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California Cole Slaw
Shepherd's Pie
Chicken/Bean/Barley Stew
Chili Mac
Sopa Seca
California Chili
Spaghetti Meatballs
Aunt Annie's PepperRelish
Letona's Chess Pie
Kentucky Bourbon Cake

Kentucky Bourbon Cake

  • 1 box plain yellow cake mix
  • 1 small box vanilla instant pudding mix
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 stick butter, melted
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

  • 1 cup golden raisins
  • ½ cup bourbon
  • zest from 1 orange

  • ½ stick butter
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup bourbon
  • 2 oz water

1.) Heat raisins, ½ cup bourbon, and orange zest in small saucepan. Set aside to marinate.
2.) Combine mixes, buttermilk, melted butter, eggs, and vanilla in large mixing bowl. Blend with electric mixer on low for 1 minute, then on medium for 2 minutes.
3.) Fold warm raisin-bourbon mixture into cake ingredients, using mixer on medium.
4.) Lightly grease Bundt pan and dust with flour. Pour in batter. Smooth out with spatula.
5.) Bake in 350° oven for 50 minutes.
6.) Let cool for 20 minutes, then run long sharp knife around edges to remove from pan.
7.) For glaze, place ½ stick butter, brown sugar, ¼ cup bourbon, and water in small saucepan. Bring to boil, stirring, over medium-high heat. Stir for 3 minutes.
8.) Poke many holes in top of inverted cake with wooden toothpick. Spoon hot glaze over top of cake, letting it soak into holes and drizzle over sides.
9.) Let cake cool for 20 minutes more before slicing with serrated knife.

This is not an old family recipe. Ballard County was a dry county and we were a totally dry family, so bourbon cake never had a chance to enter my mother’s repertoire.

Though I became somewhat wetter over the years, I didn’t pay much attention to bourbon until my early forties. Then my more adventuresome brother Larry gave me a blind taste test of Jack Daniel’s vs. Maker’s Mark, and I was hooked. A few years ago Diane and I spent a very mellow long weekend at the annual Kentucky Bourbon Festival in Bardstown, center of the bourbon industry. We tried the full bourbon breakfast (fun, but not something to incorporate into your normal breakfast routine) and several bourbon desserts. We also participated in a wide-ranging blind taste test, involving five bourbons—or was it six, or four, or seven? We found we still preferred the moderately priced Maker’s Mark, even in comparison with $70 or $80 bourbons.

We also found that we really like bourbon pecan pie and especially bourbon cake. This recipe, mostly borrowed from Anne Byrn’s
Cake Mix Doctor cookbook, remains my favorite of those I’ve tried since. I usually make it with Maker’s Mark. But I discovered in the Bourbon Festival taste test that Evan Williams Straight, one of the cheapest bourbons from Bardstown’s huge Heaven Hill Distillery, is fine for cooking purposes and more.

After the festival I made another discovery. When I hesitantly told my mother where Diane and I had spent the weekend, she shared a long-suppressed family secret: that although my grandmother was a vociferous teetotaler, my grandfather’s first real job off the farm had been as a jack-of-all-trades at the local distillery near Bethesda, Arkansas. By the time Grandma met him, that job was no longer mentioned, or I wouldn’t be here today.

Alan Elms

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