Chocolate Whiskey Layer Cake

chocolate cake

Rich chocolate sponge, condensed milk & whiskey buttercream, chocolate ganache

We’ve just got back from two days in the beautiful county of Rutland celebrating a friend’s 30th birthday. With the recent bout of unexpected and unseasonally warm weather, he couldn’t have picked a better weekend for us to spend outside and out of London (or Leeds, where he lives), enjoying each others’ company, soaking up some sunshine and drinking in the country air.

I don’t really need to tell you that I offered to bring a birthday cake. That goes without saying and is pretty much what you’ve been waiting for, right?

chocolate cake

The ganache coating is made with dark chocolate, double cream & brown sugar

When it comes to celebrating birthdays, a good chocolate cake is pretty hard to beat. Infinitely adaptable, almost universally enjoyed and available in a scale to suit your age range from mild milk chocolate to something altogether more darkly delicious, it’s a firm household favourite around the world for a reason.

For this particular creation, I had in mind a chocolate cake with a slightly grown up twist. The birthday boy in question is a big fan of whiskey, more specifically Jack Daniels, and I wanted to incorporate it into his cake in some way. After dismissing a whiskey and coke cake as a little too risky (I had some cola syrup left over from these cupcakes but it felt a bit too sticky and sickly with all that chocolate), I decided to incorporate the flavour using a simple whiskey syrup.


Jack Daniels whiskey (the birthday boy’s favourite) goes into the syrup & buttercream

Rather than making my usual chocolate cake base, I decided this was the time to try that chocolate cake. The cake that you hear whispers about, that pops up everywhere online, that I first read about on the Tastespotting blog then discovered here and here on blogs whose authors’ baking taste I trust implicitly. I knew the high sugar and cocoa content would result in a richly chocolaty cake and was intrigued to try a recipe involving no butter and instead so much liquid in the form of oil, milk and butter. Surely so much moisture could only be a good thing?

Birthdays are a great excuse to try something new and this cake is no exception. The base of that chocolate cake is soaked in a whiskey syrup inspired by Peggy Porschen, sandwiched together with a condensed milk buttercream from this blog that I’ve been wanting to make forever and smothered in a chocolate ganache from the Paul A. Young cookbook. Totally over the top, deliciously indulgent and completely celebratory in the way that only a birthday cake can be.

chocolate cake

Each mouthful is moist, chocolaty & rich with whiskey

As for the cake itself, you have to try it and see. Requests for seconds that afternoon and slices served up at breakfast the next day suggest that it’s a gift that keeps on giving. The crumb is amazing, almost damp in texture with a surprising lightness for something so dark, the whiskey syrup oaky and moist, the whiskey buttercream whipped to perfection and the chocolate ganache soft, thick and not too sweet.

One friend described it as ‘the best cake I’ve ever eaten’. Maybe he was just being nice. Maybe he’d heard the rumours about that chocolate cake. Or maybe, just maybe, it is the best chocolate cake you’ll ever eat.

Chocolate Whiskey Layer Cake
(adapted from this recipe by way of the BBC website)

It looks like a lot of ingredients but don’t be put off, the cake is a one bowl wonder and takes minutes to make. If you can’t be bothered to make buttercream and ganache, just up the quantities of one and use that to fill and frost the cake.


For the cake
340g plain flour
525g golden caster sugar
128g cocoa powder
2 ¼ tsp baking powder
2 ¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda
3 large free range eggs
375ml full fat milk
188ml groundnut oil
3 tsp vanilla extract
375ml boiling water

For the whiskey syrup
100ml water
100g caster sugar
50ml whiskey

For the buttercream
150g unsalted butter, room temperature
350g icing sugar
4 tbsp condensed milk
2 tbsp whiskey, or to taste

For the ganache
250g dark chocolate, chopped
250ml double cream
100g light brown muscovado sugar


For the cake
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Grease and line three 20cm cake tins.

Sift the flour, caster sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda into the bowl of a stand mixer and whisk for one minute to combine. You could also do this using an electric whisk.

