Even if you’re not a horse person, or a fan of horse racing, you’ve probably noticed an uptick in media coverage ahead of the Kentucky Derby next month. Your friends are likely sharing recipes across social media for hot browns, beer cheese dip, bourbon desserts and of course, the traditional mint julep. Every year, more than 120,000 mint juleps are served at Church Hill Downs, and it’s been the traditional drink of the race for nearly a century. That’s a lot of mint juleps being served and enjoyed!
Out on the west coast, horse racing wasn’t really a thing until California Crome nearly won the Triple Crown. Now, I am getting invitations left and right for derby-watching parties; friends are inquiring where to buy one of those fabulous hats so they can at least pretend like they’re at Churchill Downs and know what they’re talking about when it comes to horse racing (I grew up around horses and have been around them most of my life and even I do not know everything about horse racing). On derby day, I can usually be found sitting on the couch with my fingers covering my eyes in fear a horse is going to be injured on the track—easily the worst part of horse racing and something often not discussed.
Today, I’m excited to be sharing with you my take on the mint julep drink—a boozey cupcake with fresh mint topped off with a minty white chocolate frosting. Unlike the drink, you can enjoy a couple of cupcakes without feeling the effects of the bourbon. If you’re having friends over to watch the Derby, these cupcakes are the perfect dessert to set out on your buffet table, just be wary of the frosting as it will melt in warm temperatures or in direct sun light. Due to the alcohol, these cupcakes are intended to be consumed by adults and if I’m being completely honest, kids will likely take one bite into these and see the minced-up mint and immediately put the cupcake down and accuse you of putting something nasty into these cupcakes. I can assure you, there's nothing nasty in these cupcakes and your friends will devour these if you set them out on your buffet table or take them along to a watching party.
In place of mint extract, fresh mint is finely chopped and hand mixed into the bourbon batter. It’s important to be delicate with the mint so you don’t muddy the flavors of the cupcake. If you’re a rebel, try using chocolate mint in place of the traditional mint and while it won’t mimic the traditional flavors found in a mint julep, it will be quite yummy like this drink. Keep in mind: the bourbon and the mint flavors should be equal in every mouthful, with neither overpowering the other. This recipe is straight forward: there’s no vanilla extract and other than the bit of sugar, all of the flavors are what you’d expect in the drink itself.
As usual, when choosing a bourbon to cook with, select a higher-quality bourbon, such as Woodford Reserve (which also happens to be the official bourbon of the Kentucky Derby). You don’t have to go out and spend a fortune on a bottle, in fact you can likely buy a 50 ML bottle from the liquor store for $5 a piece and call it a day. (Buy two if you’re doubling the recipe!)
Staying true to the drink, I didn't want to top these cupcakes off with an overpowering butter cream frosting. Though, if you prefer, feel free to prepare your go-to buttercream frosting and add a dash of créme de menthe and some green food coloring. Bourbon and chocolate go extremely well together, as does mint and chocolate—white chocolate isn’t as overpowering as the stuff we all normally binge on, so it’s a mostly subtle ingredient that really highlights the mint and bourbon flavors within the cupcake that simply is there to add a bit of sweetness to the final product. The frosting has a hint of the mint flavor from the créme de menthe to really tie it all together. If you’re making these on the go and don’t have the time (or space) to melt the chocolate, simply whip up some whipped cream, add a bit of powdered sugar and the créme de menthe or another mint flavored liquor.
Decorating these guys is pretty easy: decorative silver cupcake liners are festive and also slightly resemble the traditional silver tumbler mint juleps are served at the track in, a dollop of frosting, some festive green sugar crystals, a fresh sprig of mint and a straw (which also doubles as something to gnaw on when you're nervously watching your horse run) and you've got a winning recipe!
If you’re a regular Derby watcher, I’d love to hear about your traditions or favorite Derby memories in the comments below!
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 cup sugar
- 3 eggs
- 1/2 cup bourbon
- 1/4 cup finely chopped mint
White Chocolate Frosting
- 3/4 cup whipping cream
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 8 ounces white chocolate
- 2 tablespoons créme de menthe
- 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
- green food coloring
- fresh mint sprigs
- green sugar
- decorative straws
- Preheat oven to 350º
- Mix flour, baking powder, and salt and set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Alternately beat in flour mixture and bourbon. Gently fold in mint.
- Spoon batter into cupcake liners, filling about 3/4 of the way full. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a tooth pick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Remove from oven and cool.
- For the frosting, heat 1/2 cup cream cream and butter in a pan over medium heat, stir until the butter melts. Remove butter from heat and add white chocolate. Stir until completely melted. Add mint liquor and food coloring. Transfer frosting to a bowl and let cool, stirring occasionally.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer with whisk attachment, add the remaining whipping cream and powdered sugar and mix until peaks begin to form. Slowly pour in the frosting mixture and continue beating until the stiff peaks form.
- Decorate and serve. Makes 12 cupcakes (or 24 mini's).