It’s Derby Day!
I grew up in Kentucky, and even though I moved away 6 years ago now, I’m still surprised when people from other states don’t watch the Derby every year.
Come on, guys, it’s the perfect setup.
- You get to spend the entire day drinking mint juleps and eating bourbon-infused desserts.
- Unlike sports with human athletes, there aren’t those fans who know every statistic for every player and over-anazlyse the entire game all day. You just pick a horse that looks cool, has a cool name, or that was shown playing in a mud puddle earlier in the day (oh, or I guess you can look at the official odds, if you wanna be THAT person). Bets are pretty low-stakes at $2 and up, so you can bet on your favorite just to give you someone to root for.
- The actual race takes likes 2 minutes, so even the shortest of attention spans can handle it.
Now, traditionally the dessert at any derby party is either Derby pie or bourbon balls. But I’ll let you in on a little secret that people who still live in Kentucky wouldn’t dare admit–9 times out of 10, bourbon balls are disgusting. They’re way too sweet ad the bourbon doesn’t usually have much to infuse into, so the whole experience is more like eating a sugary chocolate sugar ball with sugar that makes your tongue burn the way it does when alcohol lingers in your mouth too long.
(Disclaimer: It’s vaguely possible that at least some of my strong feelings about bourbon balls stem from a time or two as a kid that I innocently took what I thought was round fudge at a potluck and then felt that utter betrayal of chocolate when I shoved the whole thing in my mouth)
SO ANYWAY. That leaves Derby pie. Now, I won’t knock a good derby pie. If you haven’t had one, imagine a Thanksgiving pecan pie crossed with one of those chocolate silk pies. Plus bourbon, which this time DOES infuse nicely throughout.
But this year I didn’t feel like making a Derby pie. They tend to be a good bit of work for a rather homely (though delicious) result. So instead I made this Bourbon Chocolate Cake, which couldn’t be much easier, and looks way fancier than it is.
I admit it. The main secret to how easy this cake is is that its from a box. I thought I should just say that quickly and rip the bandaid off. BUT listen. I promise you this does not taste like your typical shitty box cake. It’s actually my go-to, fool-proof chocolate cake, and today it has bourbon infused into it too.
The main genius behind the recipe can be credited to Anne Byrn, who developed a similar recipe for her book The Cake Mix Doctor back in 1998. I adapted her recipe below.
Bourbon Chocolate Cake
You will need:
- 1 standard (18.25 oz) package chocolate cake mix
- 1 small (3.9 oz) box instant chocolate pudding
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise (not miracle whip)
- 3/4 cup vegetable oil
- 4 eggs
- 3/4 cup good Kentucky bourbon (divided into 1/2 cup and 1/4 cup)
- 1 (12 oz) bag mini chocolate chips
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Dump everything but the bourbon and the chocolate chips into a large bowl. Pour in 1/2 cup of the bourbon and reserve the other 1/4 cup for later. Mix together well with a whisk or electric mixer. Fold in the mini chocolate chips with a spatula. Scrape the mixture into a greased bundt pan or cupcake tin.
Bake the bundt cake for 55 minutes and check it with a toothpick. Keep in mind though that the chocolate chips can get on your toothpick and make you think it isn’t done when it is. For cupcakes, this recipe should yield about 2 dozen, and I would cook those for about 20-25 minutes.
Let the bundt cool for at least 15 minutes before inverting it carefully. Once the cake has cooled completely, brush it with a good coating of the bourbon. It takes me 4-5 coats to use the whole 1/4 cup of bourbon. I let it absorb and dry for 20 minutes or so between coats. Timing doesn’t matter with your coats too much as long as you don’t apply it all at once and end up with a soggy cake. I find it’s easiest to make this cake the afternoon before you need it, brush with a coat every time you happen to go through tour kitchen that night, and finish it off with one in the morning.
Oh, and the cake I made for this photo has edible gold lustre dust painted onto the high points to increase its fanciness factor. So there’s that strategy if you want to steal it.
This recipe was adapted from Anne Byrn’s The Cake Mix Doctor.