In a separate bowl, beat the eggs then add the milk and groundnut oil. Pour into the dry mixture and whisk for two to three minutes until well combined.

With the whisk running, add the boiling water to your mixture a little at a time until combined. The batter will be extremely liquid.

Pour into your prepared cake tins and bake in the centre of the oven for 25 – 35 minutes, or until the tops are firm and a skewer or toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean. Remove from the oven.

For the whiskey syrup
Combine the water and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Simmer for a couple of minutes until the sugar has dissolved. Add the whiskey and simmer for one minute more then remove from the heat.

Trickle the syrup over the top of each cake while still warm then set aside to cool completely.

For the buttercream
Make sure your butter is nice and soft. In a stand mixer or using an electric whisk, beat the butter until pale and fluffy. Sift in the icing sugar and whisk to combine, then add the condensed milk. Continue to beat until light and fluffy, slowly incorporating the whiskey until fully combined.

For the ganache
Place the chopped chocolate in a medium heatproof bowl.

Heat the cream and sugar until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil and simmer for one minute.

Remove the cream from the heat and allow to stand for one minute – pouring it directly over the chocolate will cause it to split. Once it has rested, pour over the chocolate and stir until smooth and glossy, using a rubber spatula or whisk.

Set aside for thirty minutes or until it has cooled to a spreadable consistency.

To assemble the cake

Smear a small amount of whiskey buttercream on a serving plate or cake stand. Place one round of cake on top. Slather over half the quantity of whiskey buttercream, top with a second round of cake and repeat. Top with the final round of cake and smooth any buttercream that has squidged out the sides.

Dollop your ganache on top of the cake then use a spatula or palette knife to spread it down and round the edges. Use a slightly heated palette knife for a smooth finish or do what I did and swirl the ganache for a more rustic, flicked effect.

This cake can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature for a couple of days. After driving it to Rutland in 26 degree heat I had to pop it in the fridge to firm the ganache, but unless it’s a very hot day you should be ok.

*This recipe makes one 20cm round, 3 tier cake. When baking this cake at 6am before work my half conscious brain couldn’t find the right tins so I made it in 3 tins of 23, 20 and 18cm, hence the slightly strange appearance of the slice in the photos. It will taste exactly the same, but for the best looking cake I’d suggest sticking with 3 x 20cm tins.


Filed under Recipes

51 responses to “Chocolate Whiskey Layer Cake

  1. Gorgeous! How do you think the cake would be if it were made with olive oil instead of groundnut oil? Or does the molecular structure of the groundnut oil have a particular effect on the crumb of the cake?

  2. THAT chocolate cake! Sounds like a delicious combination – I thought when I made the THAT that (oh dear, this is becoming a very awkward sentence) if I made the Beautiful and Damned again I’d use it instead of the cake I used, to go with the whisky. So, essentially, what I’m trying to say: good idea. Yum.

  3. Wonderful picture of cake. That’s essence of cake:)

  4. Ellie

    This looks amazing and I will definitely be giving it a go in all its glory! However what would you recommend to replace the whiskey with for a similarly indulgent delight for friends who can’t have alcohol?

  5. This is certainly a beautiful looking creation and I am wondering if I could use rum to replace the whiskey as I do struggle with it. Having said that I do have a very good quality Irish whiskey given as a gift, so maybe I should be bold and try it! That sponge looks sensational x

  6. I’m not a whisky drinker but I love eating it. The cake crumb looks so moist and I’ve got a stash of decadently good chocolate too…the temptation! 😛

  7. That looks AMAZINGLY decadent, rich and DELICIOUS 🙂 I’ve been a bit addicted to making chocolate cakes lately but i haven’t made one with whisky before hehe ~

    • Susan – I haven’t made it with olive oil so wouldn’t want to say for certain. However the oil I used in this was flavourless – a fruity olive oil would definitely be noticeable and might clash with the chocolate (or complement it, I guess you’d need to experiment!)

      Emma – when I knew I wanted to make a chocolate whiskey cake I googled it and your Beautiful & the Damned cake was one of the first recipes that came up. It’s so beautiful – I’d love to try that butterfly technique you used sometime.

