Kentucky Butter Cake
This old-fashioned Kentucky butter cake is super moist, ultra buttery, and infused with the best butter-sugar sauce. It creates a sugary, crunchy crust that you won’t be able to get enough of! Below are tons of tips for achieving the ultimate butter cake, as well as tricks for perfectly prepping Bundt pans, making a boozy bourbon version, freezing instructions, and more.
Are you a cake person? Or an “I eat the cake for the frosting” person?
I am unequivocally, unapologetically the latter.
But when I land on a cake that I actually crave that doesn’t have ANY frosting? You know it’s a certified winner.
Enter this butter cake. Simple ingredients, simple preparation, and a knock-your-socks-off glaze that takes it over the top. Enjoy it as-is (oh that sugary crust!) or with a dollop of whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. This is a cake that deserves a permanent home in your recipe box.
What is butter cake?
Butter cake is an absolutely quintessential cake in your dessert arsenal. It is loaded with butter and then rounded out with standard ingredients like granulated sugar, eggs, vanilla, flour, and leaveners. It bakes up buttery, moist, and absolutely delicious.
Butter Cake vs Pound Cake
While butter and pound cake look similar on the surface, there is one key difference that separates them:
Pound cakes have historically contained one pound of each main ingredient (butter, sugar, and flour); while butter cakes have mostly the same ingredients, the ratios are slightly different.
Traditional butter cake is also sometimes referred to as 1-2-3-4 cake, which is an easy reminder of the ratios – 1 cup butter, 2 cups sugar, 3 cups flour, and 4 eggs. I love old-fashioned baking!
Kentucky Butter Cake
Kentucky butter cake takes it one step further by infusing the delicious, buttery cake with a butter-sugar sauce after it comes out of the oven. Left to cool and then flipped over, the glaze creates a buttery, sugary, crunchy exterior that is TO DIE FOR. Use the bourbon option (see below) for a phenomenal cake to enjoy while watching the Kentucky Derby.
Butter cake ingredients
The best part about butter cakes? There’s a 99% chance you already have everything you need right in your pantry and refrigerator.
Here’s the list:
- Butter – Of course, it’s the star of the show! It’s a flavorful cake, so use your favorite butter (mine is Kerrygold).
- Sugar – We’re making a wonderfully sweet cake, so we need sugar.
- Eggs – To bring it all together and add extra richness.
- Vanilla – Flavor, flavor, flavor!
- Buttermilk – It makes the cake even more tender, but you can substitute regular whole or 2% milk if you’re in a pinch.
- Flour – We’re using all-purpose flour, but you can use cake flour (sifted) for a lighter and more tender version of this cake.
- Baking powder + baking soda – Leaveners to get that cake to rise!
- Salt – For flavor, always.
Let’s make it from scratch!
This cake comes together incredibly easy using a traditional creaming method, here’s how we do it:
- Grease and flour your pan – Literally THE most important step! You need to liberally grease every nook and cranny of your Bundt pan, and then dust it with flour, tapping out any excess. Since we glaze this upside-down IN the pan, it needs to be properly prepared to make sure it doesn’t stick when you turn it out of the pan.
- Whisk together dry ingredients – The flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt get a quick whisk in a medium bowl.
- Cream butter + sugar – It’ll take a few minutes to get it really light and fluffy.
- Add eggs + vanilla – Eggs two at a time and then the vanilla until everything is thoroughly combined.
- Alternate flour mixture and buttermilk – Mixing on low until just barely combined, then giving it a final mix with a rubber spatula. Don’t overmix!
- Bake – Spread the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted halfway between the edge and center comes out clean, 45 to 55 minutes.
- Make the butter sauce – Heat the butter, sugar, and water in a saucepan over medium-low heat until the sugar is dissolved (don’t let it boil!), then remove from heat and stir in the vanilla.
- Glaze the cake! – Using a skewer, poke holes all over the surface of the cake while it is still in the pan. Then very, very slowly drizzle the glaze over the surface of the cake, allowing it to absorb the liquid before pouring more.
- Cool & turn out – Allow the cake to cool completely, then invert it onto a serving plate.
