Cooking With Booze: A Spirited Christmas

Cooking With Booze: A Spirited Christmas

As the season gets more festive, bakers around the country begin to delve into the booze cupboard… and some of it goes into the food. Christmas baking doesn’t need to be limited to rum balls, sherry custard and brandy-soaked pudding. Traditionally festive alcohols like rum, whiskey and bourbon lend themselves to a wealth of recipes, adding complexity and a kick to holiday desserts. So go on, give it a shot.


Of all the spirits and liqueurs, bourbon is one of the most versatile in the kitchen. Distilled from mostly corn, bourbon is aged for at least two years in new charred oak barrels. During this process, the bourbon picks up notes of vanilla and caramel. It also acquires a buttery richness – a characteristic that make it a perfect partner for traditional Christmas ingredients such as dried fruits, nuts and chocolate. It’s also a great partner for the fresh flavours Australians crave in the hot weather, such as apples and pears.

“Bourbon is a great spirit to use because the flavour complements desserts,” says Kirsten Murray, who has worked as a pastry chef at some of New York’s best restaurants, including Aquavit.

“I like to use bourbon in my beignet batter with soda water. The alcohol burns off and the batter is incredibly light.”

However, as The Oregon Live food writer Danielle Centoni warns, bourbon’s ability to be amenable to so many different flavours can be a double-edged sword and there are certainly tricks to baking with it.

“You know that feeling of having one too many? It can happen to your food too. Too much booze and the flavour is hot, harsh and overpowering. Too little and, well, what’s the point?” she says.

In short, you want to taste the bourbon, but only just. Here are some things to keep in mind, which Danielle says will help bakers strike the right balance.

“For cakes that don’t have a lot of liquid in them, balance out the addition of bourbon with additional flour or butter,” she says, quoting Booze Cakes co-author Krystina Castella.

“To add the flavour of bourbon to a dessert without adding the harshness of the alcohol, try reducing it on the stove first. This trick is especially useful for things that don’t get cooked, like panna cotta or frostings, in which the alcohol won’t otherwise have a chance to burn off. This also works well for pies that don’t have as much fat as cakes to soften the harshness.

“Some bourbons have a sweet, smooth profile, others are a little spicy. Generally the smoother, sweeter bourbons are a better choice for baking. But whatever you choose, be sure it’s a good-quality brand with lots of flavour.”

At the end of the day, if it’s not something you’d want to drink, you won’t want it in your baking.

Recipe adapted from Bon Appétit, originally published by Epicurious.

Makes 8 servings

This crumble-topped pie showcases the flavours of an Old Fashioned cocktail. There’s something special about fresh cherries, especially at Christmas. For the time poor, however, jarred sour cherries (such as dark morello cherries) can save hours of de-pitting.

For the crumble:
• ½cup oats
• ¼ cup all-purpose flour
• ¼ cup (packed) light brown sugar
• ¼ cup sliced almonds
• ½ tsp kosher salt
• ¼ cup (½ stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces

For the pie:
• Non-stick vegetable oil spray
• 1 pie crust, homemade or store-bought
• About 6 cups of pitted sour cherries drained well
• ¾ cup sugar• ¼ cup bourbon (such as Bulleit Bourbon or Maker’s Mark)
• 3 tbsp cornstarch
• 2 tbsp fresh orange juice
• 1 tbsp finely grated orange zest

For the crumble:
Whisk all ingredients except butter in a medium bowl until no lumps of sugar remain. Rub butter into oat mixture with your fingertips until it’s completely incorporated. If butter begins to soften while mixing, chill mixture to firm it up, about 15 minutes (cold butter ensures a flaky, tender crumble). Cover and chill crumble up to 5 days ahead.

For the pie:
1. Preheat oven to about 176°C. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil; lightly coat with nonstick spray (for easy cleanup in case the pie bubbles over) and set aside. Line pie dish with crust and crimp edges decoratively. Place pie dish on prepared baking sheet.
2. Combine cherries and remaining five ingredients in a large bowl. Using a rubber spatula, gently mix until cherries are coated and mixture is evenly distributed.
3. Pour cherries into pie crust and top evenly with crumble. Bake until pie crust and centre of crumble are deep golden brown and juices from cherries are bubbling and look thickened, 1¼–1½ hours. (The juices will begin to ooze out of crust and onto foillined sheet.) Let pie cool for at least two hours at room temperature to allow filling to set properly. Cover and let stand up to one day at room temperature.



Traditionally, port is cracked open in the cold weather. But, despite the balmy weather, port is one of the English Christmas traditions many Aussie’s just can’t break with.

Port naturally lends itself to Christmas cakes. Forr those who want to branch out and create a decadently rich dessert with a contemporary touch, however, throw in a dash or two in a pudding, along with figs, cranberries or chocolate.

Recipe adapted from The Poison Doughnut.