      Food, Photography and France – it is indeed!

      Ellie – just use the same recipe but omit the whiskey for a simple sugar syrup. Or you could make a chocolate orange sponge with a little orange juice? Or leave it out altogether, the cake is pretty moist anyway.

      Laura – I think a chocolate rum cake would be delicious too! (although the whiskey flavour isn’t too pronounced or overpowering so do try it)

      The Single Gourmet & Traveller – thank you 🙂

      Lorraine – get involved!

      Daisy – it’s a-mazing. You have to try 🙂

  8. Loaf… that cake is clearly naughty… very naughty. I daren’t even look at it… who gave you permission to make something so utterly decadent it belongs in Roald Dahl’s Matilda?

  9. *drool* i too would love a piece of that for breakfast!

  10. ‘That’ cake is the cake that baking dreams are made of. A moist and rich sponge, a bitter and glossy chocolate ganache and a decadent buttercream with more than a hint of Jack Daniels. Wonderful

  11. Oh my does that look rich, dark and sinful. Just the way a chocolate cake should be! No butter? I’m intrigued ( and hungry!)

  12. I totally fear cakes with oil instead of butter – they seem to not work out well for me! I tried the Barefoot Contessa cake and it had 250g cocoa powder which seemed way too much and seemed a bit dry! Love the sound of condensed milk buttercream too 🙂

  13. I’ve been looking for a chocolate cake to make for Andrew’s birthday which is coming up soon. This one is definitely a contender! I’m drooling just looking at it!

  14. Yummm your cake looks so luscious! It’s making me drool a little bit too much for this early in the morning. I love the addition of whiskey, you’ve given me all these ideas now!

  15. Oh this cake sounds epic on every level. I know several friends (and myself I imagine!) who would utterly adore it.

  16. Ohh yum this looks so moist and rich and delicious. I especially love the look of that icing! Yum!

  17. Oh my gosh, I’ve been looking for the perfect chocolate cake recipe for ages and this looks like the one! I think perhaps I will try it sandwiched with whipped double cream, then covered with chocolate ganache as my family always complain that buttercream is too sweet (I know, I have an odd family!) 🙂

  18. As a birthday cake this can´t get much better! And Jack Daniels in the mix. Wonderful. I bake a lot with whiskey and JD is by far the best one, it adds a lot of depth and taste. Other whiskeys just don´t deliver. This cake is definitely one to try very soon. Great recipe to file!

  19. I’ve been swooning over this cake for the past two days now. It seriously looks killer. Bravo !!

    • The Sundress Chef – thank you 🙂

      Frugal Feeding – haha, I told my boyfriend when he was tucking into his second slice that he looked like Bruce Bogtrotter!

      Trials in Food – it was good. So good.

      Big Hungry Gnomes – so pleased you like it!

      Erin – nope, no butter except in the frosting. And still beautifully moist.

      Lay the Table – do conquer your fear and give this a go – it turned out perfectly.

      Connie – do let me know how you get on if you make it 🙂

      Steph – thank you, your blog is a constant source of inspiration 🙂

      Kathryn – thank you.

      All You Do Is Eat – I’ve always had problems with ganache but this one really works. Paul A. Young is a chocolate genius!

      Cheeniroti – I totally get that, buttercream is extremely sweet. This would be delicious with whipped cream too though, enjoy!

      Paula – thank you. Isn’t whiskey in baking fab? I can’t stand it to drink but somehow the baking process mellows it.

      Lemon Fire Brigade – thank you! 🙂

  20. I’m in love with your cake! I’m gonna try it this weekend!!!

  21. That first photo is the epitome of food porn! You should send into Food Porn Daily! If there was ever a definition of ‘fudgy’’s that photo and this cake!!

  22. Now that’s a great birthday gift, I bet he’ll be requesting it again next year!

  23. I might try this one for my Lawless review (whiskey-moonlighting!) Thanks!

  24. This cake looks absolutely gorgeous! I just want to go and bake myself a cake straight away!! I love whisky in chocolate cake, I always love booze in chocolate cake to be honest! Fab!

