Alcohol and Baking: Expert-Approved Pairings

Let’s be honest, alcohol is good on its own, but it’s even better when added to baked goods. It provides an extra layer of depth and excitement to tried-and-true recipes.

Adding alcohol to baked goods takes a bit of science, however, and you can’t approach the process lightly. That said, when the right amount is poured into your cake, pie crust, croissants or any other dessert or foodstuff, it takes the flavour to the next level. If you’re looking for ways to impress guests and improve your baking skills, consider alcohol.

This article will take you through the subject of alcohol and baking and why they go so well together, providing you with expert-approved pairings for the next time you want to experiment in the kitchen.

Why Do Alcohol and Baking Go So Well Together?

Alcohol in main courses enhances the food’s flavours, whether it’s in a protein or a side dish. The final course of a meal — dessert — can also be brought to life by a splash of booze.

There are many complexities to alcohol and baking. When paired, all the flavours infuse with one another, creating a mouthwatering delicacy.

Alcohol and Baking: Expert-Approved Pairings

Different types of alcohol determine which flavours present themselves in a dessert. The alcohol itself has a distinct flavour and character. When fermented, other tastes present themselves, whether they are fruity notes, slight hints of smokiness or other qualities of various alcoholic beverages.

Additionally, the alcohol evaporates fairly quickly, making it volatile. When it evaporates off in the oven’s high temperatures, the evaporated particles carry other flavours of the dessert with it. Therefore, the cake’s fragrance and tastes are enhanced even more.

It works so well because the alcohol bonds itself to the fats and water molecules in the baked good. It carries the flavour of the food throughout the dish and gives off a pleasant aroma.

Types of Alcohol Used in Baking

A general rule of thumb when baking with alcohol is that you don’t want to add so much that it changes the consistency of the final product. Too much alcohol leaves a runny batter, which can result in a denser cake. That’s why a higher alcohol by volume (ABV) concentration works best because it requires only a small amount to let the flavours through.

Lower-percentage alcohols can still be used. However, the other ingredients will require a balance to make up for the extra liquid, which will involve a bit more science.

Here are some of the most common alcohol types to use in baking and what flavours are effused:

  • Bourbon: Bourbon has a more robust, smoky flavor with some notes of honey. 
  • Rum: There is a spectrum of flavors with rum, but typically, it’s a mix of caramel, vanilla, smoke and earthy flavors.
  • Gin: Gin is usually flavored with herbs and spices like ginger, cinnamon, citrus and juniper.
  • Tequila: In younger bottles of tequila, you’ll find more acidic flavors like citrus and coffee. Older tequilas take on a smokiness almost like whiskey.
  • Scotch: Generally, scotch has a smoky flavor, but there are hints of floral and nutty aromas.
  • Vodka: Vodka doesn’t have much of a smell or taste unless you purchase a flavored version.
  • Wine: Wines, of course, provide you with fruity flavors and are often used for glazes.
  • Beer: Depending on the type of beer you use, you’ll get different flavors.

Each of these types of alcohol can be infused with other flavors, but for the standards, these are the flavors you’ll find when using them in baking.

Alcohol and Baking: Expert-Approved Pairings

Generally, you want to use higher-end alcohols in any cooking and baking. If you wouldn’t drink it, don’t put it in your desserts — but don’t use extremely expensive alcohols to cook or bake with because their nuance will evaporate.

You certainly don’t want to drown your dish in alcohol, and you don’t want to use so little that you don’t taste it. Baking and cooking with alcohol comes down to a science.

Before Moving to Dessert Pairings

While this article mainly highlights the reasons for using alcohol in baking and desserts, you can also use alcohol in the main dish to enhance the flavors or as a pairing to a plate. In marinades, alcohol helps season the meat and carries flavors. Wine and beer work excellently for sauces, as they deglaze a pan to scrape up all of the bits of flavoring in a dish.

If you’d instead like to drink alcohol with your dinner, you could pair seafood with a Belgian triple, mojito, gin or white wine. With red meats, red wine is a go-to, but they also pair well with whiskey or scotch. Poultry goes well with India pale ales, sake or whiskey.

Whatever drink you choose with your meal, it’s sure to be delicious.

Perfect Pairings

A little bit of alcohol goes a long way in baking. If you’re just starting, try switching out an extract for liquor instead.

Here are some great pairings for your baked goods:

1. Vanilla Desserts

If your recipe calls for vanilla, such as vanilla extract, switch it out for a rum. When rum is aged in a wooden barrel, a vanilla flavor appears.

Bourbon is also an excellent vanilla enhancer. If you would rather use bourbon in your dessert, add a splash of it along with the vanilla extract to make the vanilla shine through.

Some desserts you could add either rum or bourbon to include New York cheesecake, vanilla cupcakes or rum-infused banana bread.

2. Citrus Desserts

Lemon is the perfect option for a light, citrusy baked good. To help the citrus make a statement, add some vodka. The vodka gives it an extra punch and boosts the lemon, lime or orange flavors.

If you want a drink with your dessert, champagne or crisp white wine work best.

 3. Chocolate Desserts

Stouts provide a rich chocolate and coffee flavour, which makes them the perfect pair for any chocolate dessert. Add them to enhance the chocolate further.

Alcohol and Baking: Expert-Approved Pairings

However, if you want to add fruit to your chocolate dessert, glaze your fruit of choice with wine to make a reduction sauce.

4. Almond Desserts

Amaretto goes well with almond desserts. It’s bittersweet and pairs finely with tiramisu or French almond cakes.

If you want just a hint of almond flavor, substitute the extract for amaretto.

5. Fruit Desserts

Perhaps you’re not quite ready to add alcohol directly into your baked goods. That is just fine. Instead, soak your fruit in alcohol. If you’re making a dessert with raisins, soak them first in bourbon or rum.

As previously mentioned, you can also make a glaze or jam-like dip with your favourite fruit and wine. Add them to a pan on the stovetop and allow them to simmer together so you can drizzle the glaze over a cake or doughnuts.

Enhance Desserts with Alcohol

When you bake with alcohol, remember a little bit goes a long way. Alcohol is meant to enhance all the other flavours of the dessert, so don’t drown your cakes and pastries in vodka or bourbon. Once you find the perfect amount of alcohol to add to your cake, croissants, cookies and more, you’ll be the one everyone goes to for baking advice.

Oscar Collins

Oscar Collins is the managing editor at Modded, where he writes about a variety of topics, including the most recent trends in tech. Follow him on Twitter @TModded for regular updates!