Gin and Tonic Cake: A Cocktail Turned Confection

Gin and Tonic Cake (15)Herbal and effervescent, a gin and tonic just might be the most refreshing concoction in existence. I’m not sure why the drink has been on my mind lately; perhaps it’s the recent surge of warm weather, or more likely, my own need for invigoration. Whatever the reason, gin and tonic was quick to transform from a classic cocktail to a fresh dessert – first in my mind, then in my kitchen.

Gin and Tonic Cake (17)Juniper berries are intrinsic to gin, so it seemed natural to reach for them here, ignoring their common use as a savory seasoning. A bit sweet and sour with a hint of pepper and pine, the little blue spheres taste a lot like the liquor they flavor: aromatic, clean, earthy and botanical. I chose a unique, locally-sourced gin that proved to be simultaneously warm, cool and forest-like on the palate. It was sure to pair wondrously with fizzy tonic water and fresh lime – not merely to sip, but to bite, chew and savor.

Gin and Tonic Cake (makes a tall 8″ round cake; serves 10-12)

Please note: Since originally posting this recipe in 2013, I’ve improved a few steps, and I’ll soon share a fully revised version of this post with further details. For now, here are the two main changes: First, I stopped decorating the cake with any juniper berries and instead use the full amount of berries ground and mixed into the cake batter; I’ve come to prefer white sprinkles/sugar pearls, and sometimes lime zest, as the decoration. Second, and most important: the original glaze recipe embedded in this recipe can be fussy! I now strongly recommend a more trustworthy, tasty version — please see the very bottom of this post for the updated method. 

  • 3 small limes
  • 45 juniper berries* (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 2 large eggs
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup gin, divided
  • ¾ cup tonic water (fresh; not flat. Flat tonic can lead to batter overflowing in the oven.)
  • 2 cups powdered sugar (for the glaze; don’t be alarmed — this large amount shrinks)

Gin and Tonic Cake (9)Line an 8” cake pan that’s at least 2″ deep with parchment paper; lightly grease paper and sides of pan.  Preheat oven to 350 F.  Finely zest limes; set aside zest.  Juice limes and measure out ¼ cup juice and, separately, 1 tablespoon juice; set both aside. Using a mortar and pestle or spice grinder, mash 30 of the juniper berries until small flakes are formed; set aside.  In a large bowl, beat together eggs, oil, granulated sugar and vanilla until even and smooth.

Sift over the mixture: flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Mix on low speed, gradually adding 1/4 cup lime juice and 1/3 cup gin.  Beat until smooth. Toss in the lime zest and Gin and Tonic Cake (13)crushed juniper berries, mixing until evenly dispersed. Gently fold in the tonic water with a spatula, then quickly pour into prepared pan.  (If desired, watch the batter bubble, brown and gloriously raise in your oven! Height will depend on freshness of baking soda and tonic.) Bake the cake for about 40-45 minutes, first checking center with a wooden skewer or toothpick at the 35  minute mark; cake is done when no wet batter appears; a few moist crumbs are OK. Cake will be golden brown, likely domed with with a few cracks.

Remove cake from oven and let cool in pan at least 45 minutes. Loosen sides of cake with a butter knife, remove parchment, and carefully transfer cake to a wire rack over a baking sheet.  While cake cools a bit longer on rack, make the glaze (see revised, less fussy version at the very end of this post. Original version follows in the next sentence to keep the original post authentic).

Place the powdered sugar, remaining tablespoon lime juice, and remaining 1/3 cup gin in a saucepan. Whisk over medium heat for only about 30 seconds; remove from heat while still opaque and keep stirring. (This amount of heating is just enough to activate the thickening power of the corn starch in the powdered sugar. Longer heating turns the sugar into a clear sticky glaze that will remain wet; if this happens, whisk in more powdered sugar immediately, but don’t use too much more; keep the glaze at pouring consistency.)

Working quickly, pour half of the glaze over cake; it should harden fast.  Immediately repeat with second half of glaze, letting it drip down the sides of the cake. Reserve a bit of glaze in pan, tossing the remaining 15 juniper berries in it.  If glaze in pan is already too hard, place pan over low heat momentarily. Using small tongs or baking tweezers (the sugar coating is HOT), quickly place glazed juniper berries evenly around edges of cake and a few in the center.  (You may notice that I only used 8 around the edges of my cake, but I suggest placing 12+ around the edges so that each slice bears at least one berry.)

Keep cake uncovered or loosely covered until ready to serve, preferably the day it’s made. Store leftover cake well-covered at room temperature (don’t refrigerate); eat within 2 or 3 days.

