Bourbon Brown Sugar Cupcakes

These Bourbon Brown Sugar Cupcakes are inspired by the flavors of Derby Pie, which is often served during the Kentucky Derby. Brown sugar cupcakes have a bourbon-walnut praline center, and they’re topped with rich bourbon-spiked chocolate buttercream.

The Kentucky Derby is held the first Saturday in May each year. And as a dyed-in-the-wool southerner I can’t let it pass by without celebrating it with food. – I’m not really a follower of thoroughbreds, but I am a huge fan of the food that surrounds Derby Day!

This cupcake recipe starts with a brown sugar cake batter, which has a healthy dose of bourbon in the mix. A bourbon-walnut praline filling is baked right into the cupcake. Which gives it something akin to a ‘‘ center. Chocolate buttercream – again – spiked with bourbon, has truffle-like flavor and consistency. Toasted walnuts and mini chocolate chips give a nod to it’s inspiration – . Have you heard of it?

Inspired by Derby Pie

To understand the inspiration for this cupcake, you first need to know about Derby Pie. It’s a famous dessert that originated in Louisville, Kentucky. Rich and decadent, it’s typically made with a filling of chocolate chips, walnuts, and bourbon. (Think pecan pie family, but with chocolate and walnuts.) While Derby Pie is not an official dish created specifically for the Kentucky Derby, it has become strongly associated with the event.

The Derby Pie recipe was created in the 1950’s by the Kern family, who own Kern’s Kitchen in Louisville. They are highly protective of their secret family recipe and the confection’s trademark name, which is why you probably won’t ever find a copycat recipe for it here.

Make the Bourbon Walnut Praline

Mix up the bourbon walnut praline filling first, since it needs to be refrigerated before use. Combine the following until well blended: toasted chopped walnuts, vanilla wafer crumbs, brown sugar, cocoa powder, corn syrup (or honey), and bourbon, of course. Put it in the refrigerator while you make the cupcakes.

Bourbon Buying Tip: Use a Kentucky bourbon that you like to drink. Or, something with a pleasing fragrance. Super fancy and expensive varieties need not apply. Just use something mid-range such as Wild Turkey 101, or a small bottle of Maker’s Mark will do the trick. 80 proof is fine. Because most of the alcohol cooks out during baking.

Make the Brown Sugar Cake Batter

Mix together dry ingredients in a large bowl: flour, baking powder, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and salt. Cream together butter and brown sugar until fluffy, then add in egg one at a time. Alternate the dry ingredients with sour cream and bourbon. All of which results in a heavenly spiced fluffy cake batter.

Divide the batter between cupcake liners using a trigger ice cream scoop (). Then, with a teaspoon measure, scoop the chilled walnut praline mixture on top of each scoop of cake batter. Press the praline mixture down into the batter with the back of the teaspoon. Next, gently swirl the cake batter over the praline. Use a butter knife for this – it works well! (See video for this action.)

Bake and Cool

Bake the cupcakes in a preheated 350°F oven for about 18 minutes. When they’re done, the cupcake tops will be cracked and the filling will have bubbled up a little. Cool the cakes completely on a wire rack before frosting.

Make the Chocolate Bourbon-Spiked Buttercream

Cream together room temperature butter with confectioners’ sugar. Then add melted unsweetened chocolate (the kind) and 2 tablespoons of bourbon. If you can’t find unsweet chocolate, you can use bittersweet chocolate as a substitute. Beat everything together until thick and consistently chocolate-hued. Add in whole milk a little at a time to thin the mixture, then whip until light and fluffy.

Frost the Cupcakes

Immediately transfer the frosting to a large piping bag fitted with a French piping tip (open star, ). Pipe one swirl of frosting onto each cupcake and immediately sprinkle on chopped walnuts and mini chocolate chips.

Note: This chocolate frosting has setting properties akin to ganache. However, not quite as firmly set. But still firm enough to clog your piping tip if you leave it at room temp for more than 30 minutes. So don’t tarry with the frosting – get to piping!

Garnish your Bourbon Brown Sugar Cupcakes with black cocktail cherries. Although, this can be optional. But it’s such a nice touch. And it’s a nod to the popular Old Fashioned cocktail, made with bourbon and muddled cherries. Find them for purchase !

And if you’re all in for the Derby theme, then you can find the cute equestrian cocktail picks I used .

I can’t help but think these would be great for Father’s Day as well. But with their bourbon ball-like centers and lightly spiced brown sugar cake? Also fall and winter holidays. (I know, too soon!)

If you’re looking for something rich, decadent, and uniquely southern – then this may be the ticket. Make them for Derby Day, Father’s Day, or for the bourbon enthusiast/aficionado in your life. Or if you’re always looking ahead (like me!) bookmark them for holiday fare. Because nothing says special occasion like a sweet treat infused with good ol’ Kentucky bourbon.

Related Recipe:

Bourbon Brown Sugar Cupcakes

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  • Decorator piping tip Ateco #828
  • Piping bag



Bourbon walnut praline filling

Brown sugar cupcakes

Bourbon chocolate buttercream


Bourbon walnut praline filling

Brown sugar cupcakes

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line cupcake pans with 16 paper liners.

Bourbon chocolate buttercream

  • Place the chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl and heat in 1 minute increments at 100% power, stirring well in between heatings, until the chocolate is melted and smooth. (About 2 minutes total time.) Set aside to cool slightly.
  • Immediately transfer the buttercream to a piping bag fitted with a large open star tip (also called French piping tip, or Ateco #828). Pipe one swirl on top of each cupcake. Sprinkle with walnuts and mini chocolate chips. Add one cocktail cherry to each center swirl of frosting.
  • Store cupcakes air tight in a cupcake keeper, or well covered with plastic wrap.




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