Absinthe Cake Recipe

When I told Luc-Santiago from Vert d’Absinthe here in Paris that I didn’t like anise very much (or, stupid me, how long have I lived in Paris? I should have said, “I don’t appreciate anise very much.”), I wished I had my camera cocked-and-ready, as the look on his face was priceless. While I appreciate the culture and mystique of Absinthe and its cousin pastis, I’m not a fan of anise-based drinks.


But luckily I am a fan of anise-baked anything, and do like that flavor when baked in cakes and cookies, such as biscotti and the like. I had a suspicion that a buttery cake with a healthy shot of Absinthe in the batter, then more Absinthe added as a crunchy glaze would be a success…and it was! Happily, the flavor of anise goes amazingly well with chocolate too, so feel free to pair this with a favorite Chocolate Ice Cream or a dark, slick chocolate sauce.

But it’s also lovely with a compote made of fresh or dried apricots, or a Nectarine and Cherry Compote. During the winter, I plan to make a colorful fruit salad of navel and blood oranges with a few rounds of tangy kumquats to serve alongside, since I’m suspicious of that green bottle on my shelf, with an alcohol content of 72%, may fall and explode. (Now that would have made a good opening for an episode of Six Feet Under.) But mostly I enjoy serving this Absinthe Cake all on its own and if you make it, I’m sure it won’t fail to get your guests full attention no matter how you serve it.

If you don’t have a convenient source for finely-ground pistachio meal, you can use almond meal (sometimes called almond flour). I’ve tested this cake with stone-ground cornmeal too, which provided a nice crunch, but Parisian friends found it a tad unusual since they’re not really used to desserts, or anything else, with cornmeal.

And I didn’t have any candied angelica on hand (like, who does?), but next time I make this cake, I’m definitely going to add a handful of finely-chopped angelica to the batter. I think tiny flecks of green flitting around in this cake would be rather festive and certainly in the spirit of le fée verte, aka; The Green Fairy, oui?

If you live in a country where you don’t have the freedom to get Absinthe, move. Aside from that, write a letter to your highest-ranking elected official whose job it is to protect the good of society from such ills, you can substitute an anise-scented apertif, such as Pernod, pastis, or ouzo, although they don’t have that sublime, sneaky herbaceous flavor and aroma found in true Absinthe. The other downside is that you won’t see any green fairies floating around your kitchen…which may, or may not, be a good thing…depending on which highest-ranking elected official you last voted for, I suppose.

Oops, and before I step down down from my high-horse, I do recommend that you use Rumford baking powder, or a similar brand, that doesn’t contain any aluminum. Most natural-food stores and Trader Joe’s carry aluminum-free baking powder and you’ll notice a major difference in your baking once you go aluminum-free. You’ll never miss that tinny aftertaste you get when using other brands.

Don’t be put off by the sugary-looking glaze. As the cake cools, the glazes melds beautifully with the cake, which won raves from all who tried it.
Absinthe Cake
Print Recipe
One 9-inch (23cm) rectangular cake
From The Sweet Life in Paris (Broadway Books)
For the cake:
1 1/4 teaspoon anise seeds
1 1/4 cup (175g) cake flour
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (65g) pistachio or almond meal (or 1/2 cup (70g) stoneground yellow cornmeal)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (105g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/4 cup (60ml) whole milk
1/4 cup (60ml) Absinthe
1 orange preferably unsprayed
For the Absinthe glaze:
1/4 cup (25g) granulated sugar
1/4 cup (60ml) Absinthe
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (175 C). Butter a 9-inch loaf pan, then line the bottom with parchment paper.
2. In a mortar and pestle or spice mill, grind the anise seeds until relatively fine. Whisk together the cake flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt, and anise seeds. Set aside.
3. In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, or by hand, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, until they’re completely incorporated.
4. Mix together the milk and Absinthe with a few swipes of grated orange zest.
5. Stir half of the dry ingredients into the beaten butter, then the milk and Absinthe mixture.
6. By hand, stir in the other half of the dry ingredients until just smooth (do not overmix). Smooth the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake for about 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
7. Remove the cake from the oven and let cool 30 minutes.
8. To glaze the cake with Absinthe, use a toothpick and poke 50 holes in the cake. In a small bowl, gently stir together the 1/4 cup (25 g) sugar, and 1/4 cup (60 ml) of Absinthe until just mixed. (You can add a bit of orange zest here if you’d like too.) Be sure not to let the sugar dissolve too much!
9. Remove the cake from the loaf pan, peel off the parchment paper, and set the cake on a cooling rack over a baking sheet.
10. Spoon some of the Absinthe glaze over the top and sides of the cake, allowing it to soak the top and spill down the sides a bit. Continue until all the glaze is used up.

(Note: The photo at the top was this cake, but baked in an individual-sized cake mold.)

Related Links

Absinthe Ice Cream

The Sweet Life in Paris


  • Gail
    July 24, 2006 2:52pm

    Looks great! I’ll see if I can wrench some Absinthe from Michael.