Gin and Tonic Cake (4)

With an undeniable echo of the cocktail behind it, the gin and tonic cake offers herbal undertones and citrusy traces of juniper in a moist and fulfilling format. The sweet, boozy glaze envelops a tender crumb, giving each bite both crispness and a kick.  While the carbonation vanishes from the end result, its tiny air pockets make for a springy and scrumptious dessert. Refreshment, sweetness, and spirits – what more do you really need?

Gin and Tonic Cake (14)Maybe next time…

  • If your cake will be sitting out uncovered for awhile, you can whisk together a tablespoon each of vegetable oil and gin, and brush the sides (only) of the cake before adding the glaze. This will keep the sides from getting dry.
  • For a ginnier taste, brush the cake with a more liquor before drizzling with icing. For less boozy flavor, replace some or all of glaze’s gin with more lime juice.
  • If your 8″ cake pan is not at least 2″ deep, you can use a 9″ pan, but watch the baking time closely — as a thinner cake, it will bake faster.
  • For G&T cupcakes, this recipe will make two dozen standard sized, and they bake super fast — like in 8 minutes! — at 350F. Remember to line your cupcake pans and be ready to work quickly with the fast-drying glaze.
  • As for the gin itself, it goes without saying that using a different kind will change the flavor of this dessert. Use whatever kind you like–though I can recommend with great confidence the magical type I used here, whether for sipping or for baking. (Despite the notion that distinctive spirits and cooking shouldn’t mix, the quality and character of what you use will always come through, so my philosophy is: might as well use something good!)
  • Finally, for a more classic, less liquor-y, citrus yellow cake, use traditional frosting instead of the glaze, but to keep the dessert dairy-free, make sure your frosting is, too.  You can even split the cake into two layers (shortening the baking time and watching carefully) for a more classic layer cake.

Gin and Tonic Cake (18)

*I found my jar of juniper berries in the spice aisle of my local grocery store.  I admit I tossed a handful of them my salad a few nights ago and greatly enjoyed the enhancement — but above all, their promise as a baking ingredient has captivated me, and I can assure you they’ll be back on my dessert menu in the future.  In fact, I’ll likely add more to this recipe next time; feel free to adjust your amount to your taste, too.

Gin and Tonic Cake (1)Gin and Tonic Cake (20)Gin and Tonic Cake (22)

New and improved glaze method:

Place cooled cake on a wire rack nearby with a tray or liner underneath to catch run-off glaze. Measure out 2 cups powdered sugar, well packed, and set nearby. In a 1/3 cup measure, place 1 tablespoon lime juice and 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract. Fill the rest of the cup measure with gin. Place in a small to medium saucepan. Add a dash or two of salt.

Heat until liquid just comes to a strong simmer, bubbling — this won’t take long. Turn off heat and add all the powdered sugar to pan. Working swiftly, whisk mixture vigorously, just until consistency is even. Immediately pour over cake; it should dry quickly. Repeat to add another layer of glaze.

If using sprinkles or other decorations that need to stick, add them immediately while glaze is still moist. (If glaze dries in pan before you’re done, you can heat it very briefly and whisk again to reuse, but avoid high heat and keep heating time short.)

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48 Responses to Gin and Tonic Cake: A Cocktail Turned Confection

  1. Crystal says:

    Hi, I’ve never cooked with juniper berries & I’m excited to make this recipe… but I’ve got a question. 🙂
    You said crushed juniper berries… as in dried berries or fresh ones?
    Thank you.

    • Hi Crystal! Thanks so much for stopping by. They’re dried juniper berries, usually sold in the spice aisle. (I can’t believe I never made that clear! I’ll add that detail shortly.) Thanks for checking, and please feel free to let me know how you like the cake.

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  12. Huzasa says:

    Thanks so much for this – the cake is fantastic! There are a few gin and tonic cake recipes on the web, but this one really stands out – the use of juniper berries is so inspired. I used a whole heaped tablespoon in mine and thought I had maybe overdone it, but the flavours blend together well, and are even better after a day or so. The texture of the cake is also wonderful; it’s incredibly moist and light – perfect for the heatwave we are currently having in the UK! I finished this off with a lime, elderflower and gin buttercream (didn’t manage to stay dairy free I’m afraid…).

    • Thank YOU so much — for taking the time to make the cake and to share your kind words about the process and result.  I absolutely love the idea of the buttercream — it sounds delicious and perfectly matched with the cake.  Cheers! 


    • denise says:

      Would you be willing to share your lime, elderflower and gin buttercream recipe?

  13. wilbursmum says:

    This cake has my name written all over it! I can’t wait for our warm weather to come so I can try it!!

    • Thanks for stopping by! I’m happy to hear that this cake calls your name, and if you get a chance to try it, I hope you enjoy it to the fullest.


