Leny’s Guatemalan Borracho or Drunken Cake

borracho cake Guatemala

Submitted by Leny González

This is the Guatemalan borracho cake that must be served on special occasions in Marleny “Leny” González’s Illinois home. “There is no choice,” Leny says. “Everyone in my family begs for it and they all show up with their Tupperware to take some home for later.”

The oldest of six, Leny is the family-designated borracho baker, even though her siblings, now all based in Ilinois, expertly know their way around the kitchen. Leny is also the go-to cocinera for the family’s takes-two-days-to-make Guatemalan tamales, as well as her family-famous fruit ponche, traditional tostadas and other recipes passed down from their mother, who died four years ago—an unspeakable loss for their family.

“I come from a cooking family,” Leny says. Her great grandmother, grandmother and mother were famous for the food they sold to travelers on the train line in Amatlitlán in southwestern Guatemala. The women would dress in their traditional Mengala clothing—three or four skirts and petticoats each—with baskets full of homemade traditional tapas to sell. The train passengers always sought them out.

Their recipes are the ones that Leny still uses—with the exception of her borracho cake. That recipe she stole.

A Borracho Cake Recipe Worth Stealing

Borracho means “drunken” and this cake lives up to its reputation by lounging for two days in the brandy- or rum-drenched syrup that Leny pours over the bizcocho to absorb. Then it’s time to decorate the top. “The thing about el bizcocho borracho is that everyone has their own version,” explains Leny. It’s not complicated, it’s more about the personal touch each cook gives it. In my home, everyone loves it when I make it with fruit on top.”

When she was a young mother back in Guatemala, she worked in the bakery owned by her ex-husband’s family. “There were certain things that only my mother-in-law made. They were her family’s recipes and she did not share them,” reports Leny. This borracho recipe was one of her baking secrets. “I stole her recipe,” Leny smiles. “I literally robbed her. I went to go help her and took note of how she did it.

“The traditional borracho base is best known for its manjar: a milk-based topping made with cornstarch, milk, raisins and ground cinnamon.” As for the alcohol part of the borracho, that’s up to you, Leny says. She alternates between using brandy and rum. “I like brandy the best.”

No matter which alcohol or fruit you use, Leny warns, get ready for everyone to lose their minds—with comida joy. “When you cook this with love for your family—you will see how when they arrive, and your house smells so good, they will come running, everyone so excited: “Oh, my God, what did you make us!”

Ready to Make Guatemala’s Super-Famoso Borracho Cake?

Leny’s Guatemalan Borracho or Drunken Cake

5 from 1 vote
Recipe by Leny González Cuisine: Guatemalan
Servings

8

servings
Prep time

45

minutes
Cooking time

2

hours 

Ingredients

  • The Cake
  • 7 7 eggs

  • 1 cup 1 all-purpose flour

  • 1 cup 1 sugar

  • 1 tsp 1 baking powder

  • 1 pinch 1 salt

  • The Syrup
  • 3 cups 3 water

  • 2 cups 2 sugar

  • 1 stick 1 cinnamon

  • 2 berries 2 allspice (also called: pimienta gorda or dulce entera)

  • 2 to 3 2 to 3 cloves

  • 1 1 lime peel, in one long strip

  • 1 pinch 1 salt

  • 1/3 cup 1/3 brandy or rum

  • The Manjar or Sweet Milk Sauce
  • 1/2 cups 1/2 whole milk (for cornstarch mix)

  • 4 Tbsp 4 cornstarch

  • 2 cups 2 whole milk

  • 1/2 cup 1/2 sugar

  • 1 stick 1 cinnamon

  • The Topping
  • 15 15 raisins (for decoration)

  • 1 to 3 1 to 3 cherries (1 fresh or 2 to 3 canned or maraschino—your choice)

