This Bourbon-Apple Butter Cake is perfect for a fall gathering or an intimate autumn wedding. Layers of brown sugar cake are soaked with tongue-tingling bourbon and layered with Swiss meringue buttercream. Seasonal fruit gilded with edible gold leaf and a crown of fresh rosemary make this little cake wedding-worthy.
I made this cake last fall for a sweet couple’s small wedding reception, and I liked end result so much I asked them if I could share the recipe. With their approval, here it is! The flavor of bourbon-brown sugar cake is never out of season, but those warm notes taste even sweeter when the weather turns cool.
Regular blog readers will already be acquainted with a slightly different version of this cake recipe. It’s from this Bourbon Vanilla Layer Cake. For this iteration, I soaked the cake layers with Four Roses single barrel bourbon. And I filled it with my mom’s homemade apple butter. A barely there coat of Swiss meringue buttercream holds it all together before the blue ganache drip is poured over.
The blue ganache is made with dark blue candy melts and heavy cream. Very simple. It looks stunning with edible gold leaf brushed on. Honestly this picture does not do the real thing justice.
Instead of a wedding cake topper, the couple opted for an autumn fruit and flower arrangement. It’s a nice alternative to the usual little plastic couple décor, although that can be super cute and kitsch.
This is the sketch I sent them in the early stages of development. I’d planned for an autumn bounty on top with fresh figs, but I just couldn’t find any. (Turns out, nothing was a sure thing in 2020 – not even figs in fall!) However, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I found some beautiful cape gooseberries. So I snatched them right up!
For those attempting this cake, bake and soak the layers a day or two ahead of time. As a result, the bourbon will mellow and the flavors will marry.
The finished cake is delicious and SO quintessentially fall with apple butter, spices, deep caramel and oaky bourbon notes, and the vanilla Swiss meringue buttercream balances it all with a creamy note.
Finding a presentable box for wedding cake delivery is a task unto itself. I lucked out finding this 10x10x2 windowed bakery box. Although the boxes come with ribbon (and a ‘best wishes card’), I tied some of my own blue velvet ribbon on to match the wedding colors.
Big thanks to Jacob and Kayla for trusting me with the cake for their special day!
Bourbon-Apple Butter Cake for a Small Autumn Wedding
8 inch round cake pans, 4
Small kitchen-dedicated art brush
Green floral tape
Bourbon cake layers
- 2 cups unsalted butter softened
- 4 cups light brown sugar packed
- 1/2 cup molasses
- 12 large eggs at room temperature
- 2 tablespoon vanilla bean paste or pure vanilla extract
- 6 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
- 8 oz. sour cream
- 1 cup bourbon I used Four Roses
Bourbon simple syrup
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup water
- 1/3 cup bourbon
- Swiss meringue buttercream and filling
- 12 egg whites
- 3 cups sugar
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 5 cups unsalted butter softened
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 3/4 cup prepared spiced apple butter
Blue ganache drip
- 6 ounces dark blue candy melts finely chopped
- 5 tablespoons heavy cream
- Edible gold leaf 4 small sheets
- 1 blemish-free red pear
- 12 long rosemary stems 7-8 inches each
- 4 sprigs thyme
- 6 cape gooseberries
- White food safe flowers such as organic roses
Make the cake layers
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease four 8-inch round cake pans with flour-based baking spray (or grease pans and line bottoms with parchment).
In the bowl of an electric stand mixer, beat together butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes. Add the molasses and beat until incorporated. Scrape down bowl with a spatula. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla.
Whisk together flour, salt and baking soda in a separate large bowl. In another bowl, combine the sour cream and bourbon. Gradually add flour mixture to butter mixture in 3 additions, with the mixer on low speed, alternating with sour cream mixture and starting and ending with flour mixture. Scrape down the mixing bowl with a large rubber spatula and turn the batter over several times to ensure all of the ingredients are well incorporated.
Divide batter between pans, filling them about 3/4 full. Bake until golden and cakes spring back when pressed in their centers, about 30-35 minutes. Let cakes cool in pans for 5 minutes. The cakes should pull away from the sides of the pan. Invert cakes, remove pans and let cool completely on a wire rack. Level the cakes using a cake leveler or serrated knife.
Bourbon simple syrup
In a microwave-safe bowl combine the water and sugar. Cook at 100% power for 1 minute 30 seconds. Stir well until the sugar is completely melted. If sugar crystals remain, heat another 45 seconds to 1 minute, or until completely melted (you can also make this on the stove top in a saucepan over medium-high heat if you don’t have a microwave). Add bourbon; drizzle on, or brush syrup over cake layers using a pastry brush.
Swiss meringue buttercream
Set a saucepan filled one-third full of water over medium-high heat and bring to a simmer.
Whisk together the egg whites, sugar, and salt in a large heatproof bowl (I suggest a stainless bowl). Set over the simmering water and whisk until the mixture is hot to the touch and the sugar has dissolved (120-140 degrees on a candy thermometer, to be sure).
Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on low speed for 2 minutes. Increase to medium-high until stiff peaks are formed.
Continue beating at medium-high speed until the mixture is fluffy and has cooled (the mixing bowl should feel cool to the touch).
Turn the mixer off and switch from the whisk attachment to the paddle. Turn the mixer on medium-low and add the butter, a few cubes at a time, beating until well incorporated before the next addition. The mixture may deflate and look curdled – this is normal. Keep adding butter and mixing. Add the vanilla extract. Beat until the frosting on high speed until it is thick and completely smooth.
Fill a disposable piping bag with the frosting and snip a 1/2-inch hole in the end; set aside. Cover the remaining frosting with tea towel.
Place a cake layer on a cake drum, cake stand, or serving plate. Place on a cake turntable. Using the piping bag of buttercream, pipe a line around the top edge of the cake. Spread 1/4 cup of the apple butter on the cake layer. Top the cake layer with a second cake layer. Repeat the piping and filling process and place final cake layer on top. Cover the cake with the remaining buttercream. Using a bench scraper, remove most of the buttercream so that the cake layers show through (‘naked’ cake technique). Chill the cake in the refrigerator while you prepare the blue ganache drip.
Blue ganache drip
In a microwave-safe bowl, combine the chopped red candy and heavy cream. Place in the microwave and heat at 100% power at 30 second intervals, stirring well between heating (about 1 minute total cook time). Alternatively, you may use a saucepan on the stovetop over medium-low heat. Stir until completely melted. Let cool slightly.
Pour the ganache starting at the top center of the cake, and move outward to the sides so that some of the ganache drips down the edges of the cake. Use a spatula to spread the ganache evenly and to coax the ganache down the sides. Let stand until set, about 10 minutes. The ganache will set quickly on a well-chilled cake.
Pick up some of the gold leaf using the small art brush and place it on the blue drip ganache. Allow the leaf to cling to the ganache naturally. Place on other areas of the cake, if desired. Brush a little of the gold leaf onto the red pear. If the leaf doesn’t adhere naturally, brush a little corn syrup on the pear skin and try again.
Lightly bend rosemary stems in a half-circle shape and lay around the top edge and bottom edge of the cake. Add in sprigs of thyme. Snip flower stems short and wrap the cut ends with floral tape. Insert them into the cake to one side, or arrange as desired. Place the pear on top of the cake, along with the cape gooseberries with their husks peeled back.
Serve slices at room temperature.
Fruit and flowers arranged on the cake should keep fresh and beautiful for at least 24 hours kept in the refrigerator.