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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.

How 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.

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

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

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

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
  • 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
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • Confectioners' sugar, for dusting

For the Glaze

  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • Pinch salt

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 3/4 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, vanilla, and salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the sugar is dissolved, about 1 minute.
  2. Make-Ahead Instructions: This cake keeps well for several days. Once cool, wrap the cake tightly in plastic wrap and store at room temperature until ready to serve.
  3. 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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Reviews & Comments

  • Delicious!! I added 1/4 cup 1835 Bourbon Whiskey (which has rich flavors of oak, brown sugar, vanilla, caramel and spice) to the batter and 1/4 cup to the glaze. I made a half batch and baked it for 50 minutes. Perfectly well done! Moist, heavenly, etc, etc. Bravo!

    • — Laurie on April 16, 2019
    • Reply
  • This cake is super easy to put together. My family absolutely loved it. I will definitely make it again.

    • — Heidi Van Stone on April 15, 2019
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  • This recipe is perfection and so easy to make. The cake is mouthwateringly tender and the crumb is even and moist. The glaze adds the prefect donut glaze crispness.

    • — Donna smith on April 11, 2019
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  • I fixed the Kentucky Butter cake for my sewing group yesterday and I wish you could have heard the raves. The girls loved it. Thank you for your recipes once again. I love trying new recipes and many of yours are in my keeper file.
    Thank you,
    Dianne Wilson

    • — Dianne Wilson on April 4, 2019
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    • ❤️

      • — Jenn on April 4, 2019
      • Reply
  • Do I glaze it before freezing? Thank you for such an awesome resource … your site is just the best.

    • — amaris on April 1, 2019
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    • You’re so welcome, Amaris!! Yes, I’d glaze it before freezing. Just make sure that the glaze is completely dry before you wrap the cake to freeze. Hope you enjoy!

      • — Jenn on April 2, 2019
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  • I made the cake yesterday and oh my! It was just as delicious as you said. Had trouble getting it out of the pan so it wasn’t as pretty as yours. Also, I omitted water in the glaze and substituted 1/4 c Bourbon. It was out of this world. Thank you Jen!

    • — Josseline Wood on March 31, 2019
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    • Thank you Jenn!
      Sorry for misspelling your name.

      • — Josseline Wood on March 31, 2019
      • Reply
  • It looks like the original recipe pours all of the the butter sauce over the bottom of the cake whereas your recipe pours some over the bottom of the cake and then brush the remainder on the top. Was just wondering why this is adjusted? And is the top of the cake crunchy or moist after brushing it with the butter sauce? Thank you!

    • — LisaR on March 31, 2019
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    • Hi Lisa, I tried it both ways and found that the cake is more balanced — taste and texture-wise — when you glaze both the top and bottom. The glaze leaves a delicious crunchy finish once dry, and I love that on the top as well as the bottom. It looks prettier when the whole cake is glazed, too. Hope that helps!

      • — Jenn on March 31, 2019
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    • Once again, you are a master chef! Everyone in my bible study group LOVES your recipes- especially the sweets. I’ve converted all my friends to your recipes which needless to say very often show up at our potluck parties, too. 😁 Thank you for sharing your gifts and talents. Question #1 : How long to bake for 1/2 a recipe? Question #2: Out of curiosity, do ever plan to release another cookbook?

      • — Laurie on April 16, 2019
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      • So glad everyone is enjoying the recipes, Laurie! For a half recipe, I’d start checking around 40 to 45 minutes but you’ll have to just keep an eye on it. As for a second cookbook, I’m thinking about it but no definite plans yet. I’d love to know what kinds of recipes readers are interested in… 🙂

        • — Jenn on April 16, 2019
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  • Love this cake! It’s like eating a glazed donut. You’re my go to for recipes Jenn.

    • — Rusty on March 29, 2019
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  • Do you have metric weight measure. Lacking this, should I just multiply the number of cups for the flour by 120 grams. I think (at least for the King Arthur AP flour 1/4 cup is 30 grams). Thanks. I’m going to make this tomorrow. Can you freeze this?

    • — Beck Daniel on March 28, 2019
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    • Hi Beck, I just added the metric conversions, so you’re good to go there. And, yes, the cake freezes nicely. Hope you enjoy!

      • — Jenn on March 29, 2019
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  • I made this Butter Cake yesterday and there’s just a little left! It’s so good! My son took a bite and said “Mom! This is amazing!” I’m definitely going to make this again. It took longer for the syrup to soak into the cake because the cake cooled down (laundry), so apply when warm for the best results.

    • — Sonia on March 28, 2019
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    • This recipe is very similar to a cake my mother made for holidays. It never lasted for a second day. Thank you for sharing your recipe as most of my mother’s disappeared when moving.

      • — Julie on April 11, 2019
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  • Hi, Jenn. I love your recipes! But I always wonder what kind of salt you use in your recipes, table, kosher or sea salt? I know it can make a difference, especially in baking. Thank you!

