Eat Your Whiskey: Bourbon Black Walnut Cake

photo by LeNell Camacho Santa Ana

photo by LeNell Camacho Santa Ana

Ain’t nothing like the chocolate cake made by your Meme, Nana, Granny, Aunt Ethel, Papa, or whoever was the cake maven in your family. I love going through relative's old recipe boxes. Yeah, remember those? Before you could look up anything on a smart phone? People actually kept hand written recipes in little card files in their kitchen.

Sometimes those treasured recipes ended up in the church cookbook or in a compilation sold for fundraising by the Junior League or other charitable organization. Perusing yard sales and thrift stores for these collections of delicious instruction often leads to heavenly bliss back in the kitchen. Telling your “bot” to look up a recipe ain’t nothing like absorbing the love of years on paper, smudged with a chocolate boo boo and scribbles in the side offering more sage direction.

For my birthday recently I decided to pull out some of my favorite recipes from my own plastic box of wisdom passed down. I created my own from-scratch celebration cake. Ingredients often seen in a grandma’s recipe box like Crisco and Karo (genericized trademarks for "shortening" and "corn syrup") got subbed out with coconut oil and maple syrup since I am fancy like that.

For the cake

  • 2 cups cake flour

  • 1 teaspoon baking soda

  • ½ teaspoon sea salt

  • 3 tablespoons raw cocoa

  • ¾ cup solid unrefined, cold-pressed coconut oil

  • 2 cups granulated sugar

  • 2 tablespoons butter (I make my own from organic, grass-fed non-homogenized cream cuz I am old-fashioned AND fancy like that)

  • ½ cup whole fat buttermilk

  • 2 eggs

  • 1 cup bourbon (try it with something fun like 2017 NY International Spirits Competition silver medalist Filibuster Dual Cask)

  • 2 teaspoons black walnut extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. This recipe is good for two 9-inch cake pans. Using the bottom of your cake pan as a guide, cut out parchment paper as a liner. Grease, flour and then line cake pans with the paper and set aside. In large bowl, sift flour, soda, salt and cocoa 4 times. Set aside. Cream the coconut oil, butter, and sugar with a hand or stand mixer. Mix in buttermilk. Crack an egg in a separate bowl to prevent shell from landing in your mix. Beat egg into creamed mixture. Add other egg and beat well. Gradually add in flour mixture and beat well. Heat bourbon just to boiling point and pour into mixing bowl. Add black walnut extract and mix well. Pour batter into lined cake pan(s). Bake for 30-35 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out clean with no batter on it. Put cooking rack on top of pan and flip the pan over to remove cake onto rack. Carefully peel away paper. Cool on wire racks. Once cool, place bottom layer on cake plate and ice entire cake (recipe below). Add second layer and finish off icing. Let icing set. Some may ooze around bottom which is all good.

For the frosting

(Note: the measurements below are for a 9x13x2 sheet pan. For a two-layer round cake, please double the recipe.)

  • 1 ½ cups sugar

  • ¼ cup butter

  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup

  • 2 tablespoons raw cocoa

  • 7 tablespoons whole fat buttermilk

  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt

  • 2 teaspoons black walnut extract

Combine sugar, butter, syrup, cocoa, milk, and salt in a saucepan. Heat to a rolling boil, stirring the whole time. Boil 1 minute and remove from heat. Stir in extract. Beat with hand or stand mixer until cooled enough and thick enough to spread. I use my whisk attachment on my stand mixer. You will feel heat come off the frosting, so keep watching until the consistency changes to a thick, spreadable icing.