The Beginner’s Guide To Baking With Alcohol ft. Dutch Courage Cakes

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Buttery Nipple brownies dripping with a creamy butterscotch liqueur sauce. Dark, damp chocolate cake slathered in a rich, chocolatey Guinness icing. Rum-soaked raisins wedged in a thick slice of banana bread. Booze and cake, if you don’t already know it, go fabulous together. I mean, JUST LOOK:

3 variations of chocolate cakes
(Expresso Martini Cupcake, Buttery Nipple Brownies, Jack Daniels and Coke Cupcakes)

If you’re baking with alcohol for the first time, the whole thing can be daunting. What flavours compliment each other? What alcohol should I use? Will it all just end up being a soggy, squidgy mess stinking of stale vodka? If this sounds like you, then fear not. After a year of experimenting and partaking in a LOT of trial and error from my tiny kitchen at home, I’ve picked up a few tips on how to make the perfect selection of boozy baked goods. Read my top beginner’s tips and give it a go with my Rum, Coconut & Banana Drizzle Cake which is on SORTEDfood right now….

1. Play It Safe Before Emigrating To The Hard Stuff

I don’t mean pouring half a bottle of WKD into your Victoria Sponge before throwing in some 45% Rakı. Have a think about what kind of alcohol is creamy, sweet and could replace a standard cake flavour like vanilla, lemon or almond. Really get to know the flavour undertones of the different spirits and liqueurs out there, and then experiment with replacing a teaspoon of extract with a teaspoon of the alcohol. You’ll be surprised how a splash of dark rum intensifies the flavour of vanilla in a New York cheesecake or how half a can of Guinness can add a tangy, almost gingerbread flavour to a chocolate sponge. These ones are the ‘safest’ replacements to begin with:

VANILLA >>> Zaya Gran Reserva Rum

What is it?
Zaya Gran Reserva Rum is made up of 3-5 rums sourced from Trinidad and Tobago. The rums are aged in whiskey and bourbon oak barrels for at least 12 years, creating an intense vanilla flavour with slightly nutty undertones.
Best for?
New York Cheesecake
Rum ‘n’ Raisin Banana Bread
Vanilla Buttercream Fairy Cakes

LEMON >>> Crema di Limoncello Pronol

What is it?
Crema di Limoncello Pronol is particularly good because it contains grappa (a strong, grape-based Italian alcohol) instead of the traditional vodka. Grappa makes the taste of Crema di Limoncello much smoother, which is exactly what I want for lemony, cream-based desserts. It doesn’t take away the sharp, zesty tang from the lemons either.
Best for?
Lemon Drizzle Cake
Lemon Cheesecake

ALMOND >>> Disaronno Originale

What is it?
Disaronno Originale is a bittersweet Amaretto, which is a strong almond-flavoured Italian liqueur. Disaronno is probably the safest Amaretto to drink as it contains no almonds or nuts, yet still maintains that warm, herby, marzipan deliciousness.
Best for?
Cherry Bakewells
French Almond Cake

Cheesecake and Loaf strip
(Crema de Limoncello Cheesecake and Rum, Coconut & Banana Drizzle Cake)

2. Use Cocktails For Inspiration

Cocktails are made up of flavours which just work together, no matter how random. When you’re starting out, make a list of some classic cocktails and see for yourself what kind of ingredients are used and why. White rum, the clearest rum, has the lightest flavour and is used in a classic Mojito to compliment the mint and lime. It can also be used in a Pina Colada when you want the coconut and pineapple to be the main flavours in the drink. However, in this particular creamy cocktail, I prefer to use golden rum for its rich, sweet, caramel taste. Using Pina Colada ingredients is an excellent starting point for baking with alcohol because the combination of flavours- golden rum, coconut and pineapple- taste delicious together and are commonly used in loads of cake recipes.

Pina Colada Cupacke
(Pina Colada Cupcakes)

3. If In Doubt, Use Some Stout

I don’t like stout, but I love it in cake. It’s one of the easiest ways to give a cake a boozy kick because you can add it right at the beginning, usually at the butter-and-sugar stage. Make note of the different stouts and what they offer. Let’s take a chocolate fudge cake. You’re not pouring half a can of heated-up Guinness into the batter because you want it to taste like stout. You’re adding it because this particular stout (dry with warm tangy hints of malt and oats) enhances the flavour of the dark chocolate. Milk stout, meanwhile, is much sweeter and richer than a dry stout because it contains lactose. Using this in a chocolate fudge cake will cause each bite to be sickeningly sweet. So instead, use a milk stout, like Mackesons, in a dry, spicy cake to balance out flavours of ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg.

Chocolate Guiness Cake on a Cake Stand
(Guinness Chocolate Cake)

4. Just Soak Some Fruit

If you’re not quite ready to bake with booze, you can still follow some baby steps which make a world of difference. Next time you make banana bread, soak 100g of raisins in 100ml of a decent bourbon (I like Evan Williams for its strong, toasty, vanilla flavour) for about 30 minutes before chucking the raisins and the remaining rum into the banana bread mix at the end. The sweet, sticky raisins really compliment the flavour of the bananas. You can use dark rum here, too.

Another idea to try is making serving up an alcoholic fruity coulis to dip doughnuts in. For a strawberry Grand Marnier coulis, blitz about 200g of strawberries with a tablespoon of Grand Marnier and 85g of caster sugar in a blender. Pour in a jug, dip in a doughnut and enjoy! The orange tang from the brandy cuts the sugary sweetness from the strawberries and added sugar, so you get an almost spicy flavour rather than something which is overpoweringly sweet.

Donughts strip Ellie
(Vegan Doughnuts with Grand Marnier Coulis)

And that’s it! These are all essential tips to know when baking with alcohol for the first time- but do you know some more? If so, share your pearls of wisdom with me! Send any pictures of your bakes in using #sortedfood.

Ellie has an incredible talent and loves baking with booze. She’s always experimenting and discovering new ways to reinvent classic cake recipes with alcohol. Her kitchen is usually covered in flour and is filled with more bottles of spirits than you can shake a stick at.
Instagram @dutchcouragecakes
SORTEDfood: ellieholland