• 375g currants• 375g raisins
• 350g pitted prunes, cut up with scissors
• 250g mixed peel
• 200g nuts (I suggest walnut)
• 1 cup port, (adding a splash of frangelico, madeira or cointreau is optional, according to taste)
• 250g dark chocolate
• 250g unsalted butter, cut into cubes
• 1 tbsp vanilla essence
• 1 tbsp mixed spice
• 1 tbsp nutmeg
• 1 tbsp cinnamon
• 1 cup dark brown sugar
• 4 eggs
• Grated rind and juice of an orange
• 1/3 cup treacle or golden syrup
• 1½ cups plain flour
• ½ cup self-raising flour
• 100g approx blanched whole almonds (optional)
• Additional ¼ cup of port to pour

1. Pour port over the currants, raisins, peel and prunes in a large bowl. Leave it to macerate for a few hours, or overnight is even better. Mix occasionally.
2. Preheat your oven to slow, about 160°C. Line the base and sides of a deep 23cm round tin with two layers of baking paper, bringing it a good 5cm above the rim of the tin.
3. Put butter in electric mixer and beat until pale yellow. Add vanilla and beat again, then add sugar and beat until light and creamy. Add the eggs one by one and beat well after each one.
4. Add the creamed butter mixture to the fruit. Add the rind, juice and treacle and stir. Sift the dry ingredients and add to bowl, along with chopped up chocolate and nuts. Get a strong wooden spoon and stir with all your might until the cake mixture is just combined.
5. Spoon the mixture evenly into the tin. Tap the tin on the bench to settle it. Wet your hand under the tap and smooth out the surface of the cake. At this point I like to decorate the top with the blanched almonds in a star or lace pattern.
6. Wrap the tin in a double thickness of brown paper, right around the outside, and secure it with string or a paperclip. Bake it for about three to three-and-a-half until you think it is suitably cooked. Remove the cake, pour over the extra port and wrap it in a thick clean towel. Don’t unwrap it until the cake is completely cold – this usually takes about 24 hours.



This Christmas, ditch the fruit cake and consider pina colada cupcakes, coconut daiquiri cake, or spiced rum and raisin brownies.

Originally from the West Indies, but now made throughout the world, rum has a thick, sweet, mellow taste that has made it a perennial favourite for baking. It comes in several versions; which one you choose depends on how “rummy” you like your cakes.

“The type of rum will be specified in recipes, but feel free to try others, including spiced rum to add aromatic spices, and flavoured rums, such as those infused with coconut or fruits, like lemon, peach and orange,” says Krystina Castella and Terry Lee Stone in their book Booze Cakes.

“White or silver rum is clear and dry tasting, while gold or amber rum has caramel undertones and a richer taste. Aged, dark rum has a fuller body and will give a stronger flavour and aroma to baking.”

Recipe adapted from Sugar Bomb Bakery.Editor’s note: To be accurate, this is a spiced rum cupcake with fresh mint and lime buttercream – but “mojito cupcake” sounds much more festive and refreshing for an Australian Christmas celebration. A white spiced rum, such as that released by Captain Morgan will stay more true to the mojito cocktail recipe, rather than a dark spiced rum.

• 1¼ cups all-purpose flour
• 2 tbsp arrowroot powder (or cornstarch)
• ¾ tsp baking powder
• ½ tsp baking soda
• ¼ tsp salt
• 1 cup almond milk
• 1 tsp white vinegar
• 1/3 cup canola oil
• ¾ cup white sugar
• 3 tbsp spiced rum [Sugar Bomb Bakery uses Sailor Jerry’s]

1. Preheat the oven to 175°C. Line your muffin tin with liners that somehow evoke mojitos. Maybe something tropical, or something lime green.
2. In a large bowl, combine the flour, arrowroot, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk this mixture together for about 30 seconds, to make sure it’s evenly mixed.
3. Pour the almond milk into a glass measuring cup and add the vinegar to it. Let this mixture sit a few minutes, until the almond milk looks slightly curdled.
4. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the oil and sugar until very well combined. Add the rum. Now beat in the curdled almond milk.
5. Slowly pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture and beat with a whisk until the batter looks very smooth. Don’t worry about over-mixing; it’s better to beat it until there are no lumps left.
6. Fill your baking cups two-thirds of the way full with batter (usually about a scant quarter cup of batter per cupcake).
7. Bake at 175°C for 20 minutes or until it feels ready. This is a moist cake mixture, so a few crumbs on the toothpick are fine.

• ¼ cup dark rum
• 3 tbsp granulated sugar• ½ tsp vanilla
• 2 tsp margarine

1. Simmer together the rum and sugar until the sugar is full dissolved, and let cook together for a minute longer.
2. Pull off heat and mix in the vanilla and margarine until the margarine is melted.
3. Drizzle a tiny bit (maybe half-a-teaspoon) over the top of each cooled cupcake.
4. Place cupcakes in the refrigerator or freezer to let the glaze set up a little.

• One bunch fresh mint
• 1-3 tablespoons lime juice
• ¼ cup non-hydrogenated shortening
• ¼ cup margarine• 2½ cups confectioner’s sugar• Fresh limes, sliced very thinly
• Paper straws, cut into one inch segments (you can find paper straws here)

Editor’s note: Australian Baking Business assumes readers know how to make frosting. To read Sugar Bomb Bakery’s recipe, go to Sugarbombbakeryblog.wordpress.

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