Cakes With Spirit

Times Staff Writer

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.

Guarding a family baking secret because his business is so new, Sutton declared: "One of the reasons our rum cakes are so tasty is that we add the rum to the batter and do boil out a lot of the alcohol during baking and another process. I recommend that they (home bakers) go ahead and do the same but at the same time compensate for the flavor loss by adding flavoring extracts."

JUMP STARTS HERE Sutton also believes in dousing the cake, which he bakes in a convection oven, with the alcohol after baking. "But do it slowly, in stages, allowing the flavors to mellow," he advised.

Sharon Tyler Herbst, author of "Simply Sensational Desserts" (HP Books), said: "I really do think you need the liqueur in the cake batter for texture and flavor. Some people don't know when to stop when they sprinkle or soak the cake after baking so they end up with a soggy cake."

The raspberry-flavored Chambord liqueur is Herbst's favorite, next to rum. "I quite like Chambord because it doesn't lose itself in baking," she said, "and rum, which comes from cane sugar, is so rare and perfect with its wonderfully subtle sweetness."

Soak Cake in Syrup

On the other hand, Michel Richard says: "In baking with the liqueur you have nothing left. I prefer to soak or macerate the cake in syrup. I use two-thirds syrup and one-third alcohol." Fond of Baba au Rhum (savarin), rum-raisin cake and mandarin-orange liqueurs, Richard leans toward sponge-type cakes with hints of lemon or almond. "They're very moist; as a sponge, they soak in more syrup and have no butter or fat."

Clay Wollard, food consultant to the industry, recommends mixing heavy liquors like Scotch, bourbon rye whiskeys and Drambuie with heavier-type cakes, and light liqueurs with light-textured cakes like angel-food or sponge. He sees a trend in desserts using eau de vie, a true fruit brandy that doesn't leave a bitter taste, yet provides a wonderful, intense fruit essence.

Another baker who prefers to add the liqueur after baking is Beranbaum, who just finished writing the last page of her cookbook called "The Rose Levy Beranbaum Cake Book" (William Morrow, scheduled for publication in spring 1988). "I usually don't add the liqueur in the cake batter, especially those made with flour, as so much evaporates during baking," she said.

In her Chocolate Baked Alaska Frangelico, Beranbaum uses a Chocolate biscuit base, which is a butterless genoise. The two biscuit layers are sprinkled with syrup made with Frangelico, which is also used in the delicious Chocolate Praline Ice Cream. The magical illusion about Baked Alaska, of course, is that the ice cream filling doesn't melt when the outer meringue covering is briefly subjected to 500 degrees in the oven. If the cake and ice cream base are frozen a day or two in advance before sealing with the meringue, feel confident that the ice cream will not melt. In fact, we found it a must to let the dessert sit for several minutes to get that luscious creamy feeling in the mouth and mellowed flavor tones.

Success for Baking Firm

With the widening consumer interest in spirited desserts, success is just beginning for Perfect Endings, the largest producer of gourmet liqueur-based cakes in the industry. Two of its best sellers are the robust-tasting, succulent Irish whiskey cake and the Amaretto Cake. Not far behind are chocolate-Cointreau cakes and the Chambord cake with rare black Burgundian raspberries.

For the more daring, Perfect Ending's bundt-shaped cakes are generously spiked with popular commercial liqueurs that the company is licensed to use. "Each cake has its own personality," said Ron Solovitz, owner of Perfect Endings. "Working with Pillsbury Co., we've formulated each cake to complement each liqueur used . . . some cakes may use butter, some require margarine . . . depending on what works best." Technically, stronger flavors can overwhelm the rich taste of butter; remember also that vegetable shortenings can provide a fluffier and more tender texture.

In addition to satisfying liqueur-craving enthusiasts, both Perfect Endings and Sutton Cakes bank on the appeal of these exquisitely packaged cakes for gift-giving during holidays. "We've replaced the fruitcake," Solovitz said. "People now have a substitute for candy," Sutton said. "Through the miracle technology of vacuum packaging and with the liqueur acting as a preservative, the cakes store up to nine months unrefrigerated and for two years refrigerated or frozen."

Another beautiful offering is a recipe that we developed in The Times' test kitchen from an old Spanish-Filipino concoction originally called " tocino cake." Amber-glazed in caramel when unmolded, a flan-like base is layered with an orange chiffon cake batter and the combination is baked together. Naturally, we spiked it with Grand Marnier (you can substitute rum or tequila) and it became an instant hit.

