Happy Derby Week! Whether you’re having a big Kentucky Derby gathering this weekend, or not paying attention at all, I have the perfect cake recipe for you to try. This cake is a collaboration with my friend MK, the incredible culinary talent behind In the Curious Kitchen, and it was directly inspired by her life-changing bourbon balls.
It all started with the bourbon balls—everyone has had a bourbon ball at one point or another, but I am here to tell you that MK’s are some of the best you’ve ever had. She sent me a box to use for inspiration for the cake, and I ate the entire box by myself within the first few hours of it arriving. I’m telling you, they are THAT good (and bonus—she sells them on her website! You can find them here).
MK and I met virtually about this time last year, but didn’t meet in person until just a few months ago (because you know, the world was shut down for a year and everything). We immediately bonded over our shared love of food, and I also am just obsessed (and maybe slightly addicted?) to everything she makes—bourbon balls, pimento cheese—they’re all just SO GOOD. We’ve talked about doing a collaboration of some sort since day one, but something about the magic of the Kentucky Derby combined with the fact that people are starting to have full celebrations again is cause for, well, a celebration! So she sent me bourbon balls, and I sent her a bourbon ball cake recipe inspired by them.
MK’s Bourbon Balls.
A photo of MK from In the Curious Kitchen.
I knew I wanted to create a cake version of these bourbon balls, but it was really important to me that they paid homage to their inspiration by finding a great balance between flavors. MK’s bourbon balls are the perfect blend of not too sweet, not too bourbon-heavy, but you can taste every single flavor in perfect balance.
What I came up with resembles a cream-based cake (so cream cheese/butter/sugar instead of the most common butter/sugar base), and is also close to the consistency of pound cake. And by using chocolate ganache instead of buttercream frosting, it really does give the sense of biting into a bourbon ball.
Like all great recipes, the quality of your ingredients is crucial. I think the two most important items in this cake are (of course) the pecans and the bourbon. I won’t begin to start a bourbon brand debate here, but I will give a shoutout to my favorite pecans, Schermer. If you’ve had them, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, then do yourself a favor and order a bag right now! Especially because this cake is literally loaded and topped with pecans, you want to make sure you don’t skimp on the quality.
Check out the full recipe below—I hope you love it! 🙂
4oz (1/2 block) cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup (1.5 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1.5 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
3 egg whites
1/2 cup buttermilk, room temp
1/2 tbsp vanilla extract
1/2–1 tbsp bourbon (depending on preference)
3/4 cup toasted finely chopped pecans (I use Schermer—they are the best!)
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup heavy cream
1.5 tsp vanilla extract or bourbon
Note: This recipe is written using (3) 6″ round cake pans.
1. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. Sift together AP flour, baking powder and salt.
3. Mix together buttermilk, vanilla extract and bourbon.
4. Using a stand mixer, beat cream cheese and sugar on high until well-mixed, about 3 minutes.
5. Add sugars and continue to beat until fluffy, about 5 minutes.
6. Add egg whites, one at a time until fully mixed.
7. With the mixer on the slowest setting, add 1/3 of your dry mixed ingredients until just mixed.
8. Slowly add 1/2 of your liquid ingredients until just mixed. Continue to rotate between adding your remaining dry, liquid, then dry until all mixed together. Turn off the mixer.
9. Using a spatula, fold in your toasted pecans.
10. Split batter evenly between greased cake pans. Bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
11. Let cool completely on wire racks.
1. Measure out chocolate in a glass bowl. Set aside.
2. Heat heavy cream on medium high heat until steam starts to rise (just before simmer).
3. Pour hot cream over chocolate chips and let sit (don’t stir!) for five minutes.
4. After the five minutes, slowly whisk together until smooth. (If chocolate isn’t fully melting, put in microwave for 10 seconds but be careful not to burn chocolate).
5. Whisk in vanilla/bourbon and salt.
1. While ganache is still warm but cake layers have cooled completely to room temp, place one cake layer on a cake plate and add ganache using an offset spatula. Add another layer and repeat. Once all layers are stacked, add ganache around sides until covered. Top with toasted chopped pecans.