Hot Whiskey Cake
Evoking the favorite Irish cold-weather drink -- vibrant with lemon, fragrant with spice and a kick of whiskey

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Hot Whiskey Cake

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2.5 cups / 315 grams All-purpose flour Or (UK) cream flour
1 teaspoon Baking powder
0.5 Baking soda / bicarbonate of soda
0.25 teaspoon Salt
225g / 1 cup Butter
250g / 1.25 cups Granulated sugar
2 Finely grated rind of lemon
2 Juice and pulp of lemon
3 Large eggs
3 tablespoons Lemon juice
1 tablespoon Butter For cake pans
Baking parchment For cake pans
For the lemon and whiskey syrup
150 ml / 0.75 cup Warm water
1 Finely grated rind of lemon
150 ml / 3/4 cup Lemon juice
4 Whole cloves
240 g / 1.5 cups Granulated sugar
6 tablespoons Irish whiskey
For the frosting
1 cup Butter
1 Zest and juice of lemon
3.75 cups Confectioners' / icing sugar
0.15 teaspoon Salt
1 teaspoon Irish whiskey
To top the frosting
1 tablespoon Granulated sugar
0.25 teaspoon Powdered cloves

    Warm a slice in the microwave for that traditional hot-drink effect

    • Medium


    • For the lemon and whiskey syrup

    • For the frosting

    • To top the frosting



    In Ireland, when the cold weather sets in — and it’s usually wet as well — a lot of people, when they turn up at their local pub, really want something hot to take the chill off them. One of the great classic Irish drinks for this purpose is the “hot whiskey”.

    This is more than just whiskey. It’s a slice of lemon with cloves stuck in it, dropped into a heatproof glass with a big shot of whiskey and a big spoonful of sugar or honey læs fuld artikel. Then the whole business is topped up with boiling water. To have one of these set down in front of you after coming in from the cold is a moment of true joy.

    Our Irish whiskey cake — or “hot whiskey cake” as the neighbors call it — is meant to recall the drink in the same way that our Irish Coffee Cake recalls its name-drink. The intensely lemony layers of the cake itself, fortified with the pulp and juice of two whole lemons, are the perfect foil for the warm, tart-sweet lemon syrup they’re soaked in — scented with cloves and laced with Irish whiskey, to give the cake that real “hot whiskey” flavor. A lemon-and-whiskey glaze tops the whole thing off.

    We used 8-inch pans to bake our sample cake. For thinner layers you can bake in 9-inch pans: make sure to decrease the baking time by 5-10 minutes if you do this.

    Please note that this is not one of those showpiece cakes… not terribly photogenic, no matter what you do to it. It just tastes good.


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    Prepare the lemons for the cake

    Carefully use a potato peeler or zester to remove only the yellow zest/outer peel from your lemons. Chop the peel / zest very finely. (If you like, you can use a mortar and pestle to grind the zest to a paste.)

    Put this aside and use a sharp knife or potato peeler to remove all the white pith from the lemons. Discard the pith. Cut off and discard the very ends of the lemons; then slice the lemons and remove all seeds.

    Put the sliced lemon and the chopped zest into a food processor (using a small processor bowl if you have one) and use the steel blade to reduce the lemons to a pulp. This should produce about a cup to a cup and a half of pulp.


    To make the cake

    Preheat the oven to 190° C / 375° F. Butter well two 8- or 9-inch cake pans: then line their bottoms with baking parchment and butter the parchment as well. (As mentioned above, if you have a springform pan of the same size as the pans you're baking in, make it ready by cutting a baking parchment circle to cover the [buttered] bottom: then butter over this.)

    Sieve the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together very wel; set them aside.

    Cream the butter and sugar very well until light and fluffy: then add the eggs one at a time and continue beating after each until the whole mixture becomes very light. Once all the eggs have been beaten in, slow down the beater and add the lemon pulp and juice.

    Then at low speed with the mixer, or by hand if you prefer, add the mixture of dry ingredients by spoonfuls to the batter and mix gently until well combined.
    Don't be surprised if the batter starts to seem very light and spongy even in the bowl! This is because the acid in the lemon pulp and juice begins reacting almost immediately with the baking powder and baking soda in the dry ingredients.

    Spoon the batter into two 8-inch cake pans (or 9-inch if you prefer). Gently smooth the top of the batter, leveling it out.

    Bake the layers for 35-40 minutes (check them at 30 minutes if you're using a fan oven: they might be done at that point), until the cake is just starting to pull away from the sides of the cake pans. Remove from oven and allow the cake layers to cool in their pans for ten or fifteen minutes. They may fall while cooling. This is okay.

    When cooled, carefully turn the layers out onto a rack to cool. When they're out, wash and dry the cake pans. You'll need them again shortly.


    To make the syrup

    Heat the water, lemon juice, grated lemon rind and cloves together gently for 15-20 minutes (the mixture should just be steaming at this point, not boiling).

    Add the sugar and bring to a boil, stirring constantly until the sugar is completely dissolved. Then boil rapidly for 4 minutes. (Make sure you do this in a pan at least three times the size of the syrup, because it will try to boil over, and it'll leave you with an incredible mess if it gets all over the cooktop.) Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool for five minutes or so. Then remove and discard the cloves, and stir in the whiskey.

    Now put a piece of baking parchment in the bottom of each layer pan, covering the bottom of it as completely as possible and overlapping the sides so that enough sticks up for you to easily pull the cake layer out of the pan. Then return the cooled cake layers to their pans.

    Use a skewer to poke concentric circles of holes into the top of each layer, being as careful as you can not to go all the way through the layer and out the bottom. Then slowly pour half the lemon-and-whiskey syrup over each layer (r less if you want a less syrup-soaked cake), alternating pours so that each layer gets the same amount. Leave the layers to soak in the syrup for 2-3 hours.


    To make the lemon and whiskey buttercream frosting

    Beat the butter until light and fluffy. Add the confectioners' sugar / icing sugar and salt, and beat very well. Add the lemon juice and at least one teaspoon of the whiskey, and continue beating until completely combined.

    When the frosting is ready, use it to sandwich the cake layers together. Spread over the top of the cake and then dust the top layer of frosting very lightly with a sprinkling of powered cloves and sugar.



    Slice and serve the cake. Some people like to put slices of the cake in the microwave for thirty seconds or so, and serve it warm.

    A final note: There is a fair amount of Irish whiskey in this cake. Maybe we're just being overcautious, but it seems unwise to drive after you've had more than a slice of this: there might be enough alcohol in it to produce a false positive on a test and get you in trouble with the local constabulary, and no one wants that. So, a word to the wise... hang the car keys up first.


    I write for a living. But food is one of my favorite hobbies... learning about it, cooking it, eating it!

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