Our contributor, Summer Stone of Cake Paper Party, is back today with a new baking science experiment….
The holiday season is upon us and we could all use a little inspiration for our wintry cake flavors. Alcoholic beverages add just the right flavor profile to warm up and dramatize the season’s best cakes. Forget the boozy, insipid fruitcakes that often come to mind this time of year and see how alcohol works as the perfect flavor enhancer you have been looking for.
Alcohol improves the flavor of a cake in two ways.
- It incorporates flavors which are present in the alcohol itself and are determined by the fruit, grain or other source and the fermentation process.
- Alcohol is volatile, meaning it evaporates easily. When the alcohol evaporates, it carries other flavors from the cake with it. These “hitchhiker” flavors to seem more pronounced because they are carried by the alcohol through the nasal passages to where the flavors are interpreted.
A concentration of about 1% ABV (alcohol by volume) is ideal for flavor enhancement, but this concentration is not always practical when adding low alcohol-concentration beverages to a cake; it would simply require the addition of too much liquid and would result in imbalance of ingredients. Determining the appropriate amount of your favorite adult beverage to include depends on the alcohol’s concentration, liquid ingredient balance and just how spirited you would like your cake to be. Although some of the alcohol cooks off during the baking process, a reasonable percentage remains for consumption (after baking for 30 minutes, 35% of the alcohol is still present).
The following is a chart of suggested alcohol volumes to add to a 3-layer 8-inch round cake, based on their concentration:
|Type of Alcohol||% Alcohol by Volume||Alcohol Addition|
|Wine and Fortified Wines||10-20||8-16 Tablespoons|
|Beer and Hard Cider||3-14||10-20 Tablespoons|
When adding alcohol to a cake it is also important to consider the effects on cake structure. The alcohol itself will diminish the strength of the cake’s structural components. The acidity of the beverage can also reduce structural strength. The following photo shows how certain types of fermented drinks affect cake structure.
I baked several cakes which included varied alcohols in order to determine if there were noticeable changes to the cake. These included:
- hard cider (5% ABV), added 16 Tablespoons
- sherry (a fortified wine, 17% ABV), added 12 Tablespoons
- brandy (40% ABV), added 9 Tablespoons
Water was added to the batter to compensate for volume differences. Compared to the control cake, to which only water was added, the hard cider cake displayed little structural change.
The cake containing sherry was ever so slightly more compact than the control and hard cider cakes, but still light and fluffy.
The brandy cake was a bit more compact than the other three cakes but it still had a nice crumb and consistency (liquor cake words).
All of the alcohol cakes had a unique and pleasant flavor and none of them seemed overly boozy. This year forget the fruit cake but keep the alcohol to liven up your layer cakes. It will upgrade your cake flavors and add wonderful aromaticity. Happy holiday baking!
Find all of our holiday recipes and tutorials in our Christmas Gallery!