When it comes to cooking with booze, why should the savory chefs of the world have all the fun? Keith Floyd, Julia Child, and Graham Kerr are just a few of the chefs famous for liberally lacing their dishes with wine and other spirits. They also tippled while they cooked. And why not? In the savory kitchen, chefs - celebrity and otherwise - usually have the luxury of a wee bit of imprecision.
Not so for their counterparts on the sweet side, pastry chefs, who operate in a realm where being off a smidgen in measurement or execution can spell disaster. They are perceived as the engineers of the kitchen, spatulas and whisks lined up just so in their pristine baking kingdom. Pastry chefs tend to be exacting - because they have to be, but that doesn't mean they can't let their toques down when the time is right. Or take a snort or two as the soufflé rises.
Holly Ricciardi is a big fan of boozing it up in the kitchen. Ricciardi, of Drexel Hill, a consummate pie baker at her Philadelphia shop, Magpie Artisan Pie Boutique, finds baking with alcohol brings out a certain umami that isn't really about the taste of alcohol.
"It's not about making the pie taste boozy," she said. "It just brings out certain characteristics, enhances other flavor notes, and gives them more dimension."
Just like bitters add heft to a good cocktail, baking with booze gives a dessert added dimension. And Ricciardi, who bakes at home with a glass of wine or a Pisco sour close at hand ("at work, I keep my game face on") says it doesn't take a lot of alcohol to raise the bar.
"Our butterscotch bourbon pie is one of our best sellers, and people think there is a ton of bourbon in there. But there's only one tablespoon." She uses rum in her coconut cream pie, as well, finding that rum enhances the coconut flavor perfectly. "They're both found in the Caribbean, so it kind of makes sense."
One of her favorite holiday pies, from her cookbook Magpie: Sweets and Savories from Philadelphia's Favorite Pie Boutique, (Running Press, $27.50), is her no-bake eggnog pie with a gingersnap crust. "I use graham crackers as the base of the crust, and then add the elements of gingersnaps, dark-brown sugar, ginger, cloves, and black pepper, to give it that gingersnap flavor." Three tablespoons of rum (she likes Appleton from Jamaica) are added to the vanilla custard base, rich with cream, egg yolks, and a bit of butter. The result is a creamy, custardy rendition of the popular holiday sipper, with the spice of ginger coming from the crust.
An avid home baker, Nicole Palloux of Philadelphia is the go-to birthday cake producer for parties, and she entertains frequently at home.
"I bake something at least every week," she said. One of her favorite recipes is brown butter chocolate chip cake with bourbon caramel glaze, a recipe from one of her favorite food bloggers, Linda Lomelino. "It's time-consuming with multiple steps, but it's not hard," said Lomelino, who bakes to relax. "I like to turn my music on and have a glass of something while I bake. Lately, I've been drinking Carpano vermouth on the rocks with a slice of orange. It's light enough that you won't be drunk by the time you're done baking."
When he was growing up in the United Kingdom, Ashley James always had his granny's mincemeat pies at Christmastime. James, who has lived in Philadelphia for the last two years, working as culinary director for the Starr Catering Group, admits to having a liberal hand when it comes to spiking his vegetarian version of the savory dessert, a spicy mix of dried fruits, nuts, and citrus rind. "I use cognac, but sherry and rum doesn't go amiss, either," he said. James makes individual mincemeat tarts for entertaining around the holidays, although he's not averse to folding all the ingredients into one big pie. Instead of the bits of beef suet the recipe traditionally calls for, he just uses plenty of butter.
When he's turning out tarts, James likes to drink a good Manhattan made with fine bourbon and a craft vermouth. Dolin is a favorite. "A good vermouth has spicy and herbaceous notes which makes me think of the flavors in a mincemeat pie. My granny would serve a creamed sherry with her pie. That's not my favorite."