The bourbon option
If you want to add a kick to this cake, you can substitute bourbon for the water in the glaze.
You’ll get a punch of bourbon flavor throughout the cake and you don’t need to make any other adjustments to the cake.
If frosting is more your style, here are some options:
- Vanilla buttercream
- Chocolate buttercream
- Swiss meringue buttercream
- Chocolate ganache
- 7-Minute frosting
Troubleshooting Bundt cakes
Most people have issues with Bundt cakes when it comes to turning them out of the pan. To avoid broken cakes, it is super important that you prep the pan correctly. In my experience, you cannot simply spray a Bundt with non-stick cooking spray (like Pam) and expect it to do the trick.
Bundt pans need a bit more TLC. My standard formula is to grease with vegetable shortening (solid Crisco) and then flour liberally, tapping out the excess. You want to make sure every nook and cranny is covered in both grease and butter. Some folks swear by the baking sprays that have flour in them, but I’ve never been a fan. You can also find recipes online for “homemade cake pan release” which is a mixture of fat and flour that you can keep on hand. I have not used these, so can’t swear by them, but it’s an option!
I love, love, love Bundt pans! They are gorgeous and can create such unique, intricate designs. Below are some of my recommendations:
- Nordic Ware Kugelhopf Pan (the one featured in these photos)
- Nordic Ware Heritage Pan (the one shown in my homemade rum cake photos)
- Nordic Ware Anniversary Pan – My go-to “standard” Bundt pan!
Make-ahead and freezing options
This is a perfect cake for making the day before serving; allowing the butter sauce to completely soak into the cake and getting that amazing crust on the outside is superb.
The cake also freezes extremely well. You can freeze the entire cake or individual slices; to freeze the entire cake, wrap tightly with plastic wrap, then a layer of aluminum foil and place in a zip-top freezer bag. For individual slices, wrap tightly in plastic wrap then place in a zip-top freezer bag. Both will keep well in the freezer for up to 3 months; thaw at room temperature.
More recipes for the Kentucky Derby:
- Kentucky Derby Chocolate Bourbon Walnut Pie
- Bourbon Slush
- Kentucky Derby Pie Cupcakes
- Mint Julep Jell-O Shots
If you make this butter cake recipe and love it, I would so appreciate it if you would take a moment to leave a rating below. Thank you so much! ❤️️
Kentucky Butter Cake
For the Cake:
- 3 cups (437.5 g) all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon (1.25 teaspoons) baking powder
- ½ teaspoon (0.75 teaspoon) baking soda
- 1 teaspoon (1.25 teaspoons) salt
- 1 cup (283.75 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 2 cups (350 g) granulated sugar
- 4 (5 ) eggs, at room temperature
- 2 teaspoons (80 ml) vanilla extract
- 1 cup (300 ml) buttermilk, at room temperature
For the Butter Sauce:
- ½ cup (7 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cubed
- 1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar
- ¼ cup (80 ml) water
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Liberally grease and flour a standard 10 to 12-cup Bundt pan.
- Make the Cake: In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
- In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, two at a time, until thoroughly combined. Add the vanilla extract and beat to combine.
- Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the buttermilk in two parts, beginning and ending with the flour. After each addition, mix until just barely blended and stop and scrape the bowl. Stop the mixer before the last of the flour has been incorporated and complete the blending by hand with a rubber spatula.
- Scrape the batter into the prepared Bundt pan and bake until a toothpick inserted halfway between the edge and center comes out clean, 45 to 55 minutes.
- Make the Butter Sauce: When the cake comes out of the oven, begin making the butter sauce. Place the butter, sugar, and water in a saucepan and warm over medium-low heat until the butter is completely melted and the sugar is dissolved. Do not allow the mixture to boil. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract.
- Using a skewer, poke holes all over the top of the cake. Very slowly pour the glaze all over the cake, allowing time for it to soak in before pouring more. Allow the cake to cool completely in the pan, then invert onto a serving plate.
A previous version of this cake was posted in April 2014. It has since been updated and the recipe improved upon based on reader feedback.
[Photography by Dee of One Sarcastic Baker]