This pretty Kahlua Cake is infused with coffee liqueur & espresso, and adorned with billowy mocha buttercream ruffles.
Anyone else love boozy desserts as much as I do? I’m not huge on drinking alcoholic beverages, but I’m all over having that flavor come through in baked goods.
The cake I’m bringing you today uses one of my favorite liqueurs, Kahlua. It’s a staple around here, just like Baileys, and we all know I have my fair share of Baileys recipes. It was time to let another delicious liqueur shine with this Kahlua Cake!
How to make this Kahlua Cake
For the cake layers, I used my favorite vanilla cake recipe, except I replaced some of the buttermilk with Kahlua. You can use any coffee liqueur you like though, or stick with vanilla in the cake batter since there’s Kahlua in both the coffee syrup (don’t skip this!) and the mocha buttercream.
Kahlua Simple Syrup
The Kahlua simple syrup is a must-do, in my opinion. Really you could skip it, but it’s so easy to make and adds both flavor and moisture to the cake. After preparing the syrup, I poked a bunch of holes (using bamboo skewers) into the warm cakes and brushed the syrup onto each layer.
Next time, I’d probably wait till the cakes are cooled and trim off a very thin layer of the top to remove the “crust”. Then I’d brush the syrup onto each layer. I feel like this would do a better job of penetrating through the cake. No matter which option you choose, don’t be shy with brushing the syrup on!
How to make Mocha Buttercream
This Kahlua Cake is finished off with my very favorite mocha buttercream. Honestly, this stuff is SO good. You’ll be eating it with a spoon for sure, and you’ll be very grateful for the leftovers (if there are any).
The buttercream is a simple Swiss meringue buttercream with espresso powder, melted chocolate, and Kahlua added to it. It’s important to make sure your chocolate is melted, but cooled (no longer warm) or your buttercream will turn soupy. It’s saveable by popping the whole thing into the fridge for 20mins and rewhipping.
By the same token, make sure your buttercream isn’t too cold when you add the chocolate as the chocolate can solidify and create chunks. I’ve never had this happen, personally, but I know others have. I melt my chocolate before I start making my buttercream and once the buttercream is ready, the chocolate is at the right temperature (I stir the chocolate now and then to make sure it cools evenly).
How to Make a Ruffle Cake
I wanted to try something a bit different with the decorating technique this time and (surprise, surprise!) I’m not totally happy with the way it turned out.
The ruffles aren’t exactly difficult to do, but the challenge comes in as you try to get the rows perfectly even while your hand is getting tired and the buttercream is getting super soft in the piping bag you’ve been clutching onto. As such, the ruffles are a bit messy in parts, especially near the bottom (I started at the top).
To do the ruffles, I used a large piping bag fitted with a large petal tip (Wilton #125). I started at the top of the cake, making sure that the first set of ruffles would peek over the top. I placed the thicker end of the tip against the cake at a 45 degree angle and piped the ruffles up and down as I spun my turntable.
I repeated the process with subsequent rows, making sure to always start in the same place so that the “seams” would all be together at the back of the cake. All cakes have a “back” amiright?
Piping the ruffles gets more difficult as you work your way down for the reasons I mentioned:
- Your hand is tired
- Your buttercream is soft
- The angle is more awkward
To try to combat the soft buttercream, you can use a smaller piping bag and just refill it more often. I am lazy and I find refilling a used piping bag to be one of the most annoying things in the world, so I try to pack as much as possible into a large piping bag.
This is not the best thing to do, and I don’t recommend it, but again, I’m lazy. And my laziness has no doubt caused these imperfect ruffles! Oh well. It is what it is, and did I mention it tastes delicious??
I still think it looks pretty even though it’s not perfect, and most importantly it tastes DELICIOUS. You really can’t go wrong with the coffee + chocolate combo in my opinion. If you are a coffee fan, you will love this Kahlua Cake!
Tips for this Kahlua Cake:
- You can make this cake without coffee liqueur if you prefer. Use 1 cup buttermilk and substitute 1 tsp vanilla for Kahlua.
- I recommend trimming/levelling the tops of the cake layers before brushing the syrup on to get rid of the crust and help the syrup soak into the cake.
- Be sure to use instant espresso powder (not granules) in the buttercream. Otherwise, dissolve the granules in 1 Tbsp hot water and let cool before adding to the frosting.
- I used a large petal tip (Wilton #125) to make the ruffles.
