There’s no shame in a cake-mix shortcut for busy bakers. In this riff on classic New Orleans milk punch, gussying up a boxed white cake batter with brandy, vanilla, and nutmeg—and replacing the usual liquid with whole milk—gives the finished cake delicious distinction. Using egg whites instead of whole eggs or yolks keeps the cake light and airy and the creamy white color you want for a milk punch cake. The richness here comes from “imbibing” the baked layers with a brandy-butter baste before stacking them and frosting them with a luscious brandy buttercream. Imbibing a cake—especially a basic boxed one—with liquid like simple syrup or liqueur is a classic method for infusing it with flavor while ensuring it stays moist. I like to wrap the soaked layers in plastic wrap and pop them in the freezer for twenty to thirty minutes before frosting. This helps the cake hold its shape and the crumb stay put while you’re spreading the buttercream.
Use brandy distilled from grapes, or cognac, here. It doesn’t have to be top-shelf but should be one you would enjoy sipping. Thanks to the potent spirit’s low acidity and notes of vanilla, spice, maple, and sherry, brandy shines in desserts like ice cream, custard, bread pudding, and cake. Since liquids and fats like oil and butter don’t naturally mingle, the trick is to add the brandy a teaspoon at a time while mixing the buttercream on low to incorporate it. When these opposites come together, the result is magical.