Lightly laced with flavored liquors, spirited cakes certainly are not for everyone and could possibly even be branded: "For Adults Only." Yet their popularity has increased tremendously in recent years. They entice one to indulge with such pleasurable sensations as the coolness of icy mint in creme de menthe, the soothing apple aroma in Calvados, the sweetness of raspberries in framboise. Contrast or pair compatible, flavored distilled spirits in a simple cake to create a dramatic and elegant Easter holiday dessert.
Cakes like the ones shown here provide more than just a graceful ending to a meal. Rich and decadent, a small bite sends your senses spinning as it melts in your mouth and excites and revives your palate. And that first bite inevitably lures you for a second taste--and more.
Although it may not give the same ethereal effect as a sip of brandy or liqueur, a spirited dessert cake is magnificently alive and rarely boring. Originally, liqueurs were concocted as mysterious remedial brews made from sweet fruits and berries, aromatic herbs, beans and petals by medieval monks. Now, however, new distilled spirits annually appear on the list of cremes, flavored brandies, herb and coffee liqueurs. And with each addition, somebody comes up with another idea for a liqueur dessert.
In cakes, as well as cheesecakes, souffles and mousses, liqueurs are added not to dominate but to complement the other flavors in the whole concoction.
"A liqueur is put in, not for a flavoring but as a taste enhancer," said Rose Levy Beranbaum, owner of Cordon Rose Cooking School in New York, food writer and consultant to the chocolate and baking industry. "I can't eat a dessert if it's full of alcohol . . . it's just too bitter for me."
Beranbaum's favorite liqueur is Kahlua; despite the fact that she's well known for her intricately designed cakes, Beranbaum's signature cake is the Chocolate Kahlua Oblivion Torte. "In my opinion, it is the most delicious way to eat chocolate," she said. A flourless "cake," it is mousselike with the rich substance and texture of chocolate truffles; indeed, a tiny bite of it goes a long way. "The flavor will depend on the type of chocolate used, but Kahlua makes a lovely complement," Beranbaum said.
The popular appeal of Kahlua and milk is replicated in the Kahlua Creme Anglaise that Beranbaum serves with the chocolate cake. "It is a cake that offers a kind of relief by not decorating and fussing with frosting," she said.
According to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States Inc., the popularity of cordials, liqueurs and other liquor has gone up tremendously during the 1980s. Based on the last trade figures given in 1985, close to 49 million gallons of domestic and imported cordials have entered trade channels, a 10-million increase from 1980. Significant are the fruit-flavored schnapps, a type of liqueur with less sugar and lower proof, which currently is favored by the baby boomers, according to Lynne Strang, spokeswoman for the council.
Dessert manufacturers are taking advantage of the consumer craze. A simple rum cake recipe has changed Graham Sutton's life. "The cake is the closest thing to legal drugs in the market," said the owner of Effie Marie Sutton Cakes in San Francisco as he referred to his rum butter cake laced with a rum butter glaze. What started out as a friendly sampling of his grandmother's turn-of-the-century cake recipe has now developed into a $3-million commercial success.
"Going through about 300 liters of Caribbean rum, 6,000 eggs and 720 pounds of butter a day, we've made half a million cakes in the past year and now have the potential for 2 million cakes this year," said Sutton, a former real estate developer who started turning out the cakes by the thousands in the ovens of unsold condominiums.
As much as he likes to enhance his noted pastries and cakes with liqueurs, French chef Michel Richard uses the alcoholic beverages with caution for the beautiful desserts he serves at his pastry shop and now in his recently opened restaurant in Los Angeles--Citrus. "In general, kids (of patrons) don't like alcohol," he says, "so I use lots of syrups and strained fruit purees with lime juice to soak the cakes."
How much liqueur should be added when baking cakes at home? Should the alcoholic spirit blend with the batter or be spooned on after baking? Sally Bleznack, public relations representative for Chambord and the new Royale Montaine liqueur as well as a home baker herself, recommends: "Often, you can work with a ratio of about one fourth to one third of liqueur substitution for the total liquid called for in the recipe. If a recipe calls for one-half cup liquid, use two tablespoons of liqueur and six tablespoons of the liquid." Bleznack also believes in brushing cakes like genoise, for instance, with liqueur after baking to keep them moist.