Hubris Cake Part Two: Bourbon Buttercream Chocolate Disaster

This cake uses three 9″ layers of chocolate cake. I used the least destroyed layers from the Hubris Cake. Feel free to make better life choices.

The real star of this cake is the bourbon buttercream icing. This was my first attempt at buttercream. But here’s the thing about hubris: nobody learns their lesson. Ever. Until they’re dead, or a spider, or stabbing out their own eyes because they slept with their mom.

So, hey! Let’s make the most complicated buttercream possible, disregard the quantities described by the brilliant Joe Pastry, and fill it with alcohol! What could go wrong?

To start with, let’s have a butter diagram to show the scale of this nonsense.

butter diagram

First, though, we need to make a bourbon-sugar syrup. Put a quarter cup of water, bourbon, and white sugar in a pot. Bring to a simmer and stir until the sugar dissolves into the bourbon. Take off the heat and let cool while you fix the buttercream.

The ingredients list here reflects the actual amount of icing I needed in the end. It turns out I needed twice as much buttercream as I started out with, so I had to go back and make it again. The base recipe is Joe Pastry’s Italian Meringue Buttercream Icing.

7 room temperature egg whites
Pinch of salt
¾ tsp cream of tartar
1.25 cups sugar, plus 3 tablespoons sugar
½ cup bourbon, plus 3 tbsp bourbon
1.25 lbs butter at room temperature (no, I am not fucking with you.)
2 tsp vanilla

Stand mixer and/or hand mixer
1 large mixing bowl (the one in a stand mixer will be fine)
1 medium mixing bowl
Scraping spatula
Something with a spout

This buttercream involves a syrup, a meringue, and a fuckton of butter. Let’s get to it.

First step is to make the meringue. In the medium bowl, whip the whites with the hand mixer. When they’re foamy, add in the cream of tartar. Keep whipping until they’re up to soft peaks, add the sugar/salt, and keep whipping til the reach the hard peak stage. (Egg whipping tutorial here.)

Sugar syrup is next. Pour the booze and sugar into your pot, mix them up, and put them on the stove. If you have a thermometer, heat the syrup components til they hit 245 degrees. I do not have a thermometer. I just waited for them to reach a simmer. This time, the gods let me get away with a little hubris.


Move the syrup to your pouring implement of choice. My coffee creamer has never actually poured cream—only ganache, straight chocolate, caramel, and whiskey syrup.


It’s important to do this part while the syrup is still hot. Grab those egg whites and your electric mixing implement. Drizzle a little syrup on top of the egg whites, then whip for five seconds. Repeat until all your syrup is gone. I got really bored and started making designs in the egg whites. I made a heart, which then broke itself. A poor omen.


At the end, your syrup will start to glug instead of pouring smoothly. That’s OK. Just make sure you get all of it worked into the egg whites.


Meringue is really pretty. Look at it, admire it, and accept that you will soon crush its beautiful air bubbles into a buttery oblivion. Once you’re ready to betray your creation, pour the meringue into the bowl you use for your stand mixer. Make sure you’re using a paddle attachment—you will warp the shit out of a whisk attachment if you try to use it here. Turn the mixer up to medium-high speed and plop in butter a few tablespoons at a time until it’s all in there. Then let the mixer go until the buttercream is consistent in texture and looks kind of like this:


According to Joe Pastry, all kinds of terrible things can happen while buttercream is being mixed. For once, none of them happened to me. But if things start to go sideways for you, be comforted by the fact that all these ills can be fixed by continuing to mix the buttercream. It will sort itself out.

Once the texture looks right, dump in the remaining bourbon and the vanilla. Beat until the original texture has been achieved.

The Assembly

If you heeded the dramatic lessons imparted in Hubris Cakes Part One, you may have some intact layers to work with. I did not. Every bit of the assembly involved pasting things back together with buttercream. On the plus side, no one really objects to extra butter, sugar, and bourbon.

Pastry brush
Icing spatula
Serving plate

Assemble your first layer on the serving plate. If your layers are busted all to hell, put the most stable one here. Baste it all over with the sugar/bourbon syrup. Then slather it in buttercream.


Repeat, doing reconstructive surgery as necessary.

IMG_1917 IMG_1919

Plop the final layer on top and baste it. I suggest doing a crumb coat—a thin layer of icing that seals in all the crumbs and keeps your final product from looking like it got stuck behind a truck full of mulch on the highway.The devil’s food cake I was using was very light and prone to crumbling. Also, I was running out of buttercream. So I did a crumb coat with what I had, and then went back to make more. You, who have laughed at my hubris and learned from it, have enough icing to start with.

Here’s the crumb coat:


And here’s the cake in its final resting place:


My comic book shop, displaying a surprising lack of foresight, does not keep a cake knife on the premises. However, they do have bags and boards. A lot of them. And they work surprisingly well for cutting cake!

IMG_1940 IMG_1941

The Mess Report:



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