Today I present three delicious alcohol-laced desserts. An easy one for bakers, an impressively showy one for stove-top cooks who love heat, and one that requires no talent or ability whatsoever!
Torta al Vino
This recipe is by famed Italian chef Lidia Bastianich (although I’ve changed the narrative). Don’t be fooled by the ease and simplicity of this cake. The final result is unexpectedly delicious. It’s also perfect for anyone afraid of decorating a cake, as it finishes to a beautiful golden brown that needs no ornamentation.
Have all your ingredients at room temperature before starting (unless your a/c is broken and you live someplace like Phoenix!), as it will make it come together much more easily. And don’t skimp on the citrus zest. It really makes a huge difference.
Either seedless grapes or blueberries or raspberries can be used as the fruit. I used blueberries since they are in season here now and very inexpensive.
I use a 9-inch springform pan. Springform pans are available pretty much everywhere now, very inexpensively, even at Walmart and equivalent. It will make the final presentation much easier, and this cake does rise in the oven more than a standard 9-inch cake pan can happily accommodate. Splurge on the springform pan. You might even decide to start baking cheesecakes.
As is the case with many things, this is even more delicious the next day. You’re a grown-up; yes, you can eat cake for breakfast!
For the pan:
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp all-purpose flour
For the cake:
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus 1 tsp for fruit
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
6 tbsp unsalted butter
3/4 cup white sugar
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp orange or lemon zest (I use lemon if using grapes, orange if blueberries are the fruit)
3/4 cup dry white wine (nearly any kind will work)
2 cups seedless grapes, stemmed, rinsed and patted dry OR 2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries or raspberries
For the topping:
2 tbsp butter, diced
1 tbsp white sugar
1. Preheat oven to 375F.
2. Rub the entire inside of the cake pan with butter. Sprinkle with flour and shake to coat the entire surface. Dump out any extra flour.
3. In a small bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
4. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar. When blended together, beat at high speed to smooth and lighten. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, and – one at a time – add eggs, beating after each one until fully incorporated. Add olive oil, vanilla extract, and citrus zest. Beat on high for a couple minutes until very smooth.
5. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture, then 1/3 of the wine, beating as thoroughly as you would your “orphan.” Continue alternating the flour mixture with wine, beating completely until all dry ingredients and wine are fully incorporated. Scrape bottom and sides of bowl and beat on high to finish smoothing the batter.
6. Pour the cake batter into the prepared pan, spreading it evenly. Sprinkle 1 tsp flour on the fruit and shake to coat evenly. Sprinkle the fruit over the cake batter, then lightly swirl the fruit into the batter. It doesn’t need to be fully submerged.
7. Pour yourself a glass of white wine. Bake cake on the middle rack of the oven for 25 minutes, drinking wine while you clean up the kitchen. After 25 minutes, the top of the cake will be set and starting to brown, but the inside of the cake will still shake. Carefully pull the rack out until you can reach the cake. Sprinkle the surface of the cake with the diced butter, then sprinkle the sugar on top. Don’t burn yourself – you’ve been drinking, after all!
8. Return cake to oven and bake until the cake is set and the top is golden brown, about 15 more wine-drinking minutes. Test with a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake. It should be clean with no cake clinging to the toothpick when done.
9. Remove the cake from the oven and allow to cool on a rack for 10 minutes. Release the springform side and remove. Allow the cake to completely cool before serving. Continue drinking wine while you wait.
10. Slice into wedges and serve as is or add a little whipped cream (try whipping with some orange liqueur for a nice touch).
Spicy Rum Pineapple
I must emphasize that this dish can be made as spicy or as mild as your taste dictates. Make sure you use a smoked pepper powder, or add some smoked paprika to the mix. We like it so spicy (mmmmm habaneros!) that most of our guests don’t even dare try it. Those who do, generally curse us while performing their morning rituals the next day.
Fresh pineapple is a must here, but you can save yourself some work by purchasing it already cored, sliced and cut into chunks. We serve this with homemade vanilla bean ice cream. (You are definitely going to want that ice cream if you make this right.)
UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD THIS BE ANYWHERE NEAR A PIZZA. (I’m looking at you, Doom!)
1 pineapple, peeled, cored, sliced, and chunked (chunks should be about 1/2-3/4 inch thick)
3 tbsp butter
3 tbsp white sugar
1/3 – 1/2 cup dark rum
Smoked, fruity hot pepper powder (to taste)
1. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add pineapple and saute until caramelized, making sure to turn the pineapple so both sides are caramelized.
2. Add sugar and cook until the sugar melts.
3. While keeping your face and all small children back from the pan, pour in the rum all at once.
4. After the flames have died down, cook until the liquid has cooked down into a thick syrup. Remove from heat and sprinkle with smoked hot pepper powder.
5. Divide onto dessert plates and serve a scoop of good vanilla ice cream right alongside.
Fruit, sugar, sparkling wine, fresh herbs. Can it get any easier? No, it can’t. Don’t bring a boring, uninspired carton of Ben & Jerry’s next time you’re asked to contribute a summer dessert to a dinner party. Really, don’t be that guy.
A couple great combinations to try: cantaloupe and mint; honeydew and basil.
1 cup Prosecco or Cava
1/8-1/4 cup superfine sugar (adjust for taste and/or how sweet the melon is)
4 cups melon balls (oh, grow up!)
1/4 cup packed fresh herb leaves
1. Pour the sparkling wine into a large bowl. Add the superfine sugar and stir until dissolved.
2. Add the melon and stir to coat completely. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours. (I like to prepare this first thing in the morning for an evening event.)
3. Right before you serve, roll up the herb leaves and chiffonade (slice into thin ribbons).
4. Divide melon and liquid evenly into 4 pretty dessert glasses, garnishing each with 1 tbsp of herb ribbons.