    • — Christine Warwick on March 28, 2019
    • Reply
    • Hi Christine, Glad you like the recipes! 🙂 If my recipes just call for salt, table salt is appropriate. I will always specify if you need something other than that like sea salt or kosher salt. Hope that clarifies!

      • — Jenn on March 29, 2019
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  • What are the high elevation (6,000′) instructions?

    • — Christine on March 28, 2019
    • Reply
    • Hi Christine, I don’t have experience baking at high altitudes so, unfortunately, I don’t have any wisdom to share – I’m sorry! You may find these tips helpful though. 🙂

      • — Jenn on March 29, 2019
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  • Made this cake completely gluten free with 1-1 flour and it turned out delicious!!! Just wanted to share.

    • — Samantha Lueken on March 26, 2019
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  • I made this cake this past weekend and it is absolutely delicious. It is definitely a keeper.
    Following a reader’s suggestion I added some whiskey to the syrup. A nice flavor combined with the vanilla.
    I wanted to thank you for your website and all the delicious recipes. It is my go to.

    • — Laurent-Paul Durell on March 25, 2019
    • Reply
  • Hi Jen,
    First, this cake looks SO good, I think I may try and make it for Easter. Next, I would love to know where to find the cake plate you used for this cake in the photos. Thanks so much!

    • — Angie R. on March 25, 2019
    • Reply
    • I wish I could help, but I don’t recall where I got that plate – so sorry!

      • — Jenn on March 26, 2019
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  • Hi, this recipe looks wonderful, but I was wondering if it uses a 10 cup or 12 cup bundt pan.

    • — Lina on March 24, 2019
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    • Hi Lina, A 12-cup pan works best for this. Hope you enjoy!

      • — Jenn on March 25, 2019
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  • My oh my!
    I’m not a dessert person at all, but after reading the recipe I thought I’d give it a try. The butter may have had something to do with it!
    I always read the reviews, but I like to review AFTER it’s been made.
    It was simple to make, it looked great and tasted incredibly light and soft.
    Didn’t think my young grandson would care for it since there was no icing, but he and the neighbor kids asked for thirds!
    I’ll make this again! Even I had 2 pieces!
    Thanks for this beautiful Butter Cake!
    Jeanette
    Canada

    • — Jeanette on March 23, 2019
    • Reply
  • This recipe jogged my memory, so I went through to my recipe box and sure enough there it was. Made it often about thirty years ago and then it sort of slipped away. I remember that it was a big, satisfying, wonderful cake. The only difference was in the way it was put together, in the traditional way, creaming butter and sugar, adding eggs, etc. The glaze did have 2 tbsp of rum and it was all brushed over the bottom of the cake and cooled completely in the pan, then dusted with confectioners sugar

    • — Carol on March 22, 2019
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  • Hi Jen. Love all of your recipes!! Can I add chocolate chips to this cake? I’m looking for a great chocolate chip pound cake. Thanks!–Lisa

    • — Lisa Betros on March 22, 2019
    • Reply
    • Sure, Lisa, I think that would work. You could also try this recipe.

      • — Jenn on March 22, 2019
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  • Made a similar cake with glaze in a Nordic House pan for Christmas and dusted it with icing sugar for a snow effect. It was delicious and the kiddies fought over the chimney – grin.

    I have another Nordic bundt pan with several small houses (very large muffin?) Do you think it would adapt to that?

    • — Andrea on March 21, 2019
    • Reply
    • I do think that would work, Andrea. Please lmk how it turns out if you try it. 🙂

      • — Jenn on March 21, 2019
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  • can you omit salt and use salted butter instead?

    • — Irene on March 21, 2019
    • Reply
    • Hi Irene, While it varies by brand, most salted butter has approximately 1/4 tsp. salt per stick, so you can use the salted butter and reduce the salt in the recipe as needed. Hope that helps!

      • — Jenn on March 21, 2019
      • Reply
  • Can this be made in two loaf pans instead of a bundt pan? Thanks

    • — Elly on March 21, 2019
    • Reply
    • Sure, Elly – I think that will work. 🙂

      • — Jenn on March 21, 2019
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  • Oh my goodness, no calories there then! Looks absolutely delicious – must entice some visitors over so that I have an excuse to make one.

    • — Jayne on March 21, 2019
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    • I’m on my way!

      • — Karen on March 21, 2019
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  • This cake recipe looks so delicious. Thank you for sharing it. Do you think it would also work to add some cocoa to the butter/sugar glaze mixture to give it a dark chocolate glazed donut effect?

    • — K on March 20, 2019
    • Reply
    • Hi K, While that sounds yummy, unfortunately, I don’t think it will work here — sorry!

      • — Jenn on March 21, 2019
      • Reply
  • Looks yummy. I wonder if the original version called for Bourbon hence the Kentucky in the name.

    • — Liz on March 20, 2019
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    • I thought the same. A little bourbon in the glaze might be nice, especially since I think it would enhance the vanilla flavoring.

      • — Josephine Varsi on March 21, 2019
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      • That cake sounds so good. I bet a little rhum wouldnt hurt either.

        • — Josseline Wood on March 21, 2019
        • Reply

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