I was reacquainted with my love for pecans when I tested this recipe for a Maple Pecan Whiskey Cake by ceramicist Molly Hatch. Normally you’d make fruit cake for the holidays, but because this cake freezes well and makes four loaves at once, it is also perfect to keep around or take a loaf the next time you visit a friend. Molly’s best friend gave her this recipe, which her family has used for decades. A little internet research verified that it is in fact a variation on an unattributed recipe that people have used for years. Maybe it was the recipe on a baking soda, flour or raisin box? Molly has substituted the corn syrup for maple syrup, however, which imparts great flavor! The proportions may look gigantic, but it’s this extravagance that makes it so good. If you don’t have pecans where you are, try using walnuts instead. And check out Molly’s fantastic spaetzle with butternut squash and dried cranberries recipe from our archive. — Kristina
About Molly: Molly Hatch is a ceramicist who works from her home studio in Northampton, Massachusetts, where she lives with her husband and daughter. She also teaches as an adjunct professor in ceramics at Holyoke Community College in Holyoke.
Maple Pecan Whiskey Cake
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 cup of whiskey
- 1 box white/golden raisins
- 4 cups flour
- 8 cups pecans (2 pounds)
- 1 tsp nutmeg
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp allspice
- 6 eggs
- 3/4 lb butter, room temperature (if you substitute margarine for butter, use 2 sticks of margarine to 1 stick of butter)
- 2 1/4 cups sugar
- 1 cup dark REAL maple syrup (I use grade “B”, as it has more flavor for cooking!)
Note from Kristina: This cake may look involved, but it isn’t. It does, however, help to have all of your ingredients prepared before you start working.
Preparing the oven and the baking pans:
1. Heat the oven to 250ºF/120ºC.
2. Line four 8” x 4” x 4” (1-lb. capacity) loaf pans with parchment paper (do not butter the paper). Alternatively, use disposable paper wrappers (which are great for gifting later). The number of wrappers you need will depend on their size.
Assembling a few ingredients:
1. In a medium-sized bowl, mix baking soda and raisins with whiskey. Set aside.
2. In a larger bowl, combine pecans, flour and spices. Toss well in order to coat pecans and with flour and spices. Set aside.
3. Set aside the largest bowl you have (gigantic). You will need to work with this later.
4. Separate the eggs.
Making the cake:
1. In the bowl of a mixer, cream butter and sugar.
2. Once the mixture is fluffy, add the egg yolks a bit at a time until the mixture is homogenous. Be sure to stop the mixer periodically and scrape the bottom, sides and beater of the bowl.
3. Give the whiskey/raisin/soda mixture a good stir, and then slowly add it to the mixture followed by the syrup.
4. With the mixer on low, slowly add the dry ingredients until well blended. Stop the mixer to scrape down the beater and sides of the bowl. Mix for an additional 30 seconds, and then move the mixture to the gigantic bowl.
5. With the balloon whisk attachment (or a hand mixer), beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gently fold them into the wet mixture. (You will see why you needed a gigantic bowl at this point.)
6. Divide the batter among your cake pans.
7. Working very quickly, place a roasting pan filled with water in the bottom of the oven. Then put your loaf pans in (on the racks, not in the water!) and bake at 250º for 2.5 hours. The cake is done when a toothpick inserted in the center of one of the loaves comes out clean. Keep your eye on the water level in the roasting pan; you may need to add a little water if it all evaporates. When opening the oven, be careful of the steam that has formed inside.
8. Once out of the oven, cool completely on a rack. Wrap loaves well. As with most fruit cakes, this tastes better a day later. It also freezes well! If eating immediately, keep in the refrigerator.
Photography by Kristina Gill. Pink pen by Lamy; light blue oval plate by Laboratorio Pesaro; maple syrup dish by Sabon; shot glass and blue and white napkin from IKEA; white bread plate by mud australia; sculpted cake plate by Molly Hatch; cake wrappers from Peroni shop, although you may also find them on Etsy or at The Bay Tree (Sydney); all other items vintage.
Why Molly Chose This Recipe
The original whiskey-cake recipe I based this on was introduced to me by my best friend when we lived together during graduate school in Colorado. It quickly became a favorite recipe in our household — often made during the holiday season — but good any time of the year. I substituted maple syrup for the karo syrup that the original recipe called for. A sign of my Vermont childhood; like any good New Englander, I love an excuse to use dark maple syrup in a recipe. It can accompany breakfast coffee or afternoon tea, but I like it best as an after-dinner treat with some whiskey on the rocks . . . yummy!