice and moist. This recipe gave me a cake that was similar in texture to cornbread or biscuits. Very odd. Not sure what happened. Maybe the 3 min mix time is too long. ??

    • — Maddy on November 25, 2020
    • Reply
    • Sorry you had a problem with this, Maddy! Is there any chance you mis-meausured an ingredient?

      • — Jenn on November 26, 2020
      • Reply
    • I agree with Maddy, it WAS missing something, besides sugar!

      • — Gigi B on November 26, 2020
      • Reply

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