- If you’re a fan of boozy or coffee flavored desserts, be sure to check out my Coffee & Baileys Cake, Mocha Chocolate Cake, and Baileys Cheesecake Cookie Cups!
- Be sure to check my Swiss Meringue Buttercream post for tips and troubleshooting.
- To help ensure your cake layers bake up nice and flat, see my Flat Top Cakes post.
Kahlua Cake with Mocha Buttercream
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1 Tbsp espresso powder
- 1/4 cup Kahlua coffee liqueur
- 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 3/4 cup unsalted butter room temperature
- 1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 3 large eggs room temperature
- 1/4 cup Kahlua coffee liqueur
- 3/4 cup buttermilk room temperature
- 5 large egg whites
- 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 2 cups unsalted butter room temperature
- 3 Tbsp Kahlua coffee liqueur
- 1 1/2 Tbsp espresso powder not granules
- 5 oz good quality dark chocolate chopped, melted, cooled
- Bring sugar, water, and espresso powder to a boil in a small pot over med-high heat. Simmer for 1min. Remove from heat and stir in Kahlua. Set aside to cool.
- Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and flour three 6″ cake rounds and line with parchment.
- In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, and salt until well combined. Set aside. Combine Kahlua and buttermilk. Set aside.
- Using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar on med-high until pale and fluffy (approx 3mins). Reduce speed and add eggs one at a time fully incorporating after each addition.
- Alternate adding flour mixture and buttermilk mixture, beginning and ending with flour (3 additions of flour and 2 of milk). Fully incorporating after each addition.
- Bake for 30-35mins or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out mostly clean.
- Place cakes on wire rack to cool for 10mins then turn out onto wire rack. Poke holes into the cakes using a bamboo skewer and brush generously with Kahlua syrup.
- Allow cakes to cool completely.
- Place egg whites and sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk until combined.*
- Place bowl over a pot with 1-2" of simmering water and stir constantly with a whisk until the mixture is hot and no longer grainy to the touch or reads 160F on a candy thermometer (approx. 3mins).
- Place bowl on your stand mixer and whip on med-high until the meringue is stiff and cooled (the bowl is no longer warm to the touch (approx. 5-10mins)).
- Switch to paddle attachment. Slowly add cubed butter and mix until smooth.**
- Add cooled melted chocolate and espresso powder. Mix until combined. Slowly stream in Kahlua and whip until smooth.
- Place one layer of cake on a cake stand or serving plate. Top with approximately 2/3 cup of buttercream. Repeat with remaining layers and crumb coat the cake. Chill for 20mins.
- Frost the top of the cake with approximately 2/3 cup of buttercream. Do a decorative swirl using a large offset spatula. Smooth any frosting that overhangs the sides.
- Using a large petal tip, pipe ruffles around the cake in horizontal rows starting at the top.
- Decorate with coffee beans if desired.
** The buttercream may look like it’s curdled at some point. Keep mixing until it is completely smooth.
I want to understand how do you choose different cake sponge recipee for your cakes? Iv never been to a school for these things so i always wonder how do you peoppe adapt recipee for different cake types
Like your chocolate mocha cake sponge has oil and is different to this one as you used butter here
Iv always been confused by oil vs butter recipes and which one serves best for the over all result!
😅 sorry if its probing to your superb recipes but i would really like to understand
Hi Maryam! It takes a lot of testing and trial and error. Pastry school helped me understand how changes in ingredients affect the end results. These days I generally know if a change to a recipe will work or not but it really depends on what is adjusted. My chocolate cakes are very different from my vanilla-based cakes – both in ingredients and mixing techniques. I find oil works better for the chocolate ones, since it’s such a thin batter, and I prefer butter for the vanilla ones. Oil can give those a greasier mouth feel, but it does make for a less dense cake at room temperature. I’m not sure if that’s helpful but it’s just how I do things 🙂
Can this meringue be used as pie meringue?
Hi Janet! Without the butter for sure! Here’s a simple recipe: https://livforcake.com/7-minute-frosting-recipe/
I’m excited to try this recipe. Can I make the syrup the night before? If so- how would I store it?
Hi Carlee! Yes, you can keep it in the fridge until you’re ready to use it.
Olivia, this is the second time I’ve made the icing and once again it didn’t come out right. I have a stand mixer, a candy thermometer to make sure the eggs whites and sugar reached the correct temperature. Everything was room temperature. I followed the instructions to the letter. Please, what did I do wrong? It tastes great but it’s smooth, not fluffy. It’s in the fridge now because I’m icing the cake tomorrow. So frustrating.
