Pecan Bourbon Caramel Cake: Minnesota Justice Foundation’s Official Birthday Cake

The winner, and still champion: Pecan Bourbon Caramel Cake.

Minnesota Justice Foundation Update: I have hosted a birthday party fundraiser for Minnesota Justice Foundation for the past two years, and my friends and family have generously supported a fund named in honor of my parents, Hal and Letty Gainen, who would be enthusiastic MJF supporters today. During the past year, that fund has helped MJF’s Assisted Pro Se Clinics in Greater Minnesota.

Note to non-lawyers: When you represent yourself in court, you are a “pro se” litigant. Students providing “Assisted pro se” services advise — but do not represent — clients.
Note to Non-Minnesotans: “Greater Minnesota” is outside the Minneapolis-St. Paul Metro area, which, depending on who defines the metro, can be 7, 11 or 14 counties.

Each year, MJF partners with several greater Minnesota legal services agencies to run assisted pro se clinics for clients with family law issues. This year, students from all four Minnesota law schools went to White Earth Reservation, to the Shoemaker and Ziegler firm in Detroit Lakes, and to the Legal Services of Northwest Minnesota offices in Bemidji. In addition to the trip up north, a clinic was held with Central Minnesota Legal Services in Little Falls, and more clinics are planned for Mankato and Willmar later this semester. MJF understands the need for increased pro bono services in all areas of the state, and is hoping to partner with more legal services agencies and private firms willing to assist pro se clients in better understanding their cases and the court system.

And now, without further adieu, I give you
MJF’s Official Birthday Cake: Pecan Bourbon Caramel Cake!

The original idea comes from Bill Neal’s classic Biscuits, Spoonbread and Sweet Potato Pie: 300 recipes that celebrate the glories of Southern Baking (Alfred A. Knopf, 1991). Neal’s “Pecan Cake with Caramel Icing” has light layers with what he calls “the South’s most beloved icing, caramel.” He describes the cake as the favorite of an 80-year old Southern lady who had the same birthday party and cake for her entire life. A terrific endorsement.

In early 2007, my long-suffering colleagues at the University of Minnesota Law School Career and Professional Development Center endured several versions of this cake as I searched for one that wasn’t too dry and still had pecan flavor. That cake won the first MJF Birthday Cake Smackdown, beating the beloved Jimmy Buffett Cake (butter rum cake, Key Lime Italian Meringue and toasted coconut). However, the first Pecan Cake was more complex than I prefer for a cake that I will make often: separating and beating egg whites, and using three cake pans is too much trouble. Ultimately, Neal’s “light layers” didn’t quite work for the way I like to bake.

Problem solved . This year I found a Pecan Pound Cake that is an easy recipe for anyone with a stand mixer and, for the caramel, a candy thermometer. (Why don’t YOU have one?) And, once again, this cake was the hands’ down winner of MJF’s Birthday Cake Smackdown, trouncing the Judith Olney Joy of Chocolate Pound Cake.

Over the top alert: If you have Spiced Pecans in your freezer, this cake will be even better.

Construct this cake in three steps:
Make a pecan pound cake
Make a bourbon syrup
Make caramel for frosting

Useful tools:
A tube pan
A sifter or strainer
A metal cooling rack
A full sheet pan to put under the rack to catch the Bourbon Syrup Drips
A silicon brush as a “Bourbon Syrup Delivery System”
A candy thermometer
A silicon spatula to spread the caramel

Adapted from Georgia Pound Cake from Dinner at Miss Lady’s: Memories and Recipes from A Southern Childhood (Luann Landon, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1999.)

3 sticks butter, room temperature
1 cup pecans, toasted and chopped
1 pound dark brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
5 large eggs, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla
3 cups flour
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 cup whole milk, room temperature

1. Preheat the oven to 325. Butter and flour a tube pan.

2. Toast the pecans while the oven pre-heats. They’ll be toasted when you can smell them. Chop them fine – but not pulverized to dust.
3. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt. Purists will sift three times. Why not? If you don’t have a sifter, use a strainer. I have an electric sifter, and I swear by it.
4. Cream the butter. Add the sugars and beat at medium high speed for 5 minutes.
5. Slow the mixer and add the eggs, one at a time, beating briefly after each one. Add the vanilla. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Why? So that you won’t have blobs of unmixed batter at the end.
6. Add the flour in three batches alternating with the milk. Add the pecans and beat briefly.
7. Pour into the pan. Bake for 80 minutes. It is done when a skewer comes out clean and the cake begins to pull away from the sides.
8. Cool in the pan on a rack for 20 minutes. Remove from the pan and cool on a rack.
9. To cut the cake into three layers, use a serrated knife and mark the cake in thirds all around. Then, cut the cake into three lawyers. I promise that this is easier than you think, and when covered with caramel, no one will know or care if the layers aren’t mathematically perfect. Put the layers on a rack in a sheet to catch the Bourbon Syrup drips.

BOURBON SYRUP (adapted from Biscuits, Spoonbread)

1-1/2 cups water
1-1/2 cups white sugar
¾ cups bourbon

Boil the water and sugar for 5 minutes. Cool. Add the bourbon. Pour over the three cake layers. A silicon brush is very useful for this.

CARAMEL FROSTING (adapted from Biscuits, Spoonbread)
4 cups brown sugar

2 cups heavy cream
1/8 tsp salt
6 T light corn syrup
12 T cold butter, cut into tablespoons

Put the brown sugar, cream, salt and corn syrup in a deep and heavy pan. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook to 240 degrees. Remove from heat and cool to 110 degrees without stirring. Add the butter 1 or 2 tablespoons at a time, beating vigorously until the caramel is a room temperature.


1. Put your cake plate in the sheet pan to catch the caramel drips.

2. Lay the bottom third of your cake onto the cake plate. If you are obsessed about tidiness, put wax paper strips under the cake to catch the drips for a clean presentation. Or, go wild and let the drips fall where they may.

3. Pour slightly less than 1/3 of the caramel on the bottom third of the cake. Spread it around.
Repeat with the second layer. Spread the remaining caramel over the top and let it drip down the sides.

About susangainen

Whimsical Wildlife Documentarian. Abstract Painter. Writer. Teacher. Explorer.
This entry was posted in Judith Olney Joy of Chocolate Pound Cake, Minnesota Justice Foundation Birthday Cake, Pecan Bourbon Caramel Cake. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Pecan Bourbon Caramel Cake: Minnesota Justice Foundation’s Official Birthday Cake

  1. Jessica says:


    You may be the ruin of my diet, but I think I’ll happily destroy it with this recipe. Yum!

    Jessica Richman

  2. Darling says:

    I don’t really like pie very much, but I like any kind of pie a la mode! Warm and with ice cream? YES! Otherwise, i like pmkiupn, minus the crust! I really don’t like pecan pie or sweet potato pie very much, though. And i HATE whipped cream, unless it’s 100% from scratch. Which it never is.

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