  • July 24, 2006 4:11pm

    It is actually very easy to order absinthe via the Internet – check out the links in the earlier story or check our site. Mind you, I’m not saying it is cheap though:-( You can also buy inferior absinthe-like liquor over the border in both Canada and Mexico, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

  • Heidi
    July 24, 2006 4:24pm

    What did you use to make that little cupcake-like cake at the top? Is that what cupcake liners look like in Europe?

  • July 24, 2006 9:46pm

    As someone who spent 26 minutes in line for cupcakes yesterday at 4pm in 97 degree heat in Beverly Hills, well, I’d line up for your cakes any day!

    (I can’t wait to try this recipe)

  • July 25, 2006 1:46am

    Wonderful, I’m in the middle of an anise bout so now I just have to try to find some absinthe down here! I bet it will be difficult knowing the Italian feeling for anything French but I might find the Italian equivalent (if there is any)…

  • July 25, 2006 4:17am

    I usually don’t get overly excited about cakes, but I found my thrill when you gave me some of that absinthe cake. It was seriously fantastic. You are a mad genius!

  • Alphonse the Noble
    July 25, 2006 5:20am

    Honey? How expensive are you? If I could afford you (name your salary) you’d be my chef extraordinaire and in Summer we’d live on my Greek island and in Winter – well – you choose! Your cakes and recipes – all are just too, too, wonderful – I ‘d probably grow fat….and then you’d leave me – oh well, such has been and is ma vie (sob)

  • J. Bo
    July 25, 2006 7:55am

    I’m lying in wait to get the absinthe my sweetheart ordered online. He hates ouzo and pastis and other anise/licorice-flavored drinks, so I think he’s going to be disgusted with his new stash. Once he is, THEN I’ll make my move, kindly accepting the remaining three of the four little bottles he’s bought. And I’ll bake. Ooh, how I’ll bake (and I just bought a pound of pistachio flour for no reason other than it was fresh and it was there…)!

    Thanks, David, for the culinary inspiration brought on by la fee verte.

  • eg
    July 25, 2006 8:00am

    The glaze looks wonderful — I love crunchy sugar.

  • July 25, 2006 1:52pm

    What a coincidence. The egullet heartland people are getting together in ann arbor, MI next week and someone is bringing a bottle of Absinthe. There isnt enough to go around for everyone and so someone suggested making a cake with it. I’ll pass though, I hate anything anise flavored or scented.

  • July 25, 2006 4:13pm

    Working, working – Big wheel turning…

  • July 26, 2006 12:58am

    Love the idea of cooking with absinthe…brilliant
    thanks for the tip about aluminium free baking powder too

  • July 26, 2006 4:31am

    I think you should take Alphonse up on the offer – a Greek island sounds like HEAVEN (especially compared to your hot rooftop apartment)!

    And that sugary-glaze? Far from putting me off, that has me salivating! I think the anise flavour combined with crystallised sugar is genius. Mmmmmm….

  • July 26, 2006 7:35am

    I’m not a big fan of anything anise either… but after two weeks in the Cap Corse, I’ve grown quite fond of “La Tomate”, which is pastis, a shot (or two in my case) of grenadine, half a glass of ice cold water and lotsa ice cubes. Will go well with the absinthe cake, no?

  • Luc-Santiago Rodriguez
    July 26, 2006 12:33pm

    Thank you David for the cake ! I tasted it and liked it.
    However, you asked my opinion about it, so I give the opinion of an absinthe drinker who cook sometime with absinthe !
    First, I didn’t sense anise nor absinthe very much and that’s because of the absinthe used : François Guy 45°. A 72° anise-y absinthe (like Absinthe Amer) could give better flavors and will resist much better to the hotness of the cooking.
    It could be nice to lower the sugar content a little bit.
    I ate the entire cake quickly but it was a bit over sugared.
    Voila, but that is just my opinion !
    Thanks again David !

  • July 26, 2006 12:51pm

    Salut Luc-Santiago:

    Thanks for the feedback. The Absinthe Cake I brought you was the first try (and since it was little, I didn’t want to take a bite out of it!) But when I tried the larger one I made with the same batter, I didn’t think there was enough Absinthe in there, so I increased it along with the anise seeds.

    (Bakers: That’s the recipe that appears here.)

    Once the temperature drops to a level where I can turn on my oven without dying, I’ll make another cake and bring it by…and we can have a glass of Absinthe too!

    (Meg, some people are turned off by all that sugar, not like us hard-cores!)

  • brenda
    July 28, 2006 11:33am

    Is the liquor available in the US a reasonable substitute, the Pastis or Sambucca????

  • July 28, 2006 12:21pm

    “you can substitute an anise-scented apertif, such as Pernod, pastis, or ouzo…”

  • July 28, 2006 6:52pm

    what?! don’t be put off by the glaze?! lol! i want to dive in.


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