My Grandma's Go-To Holiday Cake is Embarrassingly Easy — But So Good

This stunningly simple cake is the ultimate host or hostess gift.

Chocolate Kahlua Cake with powdered sugar sifted overtop and a slice is being cut
Photo: Allrecipes

One of my very favorite cakes in existence isn't my favorite because of the nostalgic taste, the family history, or the uniquely irresistible flavor. Nope — it's how easy it is to make.

That was my grandma's secret. And perhaps it's why she made the cake so many, many times that it became her signature dessert.

My grandmother, who we called Omi, used to bake her famed Kahlúa cake for all her friends and relatives in Midland, Texas, and I would always look forward to a delightfully spongey slice when we came to visit. It wasn't until making the recipe on my own that I realized why her kitchen cranked out so many of these cakes. Sure it's homemade, but with not one, but two pre-made mixes involved, it feels almost like a hack.

My grandma passed the same habit on to my mom, who baked this one-bowl dessert for every sort of occasion. Whether it was a bake sale, teacher's gift, holiday party, or my mom's personal "thank you" to any family who invited me along on a lake trip, I can't count the number of times I was sent out of the house with this cake in my hands. She's even morphed the recipe into sheet-cake squares for easy party finger food.

Everybody just loves this cake, and as for flavor and texture, there are a few reasons why it stands out.

It may look like an ordinary chocolate cake, but it isn't actually all that chocolaty. The rum-based Kahlúa liqueur adds a rich, buttery flavor with hints of coffee, cocoa, vanilla, roasted chestnut, and even orange peel. A tried-and-true twist is swapping in coffee for the water to add even more richness and depth to the flavor.

My Grandmother's Kahlua Cake Recipe
Annie Campbell

The cake itself isn't incredibly sweet, but it's finished with a light, sugary glaze that crackles with every forkful. Plus, it's painfully moist with a tender, almost airy crumb, making it feel light enough to take from tonight's dessert to tomorrow's breakfast (warning: this cake pairs dangerously well with a cup of coffee).

The Bundt pan makes for an effortlessly beautiful presentation, and whether you top it with the sweet glaze or just a dusting of confectioners' sugar, this cake is an absolute showstopper of a treat. And, gift wrapped in cellophane with a big gold bow like Omi used to do, it's the perfect holiday gift.

I'll admit — for a while, my promise to "send the recipe" was a bit deceptive. I wanted my trademark dessert to seem just as impressive as it tasted, but now, I'm done gatekeeping.

This cake has defied the seasons and the generations, and although it's no longer a family secret, it'll always be a family staple. So, now it's time for you to meet the cake that was just as fabulous as my Omi was.

My Grandmother's Kahlua Cake
Annie Campbell

How to Make My Grandmother's Kahlúa Cake

Ingredients:

  • 1 (15.25 oz) box yellow cake mix (like Duncan Hines)
  • 1 (3.9 oz) box chocolate instant pudding mix (like Jell-O)
  • 3/4 cup water (or coffee)
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup Kahlúa liqueur
  • 1/4 cup vodka
  • 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1 tablespoon Kahlúa

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour a Bundt pan.
  2. Beat together cake mix, pudding mix, water (or coffee), oil, eggs, 1/2 cup Kahlúa, and vodka in a large bowl until smooth and light, about 4 minutes.
  3. Transfer the batter to the Bundt pan. Cook in the preheated oven until a toothpick comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes. Let the cake cool, then flip out onto a plate or cake stand. Let sit 20 minutes before glazing.
  4. Make the glaze: Whisk together confectioners' sugar, milk, and 1 tablespoon Kahlúa in a small bowl. Spoon over the crest of the cake and allow it to dip down the sides.

A Few Baking Tips

If baking on the bottom rack, make sure the top rack isn't too close to the top of the Bundt pan. It only takes one instance of the cake puffing up into the grates to learn from that mistake. When making the glaze, you want it a little thicker than you might expect — thick enough to take a minute or two to run down the sides. If it's too runny, it'll soak right into the cake instead of icing the top. It's also worth noting that that not all the alcohol will cook off during baking.

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