That’s the Spirit: Using Liquor in Sweets

by in How-to, June 6th, 2012

plum upside down cake
I’m a bourbon girl, straight up. Neat or on the rocks, it doesn’t matter just as long as the vanilla, oak, caramel and spice notes work their magic. It’s pure craftsmanship at its best and only gets better with age.

But I’m also a pastry chef and one who loves to have fun exploring new flavor combinations. To limit a fine spirit to the bar alone would be criminal; at least, that’s what I think. Incorporating liquors into desserts reveals a whole new horizon of possibilities.

I love a good Manhattan. I also love the fact that bourbon works so well with chocolate, toasted nuts, peaches and even candied bacon. Two other spirits that round out my top three favorites when I bake are rum and Campari. Dark rum works well with tropical fruit and is a favorite of mine to use at our restaurant in Grand Cayman. Since there are so many great rums, taste a couple and use the one you like best. And Campari is a tad bitter, but it adds great balance to a dessert.

Baking with spirits can be a bit tricky since many recipes don’t call for the alcohol to be burned off. But trust me on this one — when used correctly, it will be your best friend and definitely help you make new ones. Now that’s the spirit!

— Cherries, apples, pears, peaches, pecans and peanuts work well with the maple-like characteristics of bourbon.

— Coconut, pineapple, banana, mango, mint, lychees, macadamia nuts and cashews are awesome with the brown sugar flavor of dark rum.

— Tangerines, grapefruit, Meyer lemon, peaches and nectarines add great balance to the flavor-forward bitterness of Campari.

Try one of Hedy’s recipes:

Plum Upside-Down Cake With Thyme, Lemon, and Fennel (pictured above)

Grilled Peaches

Cherry Lemon Basil Clafoutis

Hedy Goldsmith, a 2012 James Beard Award finalist for Outstanding Pastry Chef, is the executive pastry chef for the Genuine Hospitality Group of restaurants including Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink in Miami and Grand Cayman, and Harry’s Pizzeria in Miami. Now in her second season of Cooking Channel’s Unique Sweets, Hedy has appeared on Food Network’s The Best Thing I Ever Ate and lauded in The New York Times, People, Wine SpectatorBon Appétit, The Huffington Post and Food & Wine magazine. Hedy’s first cookbook, Baking Out Loud: Fun Desserts with Big Flavors (Clarkson Potter / Publishers), will be released October 2.

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Comments (5)

  1. Rueben says:

    Booze Cakes is a good cookbook too. Lots of boozy desserts.

  2. guest says:

    you rapsodize about enjoying liquor in sweets, but you didn't actually SAY much. (That's OK, all good chefs aren't always good teachers,we know.) We can macerate fruit, we can pour it on and flambe, we can use in in icings, glazes and frostings (particularly buttercream), we can use it in mousses or Bavarian cream, or in the humble little froth known as meringue; it's all good, even in cookie batter. I usually skip the booze and use extracts or fruit juice concentrates. It was still nice reading.

  3. thomasstrome says:

    I like using Bourbon when making cake desserts. I used to watch my mom create wonderful desserts and one time she made a cake that turned me all red. Surprisingly it was filled with whiskey. Now, I just buy whiskey online for quicker transactions and faster delivery.

  4. Carolyn says:

    I have a recipe that call for Dark Rum can I use rum extract in its place?

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