Yogurt and Bourbon Poke Cake is a delicious, old-fashioned snacking cake that is warm with whiskey and raw sugar. Affiliate links have been used on this post to link to items I am discussing.
I have started a new series on this site, devoted to finding interesting recipes in old community cookbooks. You know, the kinds that are printed and distributed (but not usually published by a true publishing company) by Junior Leagues, churches, and other organizations. A friend of ours is moving away, and she asked if I would like her cookbooks (apparently she did not find them worth lugging across the country). Well I have never met a cookbook I could not find some worth in (OK that’s a lie, I did not keep the Jello cookbooks). I thought it might be fun if I picked them up, in no particular order, and forced myself to cook (or bake) something from them (probably often adapted) and share it with you guys.
The first book I started with is one you can actually find on Amazon, LA Pinata, from the Junior League of McAllen, Texas. My copy is from the 3rd printing, in 1980; the first printing was in 1976. It it actually hard back–between that and the fact that it is listed on Amazon I am assuming it is one of the more popular and well known of the small town Junior League cookbooks. It is also interesting–to someone with my tastes anyway–for having an entire Mexican Foods section. Surprisingly however that is not where I found my recipe. I was browsing through the book (skipping all the weird Jello and Cool Whip concoctions, I admit it) when I came across “Yogurt Sweet Cake,” which turned out to be what I would call a poke cake, made with whiskey. Only the cake was made with whiskey, but I upped the Bourbon flavor by adding a tiny amount to the soaking liquid as well. If that bothers you (John, for example, really hates anything tasting of hard alcohol), just leave the whiskey out—and add vanilla extract to the cake.
My other changes were to use Greek yogurt (which was probably unheard of in 1980 in a small town in Texas), to add ground vanilla beans (I did not want the alcohol in vanilla extract competing with the bourbon) and to use raw sugar in the soaking syrup for a deeper flavor, giving it almost a taste of molasses.
Now you may notice that the cake is tiny. This is because I knew John would not love this recipe, but I really wanted to try it, so I made it for his students. But that meant I cut it as though it were a snacking cake, and to get the requisite 35 or so slices, I had to cut them into pretty small squares. I figured they were not complaining either way, but I do wish I had left some larger slices for photographing! And for the record, I liked the cake, my kids liked the cake, John’s colleague liked the cake, John’s students liked the cake… and no, John did not like the cake. At least he is consistent (and super easy to cook and bake for usually).
- 3 cups cake flour
- 1 t baking soda
- 1/2 t fine sea salt
- 1/2 lb (2 sticks, 16 T) unsalted butter, softened
- 2 1/2 cups sugar
- 6 eggs, separated
- 1 t ground vanilla beans
- 1 oz (2 T) Bourbon--use a decent but not best quality liquor
- 1 cup plain whole fat Greek yogurt
- 1 1/2 cups raw sugar, such as Demerara
- 1 1/4 cups water
- juice of one lemon
- 1 T Bourbon--once again use a whiskey you would be ok with drinking but don't break the bank
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Line a 9X13 baking pan with parchment paper and grease it. Set aside.
Sift the flour into a medium sized bowl. Whisk in the salt and baking soda. Set aside.
Using a stand or handheld mixer, beat the butter until creamy. Add the sugar in 5 installations, beating after each one. Be sure to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed.
Add the egg yolks, one at a time, beat well after each addition. Be sure to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed.
Beat in the ground vanilla beans and Bourbon.
Add the flour mixture and yogurt in 3 and 2 additions, respectively, alternating between the 2 and beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Mix on low speed.
Switch to using a spatula by hand.
Whip the egg whites to hold stiff peaks. Place a dollop of the egg whites into the cake batter and mix it in to loosen it. Then fold the remaining egg whites into the batter, being careful to not overly deflate the egg whites.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top even.
Bake for 10 minutes, and then reduce the heat to 350 F. Mine took much longer than expected--bake another 30 minutes, and if it is still quite gooey, place foil loosely on top of the cake (that will prevent it getting too dark) and bake another 10 minutes. The cake is ready when a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean or with only a few crumbs attached.
While the cake is baking, place the soaking syrup ingredients into a sauce pan. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally. Once the sugar is dissolved, let it boil for 5 minutes. Then take it off the heat and set aside.
When the cake is done, take it out of the oven and place it on a cooling rack for 10 minutes.
After it has cooled for 10 minutes, poke holes all over the cake (not riddled with holes, maybe 3 inches apart?). Brush half of the syrup over the cake and into the holes.
Let the cake cool another 10 minutes. Brush the remaining syrup over the top and into the holes.
Let the cake cool completely before removing by the parchment paper and slicing.
That’s such a fun goal for yourself! I’ve never actually encountered any of these community cookbooks but I have heard of them! I’m sure they have some treasures, like this cake, among all the cream of casseroles and cool whip concoctions.
I wonder if you are sheltered from them in NYC lol! They definitely seem to be a rural, esp south and midwest, thing.
I love it when you write that how everyone liked the cake except John!! Atleast he is consistent!
Cake looks really spongy and delicious!
Thanks lol! And yeah anytime I try baking with whiskey he is pretty much out. 😀
i use bourbon sparingly in cooking, but i think i can handle this amount. especially in cake. 🙂
This is such a cool idea. I remember some of these community cookbooks from my time in high school… our school’s parents and teachers association often used to produce one with family recipes every year. Pretty sure I saw one from my local church floating around too! As for poke cake, I’ve never heard of such a thing! Is that just purely due to the soaking syrup and the ‘holes’ you poke all over the surface? I like it. The Bourbon syrup sounds delicious! xx
First of all: thank you! from various social media, etc, I could not tell what people thought of my idea so I am glad someone likes it lol! Also, yes a poke cake is one that is poked and soaked with some kind of tasty syrup. 😀
Jessica's Dinner Party says
Such a fun series you’re doing! If you don’t mind my asking, what is a poke cake? Sounds like maybe it’s just a simple, no fuss cake?
A poke cake is indeed simple, but it is specifically called a poke cake because of the holes you poke in it before drenching it in a soaking syrup. 🙂 It may go by different names in different regions.
Jenny (VintageSugarcube) says
I laughed when I read you passed on the jello cookbooks because the only poke type cake I have ever made was with strawberry jello! Your recipe is definitely kicked up a notch. And I feel ya on the hidden gem cookbooks.
Well this just sounds (and looks!) perfect to me. What a lovely dessert. I love your idea behind this new series and I look forward to seeing what is to come. xo, Catherine
Healing Tomato says
This is a delicious Pound Cake.
well I think I’m going to have to try this with the whiskey! 🙂 I love those kinds of cookbooks! We made them in school each year for some occasion or another 🙂
Laura @MotherWouldKnow says
Laura, I’ve become enamored of the “poke cake” concept after learning of it from some Iowans I met. But most of the versions I find use terrible stuff like Jello (Like you, I would have thrown out Jello cookbooks in a flash.) This one looks and sounds delightful, so much more natural and delicious. And besides, yogurt and whiskey – what a great combination!
Heather / girlichef says
I would love this cake (simple cakes without frosting are my favorite). I love bourbon and greek yogurt with vanilla beans sound like they would complement it perfectly.
Nutmeg Nanny says
What a totally fabulous looking cake! Love anything made with bourbon 🙂