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Putting alcohol in a dessert seems like a great idea until you’re staring down a gut-bomb rum cake or sickly-sweet bourbon balls at a family dinner. When it comes to these classics, too much of two kinds of a good thing is less than wonderful. But a class of New York confectioners is injecting new life (and new kinds of booze) into established sweet treats, taking a page from the craft cocktail book to create liquor-infused delights that are, above all else, well-balanced.
The trend has its roots in shops like Sweet Revenge in the West Village, which specializes in pairing flights of wine or beer with cupcakes, cookies, and pies. Berries-and-cream cheesecake goes sweetly with a blueberry bellini or, for those who want to cut the sugar, a German wheat beer. The classically inclined can team up their chocolate chip cookie with an Italian moscato or an English chocolate stout. This growing crop of boozy bakers, though, sees added appeal not just in coupling liquor and treats, but in Frankenstein-ing entirely novel creations.
“We want it to be a cocktail and a dessert in one — very composed,” says Allison Kave of Butter and Scotch. Along with business partner Keavy Landreth, she’s been making tipsy treats since last January, first at various pop-up spots and now at a brick-and-mortar in Crown Heights. “We don’t see a huge difference in how you would go about balancing a cocktail and how you would compose a dessert. It’s a natural fit.”
Some of the most potent two-in-ones are spirit-drenched pies, including Butter and Scotch’s signature, the negroni. “[It’s] a dark-horse dessert that people are always surprised by because it’s super liquored-up and really tastes like a negroni,” says Kave. Similar in texture to a key lime pie, the custard is equal parts gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth. “It’s bracingly boozy in a way people don’t expect. We shave orange zest on top to echo the orange garnish on a typical negroni.”
While these confections won’t get you hammered, Leslie Feinberg of Prohibition Bakery on the Lower East Side agrees they’re not entirely benign. “People come in and we hear them telling each other, ‘Oh, all the alcohol’s baked off!’ ” she laughs. “That’s not totally right. We put liquor in the filling and the batter, so everything is definitely boozy.” Prohibition specializes in cupcake versions of classic drinks, from a summery Pimm’s cup to a whiskey-soaked, cherry-topped old-fashioned cupcake that could replace the real thing as a nightcap.
But if a buzz is what you seek, Tipsy Scoop founder Melissa Tavss might be your best bet. Clocking in at 5 percent ABV — similar to a PBR or a Yuengling — her $10.99 pints require ID. The creamy, liquor-infused flavors, which like Feinberg’s sweets are riffs on cocktails, range from strawberry-rhubarb bourbon to mango margarita sorbet. “The flavors of different liquors work really well with ice cream,” she says, “and unlike something like a rum cake, most of the alcohol doesn’t have to be burned off. It’s gotten very big very quickly. We’re at places like Whole Foods, and during high season I would say we sell about five thousand pints a week.” Alcohol-tinged ice cream treats are also evergreen favorites at Butter and Scotch. “We have all of these boozy shakes and floats, and those, to me, are that hybrid of what’s happening in the kitchen and behind the bar [coming] together in the best way,” says Kave.
Successful as they are, these bakers are still chasing elusive combinations. Feinberg says Prohibition has yet to master a michelada cupcake, but she’s still tinkering with the tomato-meets-beer-meets-batter concoction (whether anyone will want to eat it is another question). Kave would like to add a white russian variety to Butter and Scotch’s lineup of cocktail-inspired caramel corns, which already includes green-chile margarita and dark ‘n’ stormy, but that’s proved difficult. “We were using white chocolate to mimic the milk flavor, and it didn’t have much of a shelf life,” she says. “The popcorn was getting solid and stale, so we set it aside.”
There’s a point at which you have to wonder if maybe there are drinks and desserts that should stay in their own lane. But that’s not a line of thinking Kave indulges. Her work isn’t done until every deliciously spiked dream becomes an equally delicious reality. “Even though the white russian ingredients weren’t cooperating, it’s something I want to revisit,” she says, her voice lifting in excitement at the prospect. “It’s such a good idea, right?”