Next-Level Baking: How To Booze Up Your Cakes

I’ve said before that I drink alcohol for the variety of tastes, but what I haven’t disclosed yet is that I am obsessed with putting booze into my cakes (also: I am obsessed with cake). Flavor matching is at the heart of mixing cocktails, and translating cocktail flavors into cake is basically the best party trick ever. This is some intermediate-level baking that we’re talking about, but I encourage you to try it because 1) practice makes perfect and 2) armed with this knowledge, you will be able to make the most spectacular cakes of your entire life.

Here are the foundational recipes I use when I’m assembling cakes:

  • Martha Stewart’s Genoise Recipe: Genoise is a thin sponge cake used in petit fours and European torte-style cakes. You can cook it on a jelly roll pan as the recipe suggests, or you can make thin layers of genoise in multiple round pans, which I recommend, because frosting a round cake is easier than frosting a rectangular cake.
  • The Kitchn’s Simple Syrup Recipe: Most bakeries keep their cakes moist by dousing them in simple syrup (and I mean dousing). Genoise has a tendency to get dry, so this is important for good texture.
  • Cake Journal’s Italian Meringue Buttercream Recipe: European buttercreams are made with meringue; Italian buttercream (IBC for short) is cooked meringue whipped with butter (other European buttercreams are made with uncooked meringue, which spoils easier). This looks and sounds very difficult, and I thought it would be the first time I made it too, but just read through all the instructions carefully and follow them exactly. This recipe will lead you step-by-step through to silky amazing IBC goodness, cross my heart!
  • Fillings: If you want to use a fruit filling (rather than filling the cake with buttercream), it’s super-easy – you cook chopped fresh or dried fruit with sugar and cornstarch that’s been mixed into water. Add more cornstarch-water if you want it thicker. Voilà!

There are four ways to get booze flavor into your cake without getting drunk while eating it: Cook it into the cake, cook it into the frosting, cook it into simple syrup, or cook it into your filling. Cooking it into the frosting or the simple syrup will give you the most unadulterated booze flavor, so I recommend you try that first. To do this, the process is the same either for the frosting or for the simple syrup, since IBC starts with cooking simple syrup: substitute booze for some of the water you use to make the syrup. I find that two or three shots is usually sufficient, but you can taste a spoonful of the syrup (carefully!) to decide for yourself.

Cooking booze into a fruit filling is also delicious, but you have to make sure the alcohol flavor will show up over the fruit flavor — I tried cooking Benedictine with apples once, and you could hardly taste the liquor. You also have to match the fruit and booze flavors, which is fun — just think about the cocktails you drink or the meals you prepare. I’ve matched strawberries and champagne, blueberries and amaretto, cherries and rum.

I know that there are recipes on the interwebz for boozy cakes that seem a lot simpler than this, but if your aim is to really taste the flavor of the alcohol, I guarantee you this is the best way. Besides, once you get the hang of it, it won’t feel complicated anymore!

Here are some successful flavor combinations I’ve made:

  • Absinthe and Amaretto Cake
    • Genoise: Add in orange zest
    • Simple Syrup: Amaretto
    • IBC: Absinthe
  • Malört Cake
    • Genoise: Add in rose water
    • Simple Syrup: Lemon and Malört
    • Filling: Dried apricots and Malört
    • IBC: Rosewater and Malört
  • Chartreuse Cake
    • Genoise: Add grapefruit zest
    • Simple Syrup: Chartreuse and grapefruit juice
    • IBC: Chartreuse
  • Maker’s Cake
    • Simple Syrup: Caramelize the syrup (cook until golden brown), add a little bit of butter and salt
    • IBC: Maker’s Mark

What combinations are you going to make? Comment below!

Rebecca Vipond Brink is a writer, photographer, and traveler. You can follow her at @rebeccavbrink or on her blog, Flare and Fade.