  • 1 tsp 1 cinnamon, ground

Directions

  • The Cake
  • Preheat oven to 350°. Butter and flour a baking pan. (Leny uses a round aluminum cake pan.)
  • Mix your dry ingredients and sift them. Set aside.
  • Separate the eggs: place the 7 whites and 7 yolks in two different bowls.
  • With your mixer, beat the egg whites until they turn into stiff peaks.
  • By hand with a fork or on the lowest setting of your mixer, beat the yolks in a separate bowl. Beat them until they get slightly creamy and frothy, says Leny.
  • By hand, slowly, using a rubber spatula, in a circular motion going one way only, mix the yolks into the whites. You don’t want to disturb the whites too much or you will lose the airy peaks you worked so hard to get.
  • When they are fully mixed, slowly add to your bowl the dry ingredients—all the while mixing by hand in a circular motion.
  • Pour the batter into your prepared baking pan. Bake for 50 minutes.
  • Check your cake starting at 40 or 45 minutes, to make sure it doesn’t burn. Insert a knife into the cake and when it is clean, it’s done.
  • Take the cake out from the oven and let it cool for an hour. You want the cake to be lukewarm or room temperature. (Don’t put it in the refrigerator, warns Leny. If the cake gets too cold, it will stick to the pan, since it’s made with eggs.)
  • The Syrup
  • While the cake is baking, start making the borracho syrup. First, wash the whole lime. Peel it in one long strip, all the way around.
  • Pour the water in a saucepan. Add the sugar, cinnamon stick, allspice whole berries, lime peel long strand, and pinch of salt. Bring to a boil.
  • Boil for about 35 minutes. Bonus: “Your house will smell delicious,” says Leny.
  • Remove and discard the cinnamon stick, cloves, allspice berries and lime peel. Let the liquid cool for about 10 minutes.
  • Stir in your brandy or rum, if desired, and set aside.
  • The Cake and Syrup: Join Them Together
  • When the cake gets to room temperature, loosen and remove it from its baking pan. Place on your serving plate.
  • With a thin knife or a wooden skewer stick, poke dozens of tiny holes in the cake (“Like you are stabbing someone,” jokes Leny. “Go crazy: stabbing, stabbing. That’s where all the flavor comes in.”)
  • Slowly pour half the syrup over the top, so that it seeps into all the holes. Place the cake in the refrigerator to fully absorb the syrup overnight. Also put the leftover syrup in the fridge.
  • The next day, pour the second half of the syrup over the top. Refrigerate again.
  • The Manjar Milk-Sugar Topping
  • While the cake is cooling for the second time, make your manjar or milk-and-sugar topping. Place ½ cup of milk into a small bowl. Mix in the cornstarch and set aside.
  • In a saucepan set to medium heat, place 2 cups milk, the sugar and the cinnamon stick. Stir. Bring to a low boil on medium heat.
  • About 5 minutes after the milk starts to bubble, remove the cinnamon stick.
  • Very gradually, whisk in the milk–cornstarch mix into the gently boiling milk in the pan. Be sure to go slow and add bit by little bit, stirring constantly, or the mixture will get hard and goopy, warns Leny.
  • Once the milk-cornstarch mixture is fully integrated, turn the heat to medium low and stir constantly. In about 5 minutes, when the milk gets to the right consistency (not too watery, not too solid: you want creamy thick), it is ready.
  • Take the cake out of the refrigerator. Pour the warm topping over the cold cake. The sweet manjar will mostly sit on top of the cake, with a little bit gently sliding over the sides onto the serving dish.
  • Return the cake to the refrigerator to chill the manjar topping.
  • Decorate & Serve Your Borracho Cake
  • Before serving, the borracho must sit in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour. “This cake must be served very cold,” says Leny.
  • You have a choice of decoration toppings. 1) Go traditional: Sprinkle raisins and ground cinnamon over the top. Place one or more cherries on the creamy manjar, or 2) Choose your own fruit adventure. Leny’s go-to frutas: Instead of raisins, which no one in her house really likes, she tops her borracho cake with layers of sliced canned peaches, sliced fresh strawberries, sliced fresh kiwis, and whole canned plums—to her family’s delight. Every time.
  • Once the borracho is decorated, if you are not ready to eat it yet, return the cake to the refrigerator to keep it muy frío until time for serving.

Notes

  • “There are two kinds of cinnamon sticks,” says Leny. “Canela de Castilla and canela dulce. Canela de Castilla is too stiff, it is a stick. Literally. The other cinnamon, canela dulce, if you squeeze it, it crumbles. That is the one you want for your borracho cake.”
  • Leny uses whole allspice berries. She calls the spice pimienta gorda or pimienta dulce entera. They come from the black pepper family—yet are sweet.
  • Tip from the Familia Kitchen Test Kitchen team: “When mixing the 1/2 cup milk with the cornstarch, it should be done in a glass measuring cup with a spout. The spout will make the sauce-making effortless. It’s much easier to stream in the cornstarch slurry with a spout.”
borracho cake Guatemala
When you make your cake manjar, this is the consistency you seek: stick-to-the-back-of-the-spoon.
borracho cake Guatemala
Gently pour the manjar over the top of the cake.
borracho cake Guatemala
The manjar will spill over the sides, slightly. That’s a good thing. More sweet deliciousness.
borracho cake Guatemala
Está listo! Borrachos are traditionally decorated with raisins, cinnamon and a cherry—or three.
borracho cake Guatemala
This is the best cake in todo el mundo, according to Leny González’s Guatemalan familia.

Photography: Michelle Ezratty Murphy

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