R2L pastry chef Peter Scarola likes baking with a glass of whiskey, bourbon, or rye neat during the cold-weather months and on the rocks when it's warm. "Or cold beer any time of year, especially an IPA or a Guinness," he said. His favorite holiday dessert is a rich chocolate cremeux, a dark, dense pudding topped with pears baked in a Dad's Hat Rye/maple syrup butter sauce bright with notes of vanilla and cinnamon.
If baking isn't your thing, you can still make a wow holiday dessert spiked with plenty of spirit. Do like Justin Holden at Village Whiskey does, and serve bourbon butterscotch milk shakes topped with whipped cream, an adult version of the favorite ice cream drink that will have sugarplums dancing in their heads in no time flat.
Makes 8 servings
For the pears:
4 firm, ripe Bosc pears
1/4 cup Dad's Hat rye whiskey (or other)
2 tablespoons maple syrup
3 tablespoons water
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cinnamon stick
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
2 tablespoons sugar
For the crémeux:
Few sprigs fresh thyme
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1 teaspoon butter
7 ounces heavy cream
7 ounces milk
4 egg yolks
4 tablespoons sugar
9 ounces 80 percent chocolate, melted over a double boiler
1/4 cup Dad's Hat rye whiskey (or other)
1. To make the pears: Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Peel the pears, slice them in half lengthwise, and remove their cores with a melon baller.
2. Combine the seeds from the vanilla bean with the sugar and a pinch of salt.
3. Coat the pears with the vanilla sugar and place cut side down in a baking dish or an 8-inch cake pan that has been coated with soft butter.
4. Pour the whiskey, maple syrup, water, vanilla pod and cinnamon stick over the pears. Dot with butter.
5. Bake until knife-tender, basting every 10 minutes or so. If the liquid starts to evaporate too much, add water one tablespoon at a time.
6. For the cremeux: In a saucepan, melt the butter and add the thyme and vanilla and cook until aromatic. Add the cream, milk, sugar, and yolks. Cook to 170 degrees, stirring constantly.
7. Strain and pour over the chocolate and leave to sit for a minute. Mix until combined and shiny, then add the whiskey.
8. Pour into a shallow pan and refrigerate until set, or divide among 8 dessert cups and allow to set in the refrigerator.
9. Once the chocolate crémeux is set (can be made 3 days in advance), place half a pear on top and drizzle some of the syrup and juices from the baking pan over the pears.
10. Top with toasted almonds or hazelnuts. Serve with a Dad's Hat rye whiskey, neat or on the rocks.
- From R2L pastry chef Peter Scarola
Per serving: 493 calories, 6 grams protein, 22 grams carbohydrates, 40 grams sugar, 28 grams fat, 165 milligrams cholesterol, 96 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber.
Makes 1 serving
2 large scoops good-quality vanilla ice cream
1 ounce jarred butterscotch topping, plus a little more for drizzling
1 ounce bourbon
1. Puree above in blender.
2. Drizzle inside of glass with more butterscotch. Pour milk shake and garnish with fresh whipped cream.
- From Justin Holden, GM Village Whiskey
Per serving: 411 calories, 5 grams protein, 51 grams carbohydrates, 28 grams sugar, 14 grams fat, 58 milligrams cholesterol, 205 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.EndText
Makes one 9-inch pie, or 8 servings
1 recipe Gingersnap Crust
21/2 cups whole milk, divided
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon table salt
4 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons Jamaican rum (Appleton's Special Gold)
2 teaspoons unflavored powdered gelatin
1 cup heavy cream
Lightly sweetened fresh whipped heavy cream
Freshly grated nutmeg
1. Prepare gingersnap crust. Chill the crust in the refrigerator while you make the filling.
2. Heat 21/4 cups of milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until steaming (don't boil). Keep warm over very low heat.
3. Whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a medium bowl. Add the egg yolks and whisk until the mixture is smooth and pale. Immediately measure out 1 cup of the hot milk and slowly add it to the yolk mixture, pouring it in a thin stream and whisking constantly.