Hi Pamela! Sorry to hear that you had trouble with it. Was the meringue stiff before you added the butter? It sounds like it just needs a good whip! It will get quite firm in the fridge and need to come to room temperature again before use. And you should rewhip it. I’d leave it whipping on high for like 5mins. I have a detailed tutorial and troubleshooting here: https://livforcake.com/swiss-meringue-buttercream-recipe/
I can’t wait to make this cake for my friend’s bday. I made your Bailey’s cake for another friend and it was a huge hit! SO good! For this cake, I want to do a red and black striped frosting – do you think this frosting mixed with black gel food coloring (for black stripe) red gel food coloring (for red stripe) will work? I wasn’t sure it’s it’s already a light brown to start.
Hi Jen! I think the black will be no problem but and likely the red will be fine too. It will be a challenge to get the dark colors in a meringue buttercream though. It takes a LOT of gel. If you read through this post I talk about some ways I was able to get a nice bright red: https://livforcake.com/chocolate-peppermint-cake/
Awesome, thank you! I also found this hack on making bright buttercream colors: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6oF9-GtFSHk Have you ever tried this? Thank you and can’t wait to make this cake!
I haven’t tried it myself but have seen the technique. Let me know if you give it a try!
This looks amazing! I’m thinking of making it for my mom’s birthday next week. Unfortunately she’s lactose intolerant, any tips on what I could sub for the buttermilk?
Hi Jozi! You could use any milk alternate like almond, soy, oat, etc.
Can the cake be kept out once the mocha butter cream has been rubbed ? Or does it hv to be refrigerated?
Hi Shamistha! The cake will be fine out for 2-3 days.
Hii.. can this cake be made into cupcakes? Will they hold their shape
Hi Aditi! Yes, it should be fine as cupcakes.
How long do I cool the cake? I usually refrigerate it overnight. Do I syrup before or after refrigeration?
Hi Joanne! I would syrup when you’re assembling. I cool my cakes for a few hours until they are no longer warm to the touch. Then I wrap them in plastic wrap and either freeze or put in the fridge overnight.
Rita Yee says
I made a version of this today for my mother-in-law’s birthday. She has diabetes, so I had to do some major alterations to reduce the sugar. First of all, I nixed the cake part altogether. Instead, I used a boxed sugar-free yellow cake mix. Replaced the oil with double amount in melted butter and added two egg yolks over the amount in recipe. I also used almond milk instead of the water called for. I replaced the sugar in the Kahlua syrup with Stevia. It made it very thin, so I only used part of it but it soaked in well. Followed the buttercream recipe exactly except did not add the melted chocolate. It was the most amazing buttercream I have ever made. I shredded the chocolate and sprinkled on top of the completed cake and then drizzled with Kahlua. This cake was AMAZING!!! Wish I could upload the picture of it. This will be a go-to cake for years to come!
Hi Rita! So happy you loved it. Thanks for all your tips!
Will I have to double this recipe to do two 9 in cakes?
Hi Ashlee! Converting pan sizes is always tricky. Here are some sites I use as a guideline:
Madeleine Todd Morel says
Can we store the buttercream in refrigerator the night before? If yes how long should we take it out before decorating the cake with it?
Thanks I love your recipes!
Hi Madeleine! I would just leave it on the counter if only the night before. I typically let mine thaw overnight. Be sure to rewhip before using and make sure it’s completely at room temperature before doing that.
and also, i want to try these as cupcakes. Any alteration needed to the recipe if done as cupcakes?
To make cupcakes you just need to reduce the baking time. Start checking at 15mins or so.
Do you think i can make this as a chocolate cake instead of vanilla and would that alter the taste much?
Hi Shante! I think that would be delicious, but if you wanted to do that I would recommend this recipe instead. You can add kahlua to it or just use the frosting from this recipe 🙂
Jacqui Andra says
How to do this for three 8 “layers ?
Hi Jacqui! You should 1.5x the recipe for three 8″ layers. You can do this by changing the Servings to 18.
Jacqui Andra says
Do you mean 1.5 x for 3 8” layers ?
Yes! Sorry! Fixed it.
I don’t have a stand mixer or a paddle so would it be safe to use a regular mixer ?
Hi Shelly! Do you mean a hand mixer? I think that will be fine for the cake, but it will be a challenge for the buttercream. Doable, but will take a good 20-30mins of whipping by hand. See this post for tips: https://livforcake.com/swiss-meringue-buttercream-recipe/