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.

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
  • 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

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, and vanilla. 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, store in a cake dome (or cover with plastic wrap) 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

  • 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
    • Reply
  • 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
    • Reply
  • 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
      • Reply
      • 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
    • Reply
  • I also added 2 tablespoons maple syrup to the cake batter and 1 tablespoon to the glaze

    • — Suzanne on January 25, 2021
    • Reply
  • 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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