4. Slowly add the tempered yolks to the hot milk in the saucepan, pouring in a thin stream and whisking constantly. Turn the heat under the saucepan up to medium and cook the mixture, whisking constantly, until it thickens to a pudding consistency and a few large bubbles rise to the surface, about 5 minutes. Once the bubbles appear, continue cooking the custard, whisking constantly, 2 more minutes.
5. Remove the pan from the heat. Add the butter, vanilla extract, and rum, whisking until the custard is smooth. Transfer to a bowl and set aside to cool slightly.
6. Sprinkle the gelatin across the surface of the remaining 1/4 cup milk and let soften 5 minutes.
7. Whisk the bloomed gelatin into the custard and set the bowl in the refrigerator to chill until cool, 15 to 20 minutes, whisking at 5-minute intervals to prevent the edges from setting.
8. Whip the heavy cream to medium peaks and fold it into the cooled custard in thirds, mixing the last third just until no white streaks remain.
9. Retrieve the gingersnap crust from the refrigerator and spoon the mousse into the prepared shell and smooth top.
10. Cover with plastic wrap and chill the pie overnight (at least 12 hours, or up to 3 days) before slicing and serving.
11. Serve cold with whipped cream and freshly grated nutmeg.
- From Holly Ricciardi owner/pastry chef Magpie
Per serving (based on 10): 417 calories, 5 grams protein, 41 grams carbohydrates, 31 grams sugar, 26 grams fat, 172 milligrams cholesterol, 271 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.EndText
Makes 1 piecrust, or 8 servings
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/4 teaspoons ground clove
1/8 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
6 tablespoons butter, melted
1. Whisk together the graham cracker crumbs, brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, clove, and black pepper in a medium bowl. Add the melted butter and 2 teaspoons water and blend with a fork or your fingers until the mixture holds together when squeezed.
2. Press the crumb crust in an even layer across the bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch pie pan.
3. Chill the crust for at least 15 minutes before filling.
Per serving: 147 calories, 1 gram protein, 14 grams carbohydrates, 8 grams sugar, 10 grams fat, 23 milligrams cholesterol, 134 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.
Makes 24 tarts
For the sweet crust:
21/4 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 whole eggs
11/4 cups butter,
1 beaten egg
1/4 cup powdered sugar
For the mincemeat:
3/4 cup currants
3/4 cup raisins
3/4 cup sultanas (if available)
3/4 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup mixed grated citrus peel
1 small apple, peeled, cored, finely grated
1 stick butter
1/2 cup whole blanched almonds, rough-chopped
1 cup light-brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon pumpkin spice
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Finely grated rind and juice of 1 lemon and 1 orange
1 cup brandy, rum, or sherry
1. For the crust: Gently cream the butter and sugar together, add the beaten eggs, then fold in the flour with a rubber spatula.
2. Form the dough into a ball, cover, and allow to rest for at least 30 minutes in the refrigerator.
3. Meanwhile, make the mincemeat. Measure all mincemeat ingredients except the alcohol into a large pan. Heat gently, allowing the butter to melt, then simmer very gently, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes.
4. Allow the mixture to cool completely, then stir in the brandy, rum, or sherry.
5. Once the dough has been chilled, roll half of it to 1/8-inch thick, cut into 24 3-inch circles with a cookie cutter.
6. Roll the other half of the dough to 1/8-inch thick, cut into 24 21/2-inch circles with a cookie cutter.
7. Gently press the 3-inch circles into a cupcake baking pan.
8. Fill each shell with 1 heaping teaspoon of mincemeat.
9. Gently wet the sides of the shell with water, then place the 21/2-inch dough on top and gently press the two pieces of dough together until they stick.
10. Place a single knife cut on the top of the dough.
11. Gently brush the tops with a little beaten egg.
12. Bake in a preheated 375-degree F oven for 15-20 minutes until golden brown. Dust the pies with powdered sugar and enjoy.
- From Ashley James, culinary director, Starr Catering Group
Per serving: 572 calories, 7 grams protein, 54 grams carbohydrates, 23 grams sugar, 36 grams fat, 156 milligrams cholesterol, 31 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.