  25. Phoar! That chocolate cake looks amazing. I’m loving the rich dark colour and wonderful texture!

  26. You know how much I love chocolate and there is nothing better than an “almost damp” cake in my opinion… don’t like fluffy, light sponges… this is a must-try! It looks incredible.

  27. My Kitchen Stories

    Wow another great cake. Your lucky friends. It is such an easy looking recipe. So chocolatety and moist

    • Maya – happy baking!

      Lisa – haha, thank you. I agree, 100% food porn.

      Sylvie – I think he might just be… 🙂

      Baking Beardy – enjoy!

      Regula – agreed, cake + booze = good 🙂

      Amanda – isn’t the colour gorgeous? So deliciously dark.

      Jen – hehe, my exact reaction!

      Nuts About Food – a fluffy sponge has its place, but definitely not when it comes to chocolate cake!

      My Kitchen Stories – it’s insanely simple to make but with such good results. My new favourite chocolate cake ever 🙂

  28. This is is nice, very lovely! =)

  29. Now why haven’t I heard of THAT chocolate cake. I can see why it would be good, it reminds me of Nigella’s damp chocolate cake which uses far more water than you’d ever think and although dense is also quite light at the same time. Love your use of whisky in this, it’s something I’ve only recently come to terms with. Still hate drinking the stuff, but have found it works rather well in baking. I’ve not come across condensed milk buttercream either, so something else bookmarked to try. As for Paul A Young – he is a chocolate king.

    Anyway, all this rambling is meant to denote that your cake looks amazing and the birthday boy was a very lucky man.

  30. That slice of cake looks amazing! It’s honestly one of the most appetizing, indulgent-looking chocolate cakes I’ve ever seen! I have to save this recipe for a special occasion.

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    • My Dear Bakes – thank you.

      Choclette – as a conoisseur of all things chocolate, you HAVE to try this cake 🙂

      Lucky Bakes – thank you! And I promise you won’t be disappointed, it’s sooo good.

      Nic – indeed!

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  35. Thought you’d like to know that I won a prize in a chocolate cake competition with this cake. Judged on ‘cakey-ness, chocolatey-nessappearance and ‘judges bonus points1 (obviously a rather informal competition!),Thank you very much for blogging the recipe, truly delicious 🙂

  36. Coleah

    Would this translate well into cupcakes, do you think?

  37. aly

    I’m baking this cake now but it has been in the oven now for over an hour, and every time I try the skewer test it comes out with some cake on it, im starting to give up hope 😦 I don’t want it in there too much longer as it runs the risk of burning and being too dry. have you experienced this at all? and this is coming from quite an experienced cake maker… I’m ashamed lol

    • How odd…a few crumbs on the skewer would be ok but you don’t want it really sticky. Perhaps make a foil lid and bake a little longer? And double check your oven temperature? Hope you manage to make it work! x

  38. Made this cake this weekend as dry-run for Burns’ Night.
    It looked fantastic, smelled fantastic and the buttercream was absolutely delicious. But the cake wasn’t. At all.
    With so many saying how yummy it is, I’m starting to worry; maybe my 15 years’ experience is falling flat on it’s face… but I didn’t do anything ‘wrong’, and I know my chocolate cake. You mention its ‘crumb’ but it barely had any. It didn’t taste cakey either, only slimy and quite ‘plastic’. Strange.
    I’ll definitely make the buttercream and ganache again, but won’t be making That Cake again. Sorry.

    • Hi Tamar, I’m so sorry to hear this. I’ve only had fantastic feedback about this cake and have made it several times so I wonder what went wrong… The texture should be quite moist, but certainly not slimy or plastic. Without seeing how you made the recipe, I can’t really help with troubleshooting, but if you have any specific questions, please do give me a shout x

      • ‘Followed your recipe and method to a tee. I blind-tested it on my friend at work and she said when you try the cake on its own, it almost doesn’t taste of anything at all… which shocked me because I know how much sugar and cocoa went in… (?!)
        Still, I appear to be the exception that proves your cakey rule. Thanks for replying. x

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