Liqueur in Topping

If the cake itself isn't macerated with liqueur, the topping could be. Our discovery of Royale Montaine, a smooth, Cognac-based orange liqueur from France that's just being introduced in Southern California, led to Royale Dark Chocolate Cake that tasters went wild over. The addition of liqueur in the satiny chocolate glaze must have done the trick.

A flambed dessert utilizing liqueurs is another spectacular dinner finale. To be successful, use a higher-proof spirit (brandy, rum, Sherry, Madeira, Cointreau or Grand Marnier) and warm it carefully first in a pan, then flame it and pour, flaming, over the dish, which should also be hot.

You also can't go wrong with a liqueur-laced whipped cream, and nothing could be prettier and more spring-like than an embellishment of strawberries or mixed seasonal fresh fruits that are steeped in liqueurs.

Another thing to remember, according to Herbst, is that when you substitute liqueurs, particularly the sweet cremes, cut back on the sugar a bit. (Liqueurs are required to contain a minimum of 2 1/2% added sugar.) I agreed with her final advice: "Never limit yourself with the same flavors . . . there is no right or wrong; be adventurous and do whatever works." But most important of all, since too much alcohol can ruin flavor, she said, "Don't go overboard!"

TROPICAL RUM CAKE

3 eggs

1 cup oil

1 3/4 cups sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 (1-pound 4-ounce) can crushed pineapple in heavy syrup

1/4 cup dark rum

3 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup toasted shredded coconut

Rum Glaze

Shredded coconut for garnish, optional

Beat eggs in bowl until light. Mix in oil, sugar and vanilla. Continue beating until thick and foamy. Drain pineapple, reserving juice for glaze. Stir pineapple and rum into egg mixture.

Blend flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and toasted coconut. Stir into pineapple mixture just until all ingredients are mixed. Turn into greased 10-inch bundt pan or individual brioche pans. Bake at 350 degrees 50 to 60 minutes for bundt, 30 to 35 minutes for brioche. Spoon Rum Glaze over cake and garnish with shredded coconut. Makes 8 servings.

Rum Glaze

Reserved pineapple syrup

2 tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons cornstarch

2 tablespoons dark rum

1 tablespoon butter

Blend reserved pineapple syrup, sugar, cornstarch and rum in small saucepan. Boil, stirring, until thickened and clear. Stir in butter. Cool 5 minutes.

GRAND MARNIER FLAN CAKE

1 cup sugar

4 egg yolks

2 eggs

1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk

3/4 cup half and half

1 teaspoon grated orange peel

1/4 cup Grand Marnier

Cake Batter

Fresh fruit in season

Caramelize 1/2 cup sugar in heavy skillet or saucepan. Quickly pour into 3-quart oval-shape baking dish, covering bottom evenly.

In bowl, beat together egg yolks, eggs, remaining 1/2 cup sugar, condensed milk, half and half, orange peel and 1 tablespoon Grand Marnier. Turn into caramel-lined dish.

Prepare Cake Batter. Gently spoon over flan mixture. Place dish in larger pan and pour in hot (not boiling) water to come halfway up sides of baking dish. Bake at 325 degrees 1 hour or until cake is done. Cool on rack. Spoon over remaining 3 tablespoons liqueur. Chill, covered, until ready to serve.

Invert onto serving platter and garnish with berries, oranges or other fresh fruit. Makes 10 to 12 servings.

Cake Batter

3/4 cup sifted cake flour

1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 egg yolks

3 tablespoons oil

1 tablespoon Grand Marnier

3 tablespoons orange juice

3 egg whites

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Sift together flour, 1/4 cup sugar, baking powder and salt in small bowl. Make well in center and add yolks, oil, liqueur and orange juice. Stir until blended, starting from center.

Beat egg whites with cream of tartar until foamy. Gradually add remaining 1/4 cup sugar and beat until stiff but not dry. Gently fold batter into whites.

CHOCOLATE-KAHLUA OBLIVION TORTE

1 pound semisweet chocolate

1/2 pound unsalted butter

3 tablespoons Kahlua

6 eggs

Kahlua Creme Anglaise

Wrap outside of 8-inch springform pan with double layer foil. Butter inside of pan and line with parchment or wax paper. In large bowl suspended over hot water, combine chocolate and butter, stirring occasionally, until smooth and melted. Stir in Kahlua and remove from hot water.

In large mixing bowl suspended over simmering water, place eggs and stir constantly until warm to touch. Remove from heat. Beat with electric mixer until eggs are tripled in volume, about 5 minutes.

