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How do you make a cake? We all know. You cream butter, then add sugar slowly. [If you start with the butter and sugar together you will have a difficult time getting proper emulsification and if my friend and baking maven Carole Walter ever finds out, you’ll get a stare like you haven’t seen since that nun in the third grade].

Anyway, the sugar is added very, very slowly. A tablespoon at a time. Then vanilla and other liquids, including eggs or chocolate. Then and only then the flour and it’s mixed for the shortest possible time. Put the batter in a pan and bake for, oh, 40 minutes. That’s how you make a cake.

So, what if your recipe said to do this. Start with the dry ingredients, the flour and sugar, in the mixing bowl. Then add the butter and just beat until it finally, finally forms what looks like bread dough. Then the vanilla and eggs. Now add the liquid, a lot liquid, including a ½ cup of bourbon. And this batter bakes for 70 minutes.

Well, if you saw that recipe you might be tempted not to waste your time, your butter, and your precious chocolate resources. Let alone all that bourbon.

You’d be wrong. This recipe is from Nick Malgeiri’s wonderful new book Bake! After nine previous cookbooks, Nick says this is the cookbook he always wanted write. It specializes in techniques and is the perfect way to gracefully master the essentials of baking. Short but skillfully written and generously illustrated chapters take you on a wide tour of the baking world: sweet pastry doughs, flaky ones, cookies, puff pastry, easy breads, more complex ones, brioche, danish, butter and oil cakes, pound cases, sponge cakes, meringues, biscuits, scones, muffins, and all kinds of cookies. This book will keep you occupied for every weekend from now until Dallas wins the Super Bowl. [Yes, I know that won’t be until 2012 at the earliest!]

Nick is renowned as a baker, teacher, and writer. He is also incredibly modest and generous in his acknowledgements of recipes and inspiration.

I knew this cake, despite its weird techniques, would be perfectly safe. First, it’s a Nick recipe. Second, he credits the original recipe to Maida Heatter. Nick has simply perfected the perfect. If Nick and Maida have created something, it’s a bit like saying George Washington and Abraham Lincoln have decided on some government policies. Go for it.

Nick says to cool this cake completely but I could not wait and loved it still warm out of oven and slathered in whipped cream. It’s dense and it certainly smells of bourbon. You’ve never had a cake like this, so put it on your very short list to try.

Ah, about the bourbon. Last year Brian and I visited Tennessee. That state and Kentucky have somewhat of a rivalry about bourbon and whiskey and who can call what what. A Tennessee liquor store is a bit different from its Manhattan equivalent. No locked cases of fine wines. The locked cases are filled with small label bourbons and, yes, Billy Bob is standing right there with a sawed off to guard all that amber liquid. We bought a very pricy bottle, and I cracked it open for this cake. Wise choice. I’ll have to email my thanks to Billy Bob. Then again …

Maida’s Chocolate Bourbon Pound Cake

Yield: 1 short 90inch tube or Bundt cake, about 16 slices


  • 5 ounces unsweetened chocolate, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
  • 1 ½ cups hot brewed coffee
  • ½ cup best bourbon
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 8 ounces [2 sticks] unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract


Set a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 325°F.

Place the chocolate in a medium mixing bowl and pour the hot coffee over it. Gently shake the blow a couple of times to immerse the chocolate, then wait 1 to 2 minutes. Whisk smooth.

Whisk in the bourbon.

Combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, and slat in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment. Mix on the lowest speed for 30 seconds.

Stop the mixer, add the butter, and continue mixing on the lowest speed until no visible pieces of butter remain. Stop the mixer and use a rubber spatula to scrape down the bowl and beater. [Brian note: when I made this the batter suddenly came together to resemble a biscuit dough; adding the eggs and liquids later were no problem.]

Start eh mixer on the lowest speed and add the eggs and vanilla. Beat for 1 minutes on medium speed. Stop and scrape the bowl and beater. Add half the chocolate mixture and beat 1 minute. Add the remaining chocolate mixture and beat on medium speed for 2 minutes. The batter will be very liquid.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake the cake until it is well risen and firm and the point of a thin knife inserted midway between the side of the pan and central tube emerges clean, 60 to 70 minutes.

Cool the cake in the pan for 15 minutes, the unmold and cool completely

Serve with lightly sweetened whipped cream.

If you double wrap this cake, you can freeze it for longer storage.

Source: Bake! by Nick Malgieri