Wyoming's Most Influential Baker Teaches Us the History of Bundt Cakes—and How to Make Them Boozy
“If you wouldn't mix the flavors in a cocktail glass you shouldn't mix them in a cake.”
Julia Child once said, “a party without a cake is just a meeting.” Truer words have never been spoken, and honestly, bundt cake is where it’s at. I don’t see bundt cakes that often, but i’m always pleasantly surprised when I do. Perfectly frosted, beautifully shaped and delightfully moist. Truthfully, it’s one of the most fashionable cakes that exists and because of the nature of the pan and the way the cake is baked, you can go as avant garde as you wish when it comes to its end design.
Thank Minnesota cookware manufacturer Nordic Ware for the evolution of the bundt cake. In 1950, owner H. David Dalquist created the style of mold in North America for a local Hadassah Society (a Jewish women’s group) seeking to make a traditional Gugelhupf — a popular cake from Central Europe baked in a circular mold. Dalquist originally called his mold a “bund” pan, translated from a German word that means to bond. Who knows why he decided to add a “t” in the end, but it sounds cool so we’re not questioning it any further.
In Freedom, Wyoming, on a picturesque ranch, Lindsey Johnson, creative mind behind Lady in the Wild West and arguably one of most talented (and influential) bakers around, reintroduced me to bundt cakes. “I know they were big in the ‘50s but they've come a long way,” she says, of the cake’s history. “For me, it's about their stylish presentation,” she notes, while pouring a bottle of Wyoming Whiskey into the batter. Ahhh. Boozy bundt cakes. Now why didn’t they teach this in college?
On a recent trip to Portland, Maine, Johnson toured Allagash Brewing Company, where the idea of alcohol-infused bundt cakes sparked in her mind—in specific, while sipping on a Curieux beer. “Their craft beers had so much flavor, unlike any I had ever tasted, with fruity undertones and hints of vanilla and coconut,” Johnson says. “It got me thinking they'd delicious in a cake—but not a typical frosted cake, instead, a bundt cake, where the booze played the main role.”
Upon return, Johnson perfected the perfect trio of boozy bundt cakes using beer, wine and whiskey. The result? You’ll want to immediately stop what you’re doing, toss on an apron, and dip into the kitchen. Here, Lindsey’s tips and tricks for making your very own #boozybundt at home:
Invest in a Quality Bundt Pan
Never baked a bundt cake before? You’ll obviously need to invest in a proper bundt cake pan. Johnson raves about Nordic Ware—and clearly the brand knows the ropes as they’ve been perfecting the pan for nearly seven decades now. “I was drawn to Nordic Ware because of their dynamic shapes,” she says. “The pan's design makes the cake look like it's crafted by an artist when really it's just a matter of buttering and flouring, and pouring the batter in.”
Pick Booze You Personally Like to Drink
The most important rule? “Don't bake with anything you don't enjoy drinking,” Johnson notes. “The more flavor the booze has, the better the cake.” Look for booze crafted with hints of honey, dried berries, cocoa and coconut. These will always turn out excellent in terms of flavor profile alongside the cake.
RECIPE: Hot Toddy Cake
Think Like a Mixologist
Think of it as pairing wine and food. Or when pairing cocktail ingredients. “When selecting an alcohol read its flavor profile and pull from there,” relays Johnson. For example, an Old Fashioned contains warm and earthy flavors derived from bourbon, orange peel, and sugar. “Bourbon tends to naturally have notes of caramel, oats, and vanilla,” she adds. “This tells me a cake made with bourbon, toasted oats, fresh orange juice and zest, vanilla, and a pop of honey would be heaven, just like an Old Fashioned cocktail.”
Have fun and experiment with many different flavors and ingredients. But like any good bartender, she notes, “if you wouldn't mix the flavors in a cocktail glass you shouldn't mix them in a cake.”
How to Tackle Liquid Ratios When Adding Booze
Every recipe will be slightly different, but always pay attention to the liquids (not oils) already being used in the recipe you’re using. “If a batter contains 1 cup buttermilk or milk, you can reduce to 3/4 cup and add 1/4 cup of hard liquor and up to 1/2 cup of sweet liquor (like Amaretto),” says Johnson. “For beer and wine you can typically substitute a 1:1 ratio for the liquid being used—so use 1 cup of wine in place of the milk,” noting that this is a general rule of thumb when experimenting with boozy cakes. “It all depends on the recipe, the elevation, the oven, and how boozy you want your cake.” We won’t judge if you dump a little extra whiskey in the batter for Christmas brunch.
RECIPE: Mudslide Cake
Prep Work is Everything
“There's nothing worse than spending a morning baking a cake only to have it stick to the pan,” Johnson admits. The bundt pan should be squeaky clean. She notes to butter and flour the pan very thoroughly, let the cake bake all the way through, and allow the cake proper time to cool before turning it over. It’s these rookie mistakes that will set you back an entire cake—and afternoon.
A Bundt is a Blank Canvas
There are tons of bundt cake recipes to work with but the most fun part is decorating the cake. “When a cake looks like a piece of architecture drizzled with coconut glaze, that's a showstopper,” she adds. The cake’s middle is hollow so most of the batter will hit the sides, resulting in a craveable, crusty edge that’s fit to handle lots of frosting and toppings.
RELATED: Our Favorite Bundt Cake Recipes
What to Serve Aside from Cake
Bundt cakes are striking yet so simple and versatile. They’re a party staple but also a great brunch centerpiece. “With the subtle sweetness of a brunch cake (taking the place of a muffin or pastry) I like to make a more savory main,” Johnson says. She’s into roasted vegetables and goat cheese frittata with maple glazed smoked bacon on the side. For appropriate brunch cocktail pairings, turn to classics like mimosas and Bellinis. “A brunch cocktail should taste like sunshine and fresh air, not overpowering your meal.”