You are what you eat & drink

Cakes and ale

Yotam Ottolenghi’s irresistible alcohol-soaked puds

A proper boozy soak is an assured way of introducing an incredible depth of flavour without any hassle

Yotam Ottolenghi’s stewed blackberries with bay custard and gin recipe: ‘I smother late summer puddings with alcohol.’ Photograph: Colin Campbell for the Guardian

For me, the end of childhood came when the number of candles on my birthday cake no longer reflected my age, around 19 or 20. From then on, each candle came to represent an entire decade. And then there comes a point where you ditch the candles entirely in favour of an ingredient that allows you to simply set the whole cake on fire: booze. It’s a brilliant short cut. No need to purchase, count out and arrange all those candles: just sprinkle on some Grand Marnier or brandy, strike a match and let the festivities begin.

It’s also a short cut when it comes to flavour. A proper boozy soak introduces an incredible depth of flavour. It has the same effect as a good stock or grated parmesan: you benefit from the slow maturation and intensified aromas without having to work very hard or wait particularly long.

When it comes to late summer puddings, I smother my desserts with alcohol. As well as giving a dish a sense of occasion, the sweetness offsets the tartness of the fruits it is often paired with: cooking apples with calvados; spiced pears in red wine or port; chocolate, cherry and Cointreau trifle.

Booze is also great when it comes to turning childhood favourites into respectably mature classics. What is zabaglione if not custard with an edge? Or strawberries romanoff if you don’t lift it with a good measure of orange liqueur? Tiramisu, crepe suzette, trifle – the list goes on.

Of course, there is a case for more family-friendly and alcohol-free banoffee pie and tiramisu; an orange flower water syrup is a lovely alternative to the Grand Marnier in crepes suzettes, and a bit of espresso coffee can replace the marsala wine in a zabaglione. But, just sometimes, it’s the big kids who should be allowed to have their cake and eat it.

Stewed blackberries with bay custard and gin


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