Using large whisk, fold eggs into Kahlua mixture in 2 stages until uniform. (Work quickly since chocolate deflates eggs.) Pour into prepared pan and place in larger roasting pan with hot water. Smooth top. Bake at 425 degrees 15 minutes, covering loosely with greased foil after first 5 minutes of baking. (Cake is done even when it shakes.)

Let stand in pan at room temperature 1 hour, then chill 45 minutes. Remove sides of springform. Chill about 3 hours. Invert onto plate lined with plastic wrap. Remove bottom of springform and invert again onto serving plate. Cut with wet knife. Serve at room temperature with Kahlua Creme Anglaise. Makes 12 to 16 servings.

Note: Cake keeps well, wrapped airtight, for 3 weeks in refrigerator.

Kahlua Creme Anglaise

3 tablespoons sugar

Dash salt

3 egg yolks

1 cup milk

1/4 cup Kahlua

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Whisk sugar, salt and egg yolks in small, heavy, non-aluminum saucepan until well blended. In small saucepan, scald milk. Whisking constantly, gradually add yolk mixture.

Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until just before boiling point (170 degrees). Mixture will be slightly thicker than cream. Strain and cool. Stir in Kahlua and vanilla.

CHOCOLATE BAKED ALASKA FRANGELICO

Chocolate Biscuit

Frangelico Syrup

Chocolate Praline Ice Cream

Italian Meringue (Chocolate or Plain)

Sprinkle Chocolate Biscuit layers with Frangelico Syrup using 1 tablespoon syrup for each layer. Place 1 layer in bottom of 8-inch springform pan.

Spoon softened Chocolate Praline Ice Cream on top and smooth evenly with spatula. Press second biscuit layer on top. Cover with foil and freeze 24 hours before unmolding. Wrap sides of pan with warm, damp towel to loosen from pan.

Place cake on baking sheet. Immediately frost with Italian Meringue using back of spoon, or pipe with pastry bag using large star tube, sealing in entire cake.

Bake at 500 degrees 3 to 5 minutes or until meringue begins to brown on ridges. Slice cake and allow to sit a few minutes before serving. Makes 12 servings.

Chocolate Biscuit

3 tablespoons Dutch-processed cocoa

2 tablespoons boiling water

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

3 eggs

1 egg yolk

1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

1/4 cup sifted cake flour

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Grease 2 (9-inch) cake pans and line bottoms with parchment paper, then grease and flour paper.

Combine cocoa with boiling water in small bowl. Stir until smooth. Stir in vanilla.

Separate 2 whole eggs, placing yolks in large mixing bowl and whites in another. To yolks add additional yolk, remaining whole egg and 1/3 cup sugar. Beat on high speed until thick, fluffy and tripled in volume, about 5 minutes.

Beat cocoa mixture into egg yolks. Sift flour over mixture, then gently fold in with wire whisk.

Beat egg whites until foamy. Add cream of tartar, beating until soft peaks form. Add remaining 2 tablespoons sugar, beating until stiff peaks form when beater is lifted.

Fold egg whites into cocoa mixture. Immediately pour into prepared pan, tilting pan to level batter. Bake at 450 degrees 7 minutes or until just beginning to brown, or until cake tester comes out dry and cake is springy to touch. Loosen and unmold onto parchment or wax paper (when cake is hot, wax paper nicely peels off top crust). Cake will be slightly higher at center than on sides.

Frangelico Syrup

3 tablespoons water

1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon Frangelico liqueur

Combine water and sugar in small saucepan with tight-fitting lid and bring to full, rolling boil, stirring constantly. Immediately cover and remove from heat. Cool completely, covered. Transfer to liquid measuring cup and stir in liqueur.

Chocolate Praline Ice Cream

4 ounces semisweet chocolate

1/3 cup praline paste, optional

2/3 cup milk

1/3 cup sugar

Dash salt

5 egg yolks

2 cups whipping cream

1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, or 1 teaspoon vanilla

2 tablespoons Frangelico liqueur

Place chocolate and praline paste in food processor and process until chocolate is in fine pieces. Bring milk to boiling. With motor on, add milk to chocolate mixture, processing until smooth. Leave mixture in processor. In small, heavy, non-aluminum saucepan, stir together sugar, salt and yolks until well blended, using wooden spoon.

In another small saucepan, heat cream and vanilla bean to boiling. (If using vanilla extract, wait and add with liqueur.) Stir a few tablespoons into yolk mixture and gradually add remainder, stirring constantly. Heat mixture just until boiling, 170 degrees. Steam will begin to appear and mixture will leave well-defined track when finger is run across back of spoon. Immediately remove from heat and pour into chocolate mixture.

