Bakers Journal

Baking with liquor

September 20, 2011
By Brandi Cowen

Desserts for grown-ups are coming of age. Alcohol infused treats ranked
fifth on The Food Channel’s list of this year’s top 10 dessert trends.

Desserts for grown-ups are coming of age. Alcohol infused treats ranked fifth on The Food Channel’s list of this year’s top 10 dessert trends. The trend report pointed to milkshakes with rum, gelato with wine, and doughnuts with beer popping up on dessert menus everywhere, while restaurants offer liquor add-ons to their decadent chocolate creations.

Incorporating a carrier for the alcohol is the best way to capture and preserve the flavour.


“It’s a combination that’s been matched up for eons,” says Cornell Idu, master chocolatier with Rogers’ Chocolates in Vancouver. “The types of alcohols used might change, but not the idea or concept of chocolate and liqueurs or alcohols.”


Rogers’ Chocolates is certainly no stranger to the idea. The 126-year-old chocolate maker has partnered with British Columbia’s Ganton and Larsen Prospect winery to offer a delicious line of icewine truffles. In the past, the company also experimented with a line of chocolates highlighting Canadian spirits, pairing the country’s homegrown ryes, gins and whiskeys with Rogers’ signature chocolates.

The key to crafting a mouthwatering chocolate concoctionlies in understanding the type of alcohol you’re working with, says Idu. The trick is to identify what the alcohol is distilled from and then supplement it with a similar flavour.

“If you’re planning on using brandy, you might want to use a grape juice concentrate. With a whiskey, you’d use some malt to accentuate that background flavour,” Idu says. “Alcohol is alcohol. It might have a mouth feel and a nose feel, but it doesn’t necessarily have a strong flavour, so you want to really accentuate that.”

Incorporating a carrier for the alcohol into your creation is the best way to capture and preserve the rich flavours alcohols can add to chocolate. For example, to create a rum raisin truffle, marinate the raisin in rum before making the truffle. Once the rum-soaked raisin is sealed inside the chocolate, the flavour is locked in.

The other trick to preserving flavours is to properly temper the chocolate. Letting your chocolate hover just below the melting point for an extended period of time can help grow the crystals that will form a harder chocolate, sealing the alcohol and supplemental flavours inside.

Working with alcohol presents other challenges too. Alcohol can curdle cream, so chocolatiers have to take a stepped approach, much like a bartender does when assembling a cocktail. Creating an alcohol-carrier centre that can compete with the strong flavour profile of the chocolate is a must. Striking the right balance between the flavours and the consistency of the finished product is also essential. Idu suggests blending different types of chocolates to strike the right balances.

“Chocolate’s not necessarily set in white, milk and dark; you can blend chocolates to make your chocolate taste more subtle, or replace some of the chocolate with harder fats like cocoa butter, which has been deodorized, so it doesn’t have the same flavour value as chocolate.”

Chocolate and alcohol are a tried and true combination, but there’s no shortage of new and exciting flavour combinations.

Bake like a bartender
Your local liquor store is stocked with ideas to spice up an existing product or inspire a completely new line. Each bottle represents a new flavour just waiting to be uncorked and reintroduced to consumers in exciting new ways.

“People are always looking for new ideas to try and new flavourings. This is just another way, instead of using chocolate or vanilla or savoury spices,” says Krystina Castella, who co-authored Booze Cakes: Confections Spiked with Spirits, Wine and Beer (Quirk Books) with Terry Lee Stone.

Booze Cakes is exactly what it sounds like: a collection of recipes that call to mind lazy days sipping umbrella drinks on tropical beaches and happy hours at trendy bars. The book features classic recipes for honey spice beer cake and bourbon-filled lane cake with bourbon buttercream, as well as cocktail cakes like the rum-and-Coke whoopie pie, wine tasting cake shots, and unique creations like the Jagermeister German chocolate cake. As the title suggests, the focus of Booze Cakes is making the most of the unique flavours of the alcohols.

“When you have a book titled Booze Cakes, you have to make sure that everything has that boozy flavour in it,” Castella says with a laugh.

The key to crafting these cakes is to find common elements between a cake and a drink, then identify ways to incorporate aspects of the drink into the cake. For example, a coconut cake and a piña colada share similar flavour profiles, which gives a baker a good starting point to work from.

“We took the elements of both the cake and the drink and we rethought how they could be and how they could work together. We have coconut milk in a piña colada recipe, so what if we add coconut milk into a coconut cake instead of just desiccated coconut?” says Castella.

Baking a cake with the complex flavour profile of a familiar cocktail requires finding the balance between the cake and the cocktail ingredients. Different cocktail cakes have varieties of alcohol, each with a different strength and burn-off rate during baking. Keeping those flavours in balance can be a challenge.

“If you’re having a drink you don’t have to worry about it, but if you’re making a cocktail cake, how do you get that same balance of flavours that you would have in a mixed drink?” Castella says. Striking that balance with their Long Island iced tea cake – made with gin, light rum, tequila, vodka and triple sec – took six or seven tries, versus the average of two to four attempts most of the other cakes required.

But there’s more to it than simply balancing the various alcohols in a dessert. All the other ingredients must be kept in balance as well. “If you add something that’s super sweet, like Kahlua or a coffee liqueur, then you have to balance the amount of sugar,” Castella says. “So you cut down on the sugar, but then once you cut down on the sugar, which usually gets blended with the butter, how does the amount of sugar you add rework the relationship with the butter? How does that affect the relationship with the flour?”

Castella says the easiest way to keep all your ingredients in balance is to focus on incorporating alcohols into sauces and icings, or soaking the cake in an alcohol bath after baking, rather than incorporating the alcohol into the actual cake batter.

Of course, the possibilities certainly aren’t limited to cakes. “Cookies are easier because cookies are denser than cakes . . . . Cookies have a lot of density that you can play with. It’s a lot less risky in terms of having to rise. If you’re making a pie like a strawberry or a blueberry pie that has a lot of syrup in it, those work really well because you already have the liquid aspect to it,” Castella says.

Regardless of what you’re mixing up, keep one other trend in mind: The Food Channel cites “sipping seasonally and simply” as its number five pick in this year’s top 10 beverage trends. This trend is just as important for bakers as it is for bartenders. “In the summertime, you have a lot more cocktail-oriented flavours and fruity flavours versus when you get into the fall and Christmastime, when you have a lot of the heavier alcohols like rum and brandy,” Castella says.

As your business gears up for the holiday season, why not explore ways to reflect this hot trend in your baking?

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