Author's Note: For this week's Cook the Book column we're featuring The Boozy Baker by our own Serious Eats contributor Lucy Baker. We sat down with Lucy, over cocktails of course, to discuss her new book and the joys of baking with booze. —The Mgmt.
What was the inspiration for The Boozy Baker? When I was in graduate school, I worked as a waitress at a wine bar/small plates restaurant in Brooklyn. The chef always asked me to bring the old, opened bottles of wine (that were no longer good for drinking) back to the kitchen. She mostly used them to cook savory dishes, but I was inspired to try the same thing with desserts—and not just with wine, but beer and liquor as well.
What was your first boozy baking project? The first thing I made was actually the first recipe in the book: Fig and Orange Cake with Ouzo Glaze. A friend of mine brought a bottle of ouzo (a licorice-flavored Greek liquor) to a party at my apartment. Who does that? We only drank a tiny bit of it, and then I was like, what am I going to do with the rest of this? In the interest of being economical, I decided to bake.
What are some crossover bar/baking essentials? Good dark rum, good bourbon, and liqueurs with strong flavors, like amaretto, framboise, limoncello, Grand Marnier and Kahlua. Also lots of fresh citrus fruits for adding zest—lemons, limes, and oranges.
Are there any liqueurs that lend themselves especially well to baking? And are there some that you've found aren't best to bake with? Liqueurs with strong flavors, that can hold there own in the dessert, and complement the other flavors. For chocolate desserts I like Kahlua, bourbon, Bailey's, or berry flavored liqueurs. Port goes especially well with berry desserts, and anything super buttery tastes out of this world when you add a shot of rum. Liquors that are heralded in cocktails for being clean, light, and "flavorless" can get lost in desserts. I don't recommend baking with vodka or gin. You just won't taste it that much, if at all, in the end.
What do you like to drink while baking? Despite the title of the book, I'm not a super-heavy drinker! But nothing is more relaxing than baking a batch of cookies while savoring a delicious glass of wine. Right now I'm really into Falanghina, a fuller-bodied Italian white.
And on the same note, do you find that a cocktail or two helps alleviate the nervousness that sometimes accompanies baking? Absolutely! It can be very nerve-wracking to shove a cake in the oven, where you can't see it, and hope for the best. Relaxing with a cocktail while it bakes will help you avoid the temptation to open the door and peek (which let's a lot of heat out).
What are some of your favorite cocktail and dessert pairings? A classic pairing is chocolate and Champagne, but I actually like chocolate and orange liqueur, like Grand Mariner, even more. In the book there is a recipe for a molten chocolate cake paired with a drink called an Orange Up, which is mixture of orange liqueur, dark rum, simple syrup, lemon, and bitters—delicious.
What are some of the differences and similarities of baking and mixology? I love how both baking and mixology mix chemistry and creativity. Most brownies, cakes, cookies, etc. follow a similar formula of ingredients, oven temperature, and baking times. It's fun to work within those confines to come up with something unique. Cocktails are the same way: martinis, Manhattans, margaritas all have a standard formula. I view the formula as a jumping off point—how can I make this drink my own?
Tell us a little about some of your favorite recipes and must-trys from the book. There are so many favorites! The strawberry shortcake with Bärenjäger, a honey liqueur, is perfect for this season. (If you don't have Bärenjäger, you can substitute amaretto.) I also love the plum and hazelnut tart with Frangelico, the red velvet cake with Southern Comfort frosting, and the donut bread pudding with Tennessee whiskey sauce.
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