When I was a young whippersnapper, going to the mall during the holidays felt very special. I was in awe of the ornaments the size of circus tents that hung from the ceiling, excited by the bustling people and happy to sing along to music I recognized. Best of all, department stores offered sugary samples. One busy day at Macy’s, my mom and I came across a woman who was offering glistening, dark brown pieces of cake. Jackpot. But just a few moments later, my world came to a crashing halt when I was told that the cake was for adults only. My mom, crafty woman that she is, removed the top third of a slice and shared the rest with me. Disappointed to miss out on the icing but happy to consume any kind of sugar, I gladly accepted – only to find my throat on fire after a few bites. Why would anyone eat this? I wondered.
Now I understand. As an adult dessert devotee, I know the sinful deliciousness that comes from folding a nip of booze (or seven) into your mixing bowl. One of my all-time favorites is fresh berries sautéed in butter and Maker’s Mark with fresh whipped cream. But for a true lesson in baking with alcohol, I turned to food writer Lucy Baker’s The Boozy Baker: 75 Recipes for Spirited Sweets. Baker makes a simple and convincing argument: baking with booze is fun – and enhances the flavor of practically everything. I’m moderately embarrassed to reveal this, but I don’t think I ever understood that flavored extracts (vanilla, for example) are basically saturated shots. In light of this, it makes perfect sense to use liqueurs, spirits, and even wine and beer to give your desserts a boost.
The Boozy Baker has no shortage of treats for the reader, including a convenient rundown of the flavor profile of many kinds of alcohol, 25 complementary cocktail recipes for pairing, and helpful baking tips. Of course, this is in addition to the sumptuous recipes for cakes, cupcakes, pies, tarts, cookies, brownies and even frozen delights that range from reinvented classics to worthy newbies.
Baker says there are no rules when it comes to desserts – my kind of woman. The results of this sort of brilliant thinking are tipsy treats like Dirty Girl Scout Cookies, Lemon Layer Cake with Campari frosting – which I will be making immediately – Cuba Libre Brownies, Plum Biercake, Dark and Stormy Hermits, and Green Tea and Banana Cake with Sake Syrup. Don’t worry about driving after indulging (in desserts): most if not all the alcohol “bakes away,” leaving only decadence behind. The exception is spongy cakes that you drizzle; watch out for those.
Baker uses a broad range of booze, from staples like bourbon, gin, rum, tequila, vodka and whiskey to fancy pants spirits such as crème de cacao, framboise, schnapps, stout beer and more. But if your home bar isn’t up to par, fear not: Baker also provides helpful substitutions based on what you may have handy. The point is not to break the bank for one dessert.
So mix a glass of holiday spirit, throw an apron on and get to work. Follow Baker’s recipes or venture out on your own. I suggest the following, gooiest cake ever, as a starting point.