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Chef Zac Young’s clever bourbon chocolate cake recipe is whimsical winter perfection on a plate

We love this new-school bourbon chocolate cake recipe

Zac Young's Bourbon Chocolate Stumps
Zac Young

We’re willing to gamble that celebrity Chef Zac Young needs no introduction. Between his frequent appearances on popular cooking shows like ChoppedBeat Bobby Flay, and Worst Cooks in America, and his enormous adoration and success due to his creation of the famous holiday phenomenon, the PieCaken, Chef Young is a pretty big deal this time of year. The original PieCaken alone – one indulgent dessert encompassing pumpkin pie, pecan pie, spice cake, apple pie, cinnamon buttercream, and oat crumble all at once – makes Young the King of holiday desserts in our book. Now, he’s at it again with a gorgeously festive bourbon chocolate cake that he’s created just for The Manual.

We love the fun, whimsical play on the traditional yule log, or Bûche de Noël – a traditional French dessert that’s served at Christmastime – of these little cakes. Unlike a Bûche de Noël, however, these Christmas treats are extremely simple to make and can be done in just a few minutes with no need for fancy decorating skills or expensive pastry tools. Just a cupcake tin, some simple ingredients, and a bottle of bourbon (we told you it was good). We adore Chef Young’s boozy dessert recipes. The green velvet cake recipe he gave us for St. Patrick’s Day (which would also be absolutely gorgeous as a Christmas dessert) is spiked with Guinness and is one of our very favorite recipes.

Baking with booze can add tremendous flavor and moisture to a dessert and is a fun way to add a hint of sophistication to an otherwise simple treat. Adding your favorite alcohol to a cake can be done easily, but should be done carefully so as to not interfere negatively with the texture of your finished product. There are several ways to do this.

Substitute your extracts for liquor

An easy way to incorporate your favorite liquor into desserts is by substituting your extracts. Many recipes call for vanilla extract, which is easily swapped out for another flavor you love, like bourbon or rum.

Give your cakes a boozy soak

After a cake has been baked and cooled slightly, use a pastry brush to add your favorite liquor or liqueur to the top of your cake. Simply brush on the amount you desire, and allow a few minutes for the liquid to settle inside of the cake. Do be cautious with the amount used in this method, though, as the alcohol will not bake off as it would if it went into the raw batter.

Spike whipped cream or frostings

Rum, Kahlua, Amaretto, or brandy are absolutely delicious when carefully incorporated into whipped cream or any number of frostings. Add a little bit at a time so as not to affect the texture of your finished product or make the flavor too boozy (if there is such a thing).

Zac Young's Bourbon Chocolate Stumps
Zac Young

Bourbon Chocolate Stumps recipe

Yields 24 “stumps”


For the bourbon chocolate cake

  • 1/2 cup hot water
  • 1/4 cup bourbon (plus more for brushing)
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 1/4 light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

For the glaze

  • 8 ounces milk chocolate, chopped
  • 4 ounces heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

To finish

  • 2 4-ounce bars dark chocolate, shaved
  • 2 ounces white or milk chocolate, melted


  1. Preheat oven to 350. Spray a 12-cavity cupcake pan with nonstick spray.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the hot water, bourbon, and cocoa powder until smooth. Add the brown sugar, eggs, sour cream, and vanilla, and whisk to fully combine. Add the flour, baking soda and salt, and whisk until smooth.
  3. Fill each cupcake cavity three-quarters full with batter. Bake until a toothpick or cake tester comes out clean when inserted into the center of one of the cakes, about 14 – 16 minutes.
  4. Remove the pan from the oven and immediately brush or spray the tops of the cakes with bourbon – about 1 to 2 teaspoons each, being careful not to over-wet.
  5. While still warm, run a small knife or offset spatula around the edge of each cake and then flip the pan upside down onto a cooling rack or cookie sheet to release them and then let the cakes cool upside down – the domed part on the bottom.
  6. Clean the pan, spray with non-stick spray, and bake the remaining batter.
  7. While the cakes are cooling, run a vegetable peeler down the side of the dark chocolate bars to make chocolate shavings.
  8. Make the glaze. In a heatproof bowl, partially melt the milk chocolate by microwaving in 20-second increments until about half of the chocolate is melted.
  9. Heat the cream in a small bowl or microwave-safe glass to a simmer – hot but not boiling. Add the hot cream and salt to the chocolate and whisk until smooth and glossy.
  10. To finish, dip the flat side of a cooled cake into the glaze and let it run down the sides, then place the cake in the bowl of shavings, flat side up, and press the shavings up the side, leaving the top clean. Place back on the cooling rack, and repeat with the remaining cakes.
  11. In a small heatproof dish, gently melt the white or milk chocolate in the microwave in 20-second installments, stirring each time – about a minute.
  12. Using a chopstick, skewer, or piping bag, swirl the lighter chocolate on top of the cakes to create tree rings.
  13. Serve and store the cakes at room temperature.

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Lindsay Parrill
Lindsay is a graduate of California Culinary Academy, Le Cordon Bleu, San Francisco, from where she holds a degree in…
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