Remove vanilla bean and scrape seeds from center of bean into mixture. Process until mixture is smooth, then transfer to bowl. Cool mixture in ice water bath or chill. Stir in liqueur and vanilla extract, if using. Freeze in ice cream maker according to manufacturer's directions. (Cold mixture produces finer ice crystals.)

Note: Praline paste is available through mail order: Call Maison Glass in New York at: 1-800-U-CALL-MG (822-5564).

Italian Meringue

(Chocolate or Plain)

1 1/4 cups plus 3 tablespoons sugar

1/3 cup water

4 egg whites

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and slightly cooled

2 drops red food color, optional

Have ready 2-cup glass measure. In small heavy saucepan with non-stick lining, stir together 1 1/4 cups sugar and water. Heat, stirring constantly, until sugar dissolves and mixture is bubbly. Stop stirring and reduce heat to lower setting. If using electric range, remove from heat.

In mixing bowl, beat egg whites until foamy. Add cream of tartar, beating until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in remaining 3 tablespoons sugar until stiff.

Return syrup to heat. Raise heat and continue cooking until mixture reaches 248 to 250 degrees on candy thermometer (firm ball). Immediately remove from heat and pour into glass measure. (If too hot, meringue will not stiffen.)

If using hand-held mixer, beat hot syrup into whites in steady stream and avoid touching metal beaters so that syrup doesn't spin on sides of bowl. If using mixer on stand, start by pouring in small amount of mixture with mixer off, then immediately put mixer on high speed. Stop mixer and add large amount of syrup, repeating with remaining syrup. For last addition, use rubber scraper to remove syrup. Stop beating and quickly incorporate chocolate and red food color. Immediately pipe using pastry bag or spread with back of spoon.

To make plain Italian Meringue, use same ingredients except use 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar and 1/4 cup water. Reduce speed to medium. Meringue can be held at room temperature or refrigerated, then later beaten again but not too long.

DOUBLE CHOCOLATE CAKE WITH AMARETTO

4 (1-ounce) squares unsweetened chocolate

1/2 cup butter or margarine

7/8 cup hot water

2 cups sifted cake flour

2 cups sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup sour cream

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

2 eggs, beaten

1 cup semisweet chocolate chunks or pieces

6 tablespoons amaretto

1 teaspoon almond extract

1 1/2 cups whipped cream, about

1 cup sliced strawberries

Chocolate Glaze

1/4 cup chopped almonds

Melt unsweetened chocolate in top of double boiler over hot water. Combine butter and hot water in small saucepan. Bring to boil. Stir in melted chocolate.

Resift flour with sugar and salt. Pour chocolate mixture into flour mixture all at once. Blend well. Mix in sour cream, vanilla and baking soda. Stir in beaten eggs to blend. Fold in semisweet chocolate chunks, 2 tablespoons amaretto and almond extract.

Turn into 2 greased 9-inch layer cake pans. Bake at 350 degrees 30 minutes or until cake is done. Spoon remaining 4 tablespoons amaretto on cake layers. Cover and let stand to cool.

Combine 1 cup whipped cream with sliced strawberries. Fill between cake layers and frost with Chocolate Glaze. Garnish top border with remaining 1/2 cup whipped cream. Sprinkle center with chopped almonds and garnish with more strawberries, if desired. Makes 8 to 12 servings.

Chocolate Glaze

1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk

1/3 cup cocoa powder

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 tablespoons butter

Blend condensed milk and cocoa in medium saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring frequently, until thickened and of spreading consistency. Stir in vanilla and butter. Use immediately.

ROYALE DARK CHOCOLATE CAKE

1 1/2 cups unsalted butter

1 pound semisweet chocolate

7 eggs, separated

1 1/2 cups sugar

3/4 cup flour

1/4 cup Royale Montaine Fine Cognac and Orange Liqueur

Icing

Melt butter and chocolate over very low heat, stirring with wooden spoon. Cool. Beat egg yolks until light and lemon colored, about 5 minutes. Gradually add sugar.

Combine melted chocolate and egg yolk mixture. Fold in flour. Add liqueur. Beat egg whites until stiff but not dry, then fold into chocolate mixture.

Divide batter into 2 (9-inch) buttered and floured layer cake pans and bake at 325 degrees 35 minutes. Cool, then fill and frost with Icing. Makes 10 servings.

Icing

1 pound chocolate

1 cup unsalted butter

3 tablespoons Royale Montaine Fine Cognac and Orange Liqueur

Melt chocolate and butter over very low heat, whisking until smooth. Remove from heat and add liqueur. Cool until thickened.

Food styling by MINNIE BERNARDINO and DONNA DEANE / Los Angeles Times

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