  14. What an awesome idea for a cake. We love Gin and Tonics in our household. I can’t wait to try this someday! 🙂

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  16. Celia says:

    I was excited to find this web site. I want to to
    thank you for your time for this fantastic read!! I definitely liked every part of
    it and I have you bookmarked to look at new stuff on your website.

  17. katy says:

    I really liked this cake and was, as always, really honored to get to sample it! The taste of the gin was really smooth and the cake itself was ever so fragrant; since I have some juniper berries around (the Oaktown Spice Shop is a great resource for these harder to find spices), I think I might try it at home…The one thing I would add is some lime since I’m both a sucker for citrus and a girl who loves a garnish in her g&t. 🙂

    • Thanks, Katy! I’m so glad you liked it, and I do love the idea of garnishing the cake with yet another lime! It’s definitely necessary in the drinkable version which inspired the dessert. (And I love Oaktown Spice Shop, too — that’s where I got my last batch of hibiscus!)

      • Katy says:

        You know, I totally missed the addition of lime to the recipe, my bad!! I wonder if dried (persian) or candied limes (or lime curd?) would make a suitable garnish. Perhaps I’ll play with it and let you know the results. 🙂

      • No worries at all, Katy! I hadn’t even thought of the versions of lime you mentioned here, but I love the idea of them all. The more lime, the better!

  18. That really looks beautiful. I’m not sure that I’ve ever noticed juniper berries at the market but do you happen to know if the basic old berries on my bushes out front are the same thing? Wonder if there are different varieties.

    • Thanks, Diane! There are different varieties, most of which are edible… To play it safe, I’d advise skipping the ones in your yard. (But since they’re so overpriced in the spice aisle, I’d be tempted if they grew in my own yard! 🙂 )

      • In my younger days, my older sister would make me eat things around the yard & woods when we played “Little House on the Prairie”. Of course she never tried any of these things herself.

      • How funny! I can relate — I had an older sister, too. I don’t remember her making me eat things from the yard, but there were definitely similar moments!

  19. This combines my two favourite things, I absolutely need to make this cake! I love your blog, everything is so original and fresh!

  20. courtney says:

    I like gin, tonic, and cake, in no particular order. As soon as I saw it (yesterday), I got juniper berries. The cake is cooling on the rack as I type, and it smells amazing. It’s taking some serious self control to not tear into it right now. Thank you for coming up with this!

    • Courtney! I’m so happy to hear you’re trying this — do let me know what you think of the cake… and thanks a million for stopping by and commenting. Cheers to gin, tonic, and of course: cake!

      • courtney says:

        The cake is wonderful! The lime and juniper flavors mix really, really well, and the gin is just enough to pull them a little closer. I did get impatient and glaze the cake before it was cooled, so it took forever for the glaze to set up. I wound up putting the rack over the sink and pouring the runoff back over the cake as it cooled. It’s way less dense than I was anticipating. The batter thickened up as I sifted the flour in, and I wondered how heavy it would turn out. The tonic thinned the batter out, and the cake isn’t fizzy, but surprisingly light. Success!

      • Thanks so much for your feedback, Courtney! If only there were a way to preserve fizzy carbonation in a cake! (For this reason, gin and tonic sorbet is on my list; supposedly bubbles are preserved in unbaked, frozen desserts.) Thanks again for taking the time to let me know how it went!

  21. Erica says:

    You always come up with such clever ideas! And very nice pictures too…

  22. Lilly Sue says:

    Now this is my kind of cake! 😉 I love gin and tonics!

  23. This is such a wonderful idea for a cake! I love that you thought of using juniper berries and lime zest. I am a huge fan of gin and tonics & will now definitely be adding this to the top of my to-bake list! 🙂

  24. kayejazz says:

    I recently discovered that I love tonic water, so gin and tonic has been on the menu fairly often. This cake sounds scrumptious! I’m going to give it a go this summer. Thanks for the inspiration and the recipe!

    • Hi kayejazz,
      Thanks for stopping by! I love tonic water, too — I only wish it would stay fizzy when baked, but at least it can be drunken alongside this cake! I hope you enjoy the cake if you make it. Cheers!

  25. I don’t know what to say: you are a genius! A gin and tonic is the very first cocktail I ever tried, and it was love at first sip. I was so excited to see the picture on facebook, and even more excited to see the recipe. Thanks for sharing! And I do so very seriously hope you are compiling these for a cookbook. I read a lot of food blogs, and yours is definitely one of the most creative I’ve ever seen!

    • Cameron, thank you so much for your kind words! Yes, when it comes to cocktails, gin and tonic is at the top of the list. Coming from a writer and creative maven like you, your cookbook encouragement is a huge compliment. Thank you!

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