Malört is what the socially maladaptive elite drink so ironically that it has become sincere again. It’s a wormwood liquor of Swedish origin, manufactured in Florida, that has become as essential to the Chicago drinking scene as $6 OldStyles in the Bleacher Seats, Whiskey Wednesday, and PBR.
Malört has a, uh, pronounced flavor. Most people will tell you that drinking it is like huffing burning hair. We think Malört’s closer to tire fires, with a note of cat piss and white people who wear dreadlocks.
Two years ago, our friend Nick Disabato introduced us to the ridiculous beverage and, pretty much as a joke, we developed a cake recipe featuring the noxious liquor. It’s become the standard birthday cake of our friends and has been adapted enough times that we figured it’s time to share the real recipe.
Even though Malört is an acquired taste, we found that if you can temper the bitterness of the wormwood with brown sugar and the gut-rot burn of grain alcohol with butter fat and egg yolk, you get a cake that is surprisingly refreshing with hints of bright, warm citrus and bitter green herbs.
While Malört should only be consumed on a dare or if you’re an old Swedish man (by birthright or wardrobe), this cake can be eaten with sincerity. It’s fucking delicious.
Making a cake by hand is no more difficult or time consuming than using a boxed mix, just expect a few more dirty dishes and be ready for three points that will need extra attention. Be sure to sift your flour, check the expiration date on your leaveners, and, more important than anything else: be nice to your butter.
Butter delivers a considerable portion of flavor to your cakes, and is responsible for about half of the texture. Be sure to use the freshest unsalted butter you can get your hands on, and slowly bring it up to room temperature.
It’s important to cream your butter thoroughly, and, unless you do hella Tae Bo, that’s going to mean using some kind of electric mixer. Stand mixers seem like the standard, but a sturdy hand mixer will get you there, too. When you cream the butter and sugar together, you’re actually poking tiny holes into the fat structures that allow your cake to rise and have a soft, fluffy texture. Insufficiently creamed butter leads to dense, greasy cakes, with smaller yields and rubbery crumbs.
Serves: however many brave souls you can round up, 18-24 slices.
- 1 cup Malört
- 1 1/2 cup Brown Sugar
- 1 Grapefruit
- 2 sprigs Rosemary
This syrup is used for both soaking the cake and making the frosting. We like to make it before we start the cake, so it’s nice and cool when we’re ready for it.
In a large sauce pan, combine your Malört and Brown Sugar. Take several big hunks of zest off of the Grapefruit and then juice it. Add the Juice and Zest to the sauce pan, along with Rosemary.
Over a medium-low heat, reduce the Malört, Sugar, and Juice. This will make your house smell like burning tires. Though you may be tempted to expedite the process by cranking the heat, please remember that alcohol can catch on fire and keep the flame low. Also. Use stay close by because this is not a thing you want to boil all over your stove.
Reduce the syrup by about half, or until it looks like pancake syrup, and leave it alone for at least 15 minutes because that shit is real fucking hot. Once cool enough to not ignite your arm hair, run it through a sieve, discard the Rosemary and Grapefruit zest, and set aside.
The syrup will take at least an hour, if not two, to cool completely.
- 3 sticks Unsalted Butter, at room temperature
- 6-8 cups Sifted Powdered Sugar
- 1/3-2/3 cup Malört Syrup, completely cooled to the touch
- 1/4 tsp Salt
In your largest bowl or mixer, begin creaming the Butter. Give it about 45 seconds in the mixer before you begin to slowly add powdered sugar. Keep adding Powdered Sugar to the Butter, while constantly mixing, until it is thick and looks a little clumpy.
We provide a range of amounts for Powdered Sugar in this recipe. Moisture content of butter brands can vary, and the way sugar blends into icing depends on lots of factors like temperature, humidity, and other complicated garbage. That means that a quantity that works in August might not work super awesome in January— even when all the other factors are the same—so follow your eyes and shoot us an Ask if you have questions.
Once you get to the right amount of Powdered Sugar, turn off your mixer and scrape down the bowl. Resume mixing and, after about 60 seconds, slowly drizzle in Malört Syrup until it reaches a consistency that you’re comfortable using. Looser frostings will be easier to get onto the cake smoothly and have a Malört-ier flavor, while tighter frostings hold their shape better, and typically do better left out at room temperature.
Adapted from Swan’s Down 1-2-3-4 Cake
- 2 sticks Unsalted Butter, at room temperature
- 2 cups Sugar
- 4 Eggs, at room temperature
- 3 cups Cake Flour—because Cake Flour is made of teeny, tiny, easy to pack granules, it is important to sift the flour before you measure it. While it’s an extra step, it’s important to not skip it; measuring straight from the box will lead to inaccurate measures and your cake suck.
- 2 tsp Baking Powder
- 1/2 tsp Salt
- 3/4 cup Milk, at room temperature
- 3 tbsp Malört
Preheat your oven to 350˚.
Grease three 9” cake pans, line the bottoms with circles of parchment paper, and lightly flour.
In a large bowl, cream together Butter and Sugar with a hand or stand mixer until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs one by one, waiting until each egg is fully incorporated to add the next.
In a separate bowl sift your Cake Flour (yes. Again.) with Baking Powder and Salt. We like to sift instead of whisk, like some recipes suggest, because it makes it easier to combine wet and dry ingredients and can make for a finer cake texture.
Incorporate 1/3 of the Cake Flour mixture with your Butter mixture by hand. Add 1/2 of the Milk and stir. Stir in ½ of the remaining Cake Flour mixture, followed by the remaining Milk and the 3 tbsp Malört. Finally, mix in the last of the Cake Flour until just hardly combined. Over-mixing here will make a messy terrible thing happen.
Evenly distribute the batter into your prepared pans.
Bake at 350˚, rotating after 10 minutes of cooking time. The cake should take about 20 minutes, ours took 22, and you’ll know it’s done when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Let the cakes rest for 15 minutes before you take them out of their pans and let them cool upside down on a wire rack. Using a pastry brush, soak the surface of each cake with Malört Syrup. Because cakes are literally sponges, in a few minutes the surface of the cake will look dry-ish and you will be able to add more syrup. The more syrup you add, the more moisture you’ll bring to the cake and the more Malört flavor. We like to soak the cake 4 times, and we suggest you do it no less than 2.
After thoroughly soaked, let the cakes cool completely, which should take a minimum of 2 hours. Patience is a virtue. Cakes that are even slightly warm will melt the butter in your frosting and turn it all into an oil spill.
Frost the cooled cakes, using plenty of frosting between the layers, and serve to your least favorite friends.