Classy Desserts: Just Add Booze
Every so often, as I’m cooking a pot of curried lentils or loading my shopping cart with turbinado sugar, I find myself reflecting on the things I ate when I was a kid. Chicken fingers, pizza bagels, peanut butter and fluff sandwiches, tater tots – ah yes, the things that childhood dreams and bar mitzvah buffets are made of. Not that I really want to eat any of those things ever again (well, maybe the peanut butter and fluff), but still, they bring to mind a certain contentment with the cheap and simple that I find rather elusive these days.
Yes, now that I’m a grown-up (job: check, bills: check, inexplicable desire to go to bed before 11pm: check), I’m done with all of that kid stuff. My preferred pizza is blistered, irregularly-shaped, and topped sparingly with heirloom tomatoes and farm-fresh cheese, I’ve managed to swap out French fries for oven-roasted fingerlings, and chicken fingers haven’t seen the inside of my freezer since the year I dressed up as Scary Spice for Halloween.
But sometimes, eating grown-up food – like paying rent and going to bed before 11pm – just isn’t that cool. I find this to be particularly true when it comes to dessert. Now, I like soufflés and ganache just as much as the next hedonistic yuppie, but honestly, sometimes sweets are just best simple. Chocolate chip cookies, brownies, and ice cream sundaes with hot fudge all bring to mind one immortal word: gimme.
My approach to this kind of kid food is to put aside pretense and give in. Sometimes, I don’t want a stupid olive oil cake with poached quince compote. I want some freaking chocolate ice cream, and I want it now. But there is a middle ground, which comes in handy when I’m doing something “grown-up” like throwing a dinner party or having the neighbors over for dessert. Enter booze: perhaps the best thing to ever happen to grown-up desserts (if not to grown-ups, period).
Booze serves two purposes when it comes to cooking: it places food securely on the grown-up side of things, and it makes it really, really good. Take bourbon, for example. It complements chocolate, vanilla, and almost everything in between. Homemade vanilla ice cream with a good glug of bourbon stirred into the custard will be an absolute show-stopper at any dinner party, I assure you. And if homemade ice cream seems scary, why not just pour a shot of the stuff over a scoop of your favorite super-premium brand? If you are really feeling decadent, try a grown-up brownie sundae: homemade brownies made with a dash of bourbon or amaretto, and a hefty scoop of boozy, homemade ice cream on top.
For fruity desserts, grand marnier, calvados, and Poire Williams are quite lovely to enhance flavor. And don’t forget rum, whiskey, and brandy. Put booze in cakes, frostings, custards, puddings – seriously, you can’t go wrong.
If you’re feeling a little skittish about vamping up the comforting treats of your childhood, though, start with the recipe below. It’s a favorite of mine that turns a classic s’more into something truly sophisticated. Serve it to guests, serve it to your in-laws, or hell, just whip some up and eat it in bed before passing out at 10pm on a Wednesday. Nobody will stop you. You’re a grown-up, after all.
10-15 graham crackers, store-bought or homemade
20 marshmallows, store-bought or homemade
6 oz. good-quality semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate, broken into pieces (45-70% cacao, depending on how sophisticated you’re feeling)
1 c. coffee, cooled
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