Maida Heatter's 86-proof Chocolate Cake

bourbon chocolate cake

I was so thrilled when I finally received confirmation that Bulleit Bourbon is gluten-free. Not only was I looking forward to sharing my favorite fall cocktail, Bourbon and Apple Cider, but I also had this bourbon-chocolate cake in mind.

Around the holidays, I especially love spiked cakes. I’m certain this stems from the rum cake that my grandfather would select for me from St. Rita’s Bakery on special occasions. More recently, I fell for the boxed amaretto pound cake Trader Joe’s sold several years ago around the holidays (I’m also huge fan of all things almond, so it was a double whammy). Anyhow, I digress…

What I enjoy about this cake is that not one of the flavorings — chocolate, espresso or bourbon — calls for your attention more than the other. It’s wonderfully nuanced, with just a touch of lingering smokiness from the bourbon. I cannot wait to serve thick slices of this moist cake to dinner guests as a simple dessert accompanied by crème fraîche-stabilized whipped cream and coffee. I suspect it will be well received as a delightfully unexpected divergence from the pumpkin and apple desserts that abound this time of year.

Plus, isn’t it fun to blow people’s minds as to what a gluten-free food can be (cake PLUS bourbon)?

Maida Heatter’s 86-Proof Chocolate Cake

(adapted from The New York Times, December 20, 1981)

Preparation Time: 15 minutes

Baking Time: 55 – 60 minutes

Makes: 1 loaf


For Pan:

  • Unsalted butter
  • Unsweetened cocoa powder (Natural or Dutch-processed, doesn’t matter)

Flour Mixture:

  • 37 grams (1/4 cup plus 2 1/2 teaspoons) millet flour
  • 37 grams (1/4 cup plus 2 1/2 teaspoons) garbanzo-fava flour
  • 48 grams (1/4 cup) potato starch
  • 19 grams (2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon) arrowroot starch
  • 1/4 plus 1/8 teaspoon xanthan Gum
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons instant espresso powder
  • Pinch (about 1/16 teaspoon) ground cinnamon

Bourbon Mixture:

  • 3/4 cup water, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup Bulleit bourbon, or other gluten-free bourbon

Cake Base:

  • 113 grams (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 192 grams (1 cup) evaporated cane juice or granulated white sugar
  • 1 large egg, room temp
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 71 grams (2 1/2 ounces) bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled slightly

For Serving (optional):


Preheat Oven and Prepare Baking Pan:

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 1 pound loaf pan (8 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ x 2 3/4″) with butter and dust interior with cocoa powder; set aside.

Measure Flour and Bourbon Mixtures:

In a medium bowl, whisk together millet flour through cinnamon; set aside. Combine water and whiskey in a measuring cup with pour spout; set aside.

Prepare Cake Base:

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter on medium speed until smooth and slightly lightened (about 2 minutes). Scrape down bowl, add sugar and vanilla to butter and beat for 1 minute, scrape down bowl and beat for an additional minute, or until somewhat fluffy. Scrape down bowl. Add whole egg and egg yolks to the butter-sugar mixture and beat until smooth and lightened (about 1 minute). Scrape down bowl and stir (or beat in melted chocolate, making sure no white streaks remain.

Finish Cake Batter and Bake:

Stir flour mixture into cake base in three additions, alternating with bourbon-water mixture (1/3 flour, 1/2 bourbon-water, 1/3 flour, 1/2 bourbon-water, 1/3 flour).

Transfer batter into prepared loaf pan, smoothing top. Bake in the preheated, 350°F oven for 45 minutes, then reduce temperature to 325°F and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes (or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean).

Cool cake in the pan for about 5 minutes before running a thin spatula around the outside to loosen. Carefully invert onto cooling rack; cool completely before slicing.

Serve and Store Cake:

Once cake is cooled completely, sift powdered sugar over the top and cut into slices of desired thickness (only as many as you need, it’ll stay fresher). Serve with a dollop of crème fraîche-boosted whipped cream on the side or ice cream. Store cake at room temperate, tightly wrapped with plastic wrap. If you prefer to freeze leftover cake, slice, wrap with plastic and place in a freezer bag.

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  • Reply
    Kiri W.
    November 28, 2011 at 11:23 am

    Oh wow. See, I eat 86% chocolate normally, but in cake form, with a hint of espresso? Color me your eternal slave if you feed me!

  • Reply
    December 2, 2011 at 7:42 pm

    Yum ai also love boozy cakes. This looks rich and could make a dinner party very happy : ) Plus I love bake ahead and freeze desserts. I will have to try this.

    BTW, I always wanted to know what does Xanthan Gum do in baking?

  • Reply
    heather sage
    December 9, 2011 at 11:02 am

    kiri: i fear this cake may not be quite chocolately enough for you — the flavor is really subtle. perhaps the addition of a nice ganache (what ganache isn’t nice, really?) would add enough chocolate oomph to kick it up to a more appealing ratio.

    ailovebaking: it looks brownie-rich but is shockingly not (it’s the color, i think). i love freeze ahead desserts, too, but more as a lunch box treat than anything — much better than a shelf-stable treat from the store! as for the xanthan gum, it provides the stickiness/stretch that gluten lends in conventional baking.

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