An Old Fashioned is a classic cocktail that is usually made with whiskey, sugar, bitters and orange. It is a delicious cocktail but it is also very distinctive thanks to its simple ingredient list. I used the flavors of the cocktail to make a batch of Old Fashioned Cocktail Cupcakes in honor of some spirits-loving friends (some of whom are in the bar industry) who came into town for a visit the other day.
I used a vanilla cupcake base, which is like a blank canvas for other flavors, as my starting point. I added orange zest and whiskey into the cake batter to start building the cocktail’s flavor profile. When you glance at the recipe, you’ll notice that it calls for a lot of whiskey. A portion of the whiskey is incorporated into the cake batter itself, while another portion is brushed onto the cakes after baking. While there isn’t enough whiskey to completely saturate the cake (unlike, say, a rum cake or fruit cake), adding spirits after baking ensures that you’ll be able to get a good whiskey flavor in every bite – and that flavor is an important part of the cocktail! You can use bourbon or rye in this recipe. I used a rye whiskey (Bulleit Rye, to be precise) because it has a nice spiciness to it that helps it to stand out in the cake.
The cupcakes are topped with a frosting made with orange juice, whiskey and bitters. Bitters are intensely flavored liquors infused with various seeds, herbs, roots and other botanicals. They are so pungent that they are only used a few drops at a time. There are a wide variety of bitters out there, but aromatic bitters – Angostura and Peychauds are two well-known brands – are most often used in Old Fashioneds. Be generous with the bitters and you’ll end up with a frosting that has a fantastic spice to it and really rounds out the “old fashioned” feel of the cupcake. The bitters will also give the frosting a pleasant pink tint – and if you can’t see any of the color, add in a few more dashes of bitters before spreading the frosting on the cupcakes.
These cupcakes are a great dessert for a cocktail party, especially if you already have some bourbon drinks on the menu. The cupcakes are at their best within a day or two of baking.
Old Fashioned Cocktail Cupcakes
1 1/3 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter, room temperature
1 large egg
1 tbsp orange zest
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup whiskey (bourbon or rye), divided
3/4 cup buttermilk
3/4 cup butter, room temperature
2 tbsp orange juice
1 tbsp whiskey (bourbon or rye)
8-10 dashes aromatic bitters, such as Angostura or Peychauds
2 1/2 – 3 cups confectioners’ sugar
Preheat oven to 350F. Place liners in a 12 cup muffin tin.
In a medium bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar together until it looks creamy. Beat in the egg, vanilla and orange zest until mixture is smooth.
Add half of the flour mixture to the butter mixture, then stir in the whiskey and buttermilk. Add the rest of the flour and stir just until all ingredients are combined and no streaks of dry ingredients remain. Divide batter evenly into muffin cups.
Bake for 18-20 minutes at 350F, until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean.
After removing them from the oven, use a toothpick to poke a few holes in the top of each cupcake. Brush the cupcakes with remaining 1/4 cup of whiskey while they are still warm. This should add approximately 1 tsp whiskey to each cupcake.
Let cupcakes cool for 10 minutes and then remove from the muffin pan. Cool completely before frosting.
Make the frosting: In a large bowl, beat butter until softened and creamy. Blend in orange juice, whiskey and bitters, then gradually beat in the confectioners’ sugar until the frosting comes together and has a thick, spreadable consistency. If the frosting is too thick, add in additional orange juice a few teaspoons at a time. If the frosting is too thin, beat in additional sugar.
Spread generously onto the cooled cupcakes.