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Kentucky Butter Cake

Kentucky Butter Cake
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Andrew goes to Texas and brings back a Bundt Cake Recipe from Kentucky? Not actually…

Andrew went to Texas to visit his sister Lauren and her family recently.  And he came home with this incredible recipe for a buttermilk Bundt cake. Lauren is a spectacular cook and this is all the proof that you’ll need. This cake is not just moist—it has a glaze that soaks into the cake to make it rich and practically oozing syrup. To get the syrup to penetrate the cake, the cake is left in the Bundt pan and then “poked” gently with a long wooden skewer or a long-tined fork. This is done 15 to 20 times. The warm butter sauce is poured over the cake which is left to sit for at least 3 hours.  Sprinkled with powdered sugar, the sugary glaze gives the finished cake a bit of a crunch. To top it all off, Andrew says the cake is very easy to make.

The Kentucky Butter Cake inspired a whole wave of “Poke” Cakes.

Jell-O Poke Cake. Photo Courtesy of Betty Crocker

Lauren, a bit of a food historian herself, had heard of the “Poke Cake” and did a little investigating.  In 1969, Jell-O introduced the Poke Cake as a way of boosting its sales. They put out a recipe using a white cake mix and, just as in the Kentucky Butter Cake, poked holes in the finished cake. Then, Strawberry jello was poured into the holes, the cake went into the fridge and when it emerged it was iced with Cool Whip.  Which came first? The Kentucky Butter Cake by some 6 years!  No thanks to Jell-O or anyone in Kentucky, the thanks go to one Nell Lewis of Platte City, Missouri.

Everything you ever wanted to know about the Pillsbury Bake-Off

Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was the Honored Guest and Award Giver at the First Pillsbury Bake-Off in 1949.

Ms. Lewis entered the recipe as a contestant in the Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest of 1963. For those who are unfamiliar with the cooking contest, it was an annual event from the Pillsbury Company starting in 1949. It ran for 27 years until, in 1978, the company made it biennial. The first contest was held as the “Grand National Recipe and Baking Contest” at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City.  The grand prize was $25,000. And the Guest of Honor, assisting in giving out the awards, was none other than former First Lady, Eleonor Roosevelt. Before you think ‘how paltry’ the prize, in buying power it would be worth $266,570.53 in 2020.  The only requirement: Pillsbury’s BEST Flour had to be one of your recipe ingredients.

Is this cake a winner? Or not?

By the time Ms. Lewis had entered the contest, it had moved to Los Angeles, hosted by Art Linkletter, of the wildly popular TV show “Kids Say The Darndest Things”. By 1963, the grand prize of $25,000 was worth just $ 31,535.26.  I searched in vain for some trace of Ms. Lewis in her hometown newspaper, The Platte County Citizen, to no avail. I admit to checking the obituaries.

“Hungry Boy Casserole” Winner of the 1963 Pillsbury Bake-Off

But she had disappeared without a trace.  I think I know why: Ms. Lewis didn’t actually win the Grand Prize. That honor belonged to Mira Walilko of Detroit, Michigan for her “Hungry Boys’ Casserole”.  Ms. Lewis’ Kentucky Butter Cake did appear in several volumes of “Pillsbury Best of the Bake-Off Recipes” with a key difference and the secret to why a cake from Missouri was named after Kentucky.  You guessed it. Bourbon replaced Vanilla in Ms. Lewis’ original recipe. Try it. I bet it’s terrific.  Below, some other Bundt cakes we love followed by the recipe for this one.

The Perfect Pound Cake courtesy of Michael’s Mother Lorraine

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Baking this Almond Bundt Cake

Martha Stewart’s Pear Spice Bundt Cake

Kentucky Butter Cake

February 21, 2020
: 10 to 12
: 20 min
: A piece of Cake

A vanilla-scented Bundt cake enriched with a buttery, sugar glaze that soaks into the cake making it incredibly moist and rich.


  • For the cake
  • 1 cup/225 grams unsalted butter (2 sticks), softened, plus more for greasing the pan
  • 3 cups/385 grams all-purpose unbleached flour, plus more for dusting the pan
  • Nonstick cooking spray (optional)
  • 2 cups/400 grams granulated sugar
  • 1 cup/240 milliliters buttermilk (see Tip)
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • For the butter sauce
  • ¾ cup/150 grams granulated sugar
  • ⅓ cup/75 grams unsalted butter
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • Confectioners’ sugar, for sprinkling (optional)
  • Step 1 Heat oven to 325 degrees. Generously butter and flour (or spray with nonstick cooking spray) a 10-inch tube pan or a 12-cup bundt pan.
  • Step 2 In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, or using a handheld mixer, cream the butter with the sugar. Add the eggs one at a time. Then add half the flour, half the buttermilk and beat a medium speed until the ingredients are combined. Then add the rest of the flour and the rest of the buttermilk and beat for 3 minutes at medium speed. Pour into prepared pan, level with a spatula and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 60 to 70 minutes.
  • Step 3 Shortly before the cake is done baking, make the butter sauce: Combine the granulated sugar, butter, and vanilla with 3 tablespoons water in a saucepan over low heat until the butter just melts. (Do not let the mixture boil, as you do not want the sugar to completely dissolve.)
  • Step 4 As soon as the cake comes out of the oven, leave the cake in its pan and gently poke it all the way through 15 to 20 times with a long wooden skewer or a long-tined fork. Slowly pour warm butter sauce over the cake. Let cool for at least 3 hours before unmolding from pan. Just before serving, sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar, if desired.
  • Step 5 Tip: If you don’t have buttermilk, measure out 1 cup of whole milk and remove 1 tablespoon. Add 1 tablespoon white vinegar to the remaining milk and stir to combine. Let sit for 10 minutes, then stir gently before using in the recipe as you would buttermilk.

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Spread the loveRich and dense, Kentucky Butter Cake lives up to its name. Butter is the star ingredient in this moist buttery cake.  Then after baking, Kentucky Butter Cake is glazed with sweetness—from sugar, butter, and a hint of vanilla. This extra layer of flavor […]

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