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Tricky Treats

Boozy sweets dressed up in a shot of nostalgia.


With Halloween around the corner, it’s time to double down on naughty. Hit the snooze button—one more time. Munch a bag of chips—with your mayo-slathered turkey sandwich. Leave work early—with the desk messy. And put a shot of whisky in your cupcake.

“We love watching the mischievous grins of our thirtysomething customers as they inhale our cupcakes,” says Emily Floyd, owner of Bump City Bakery.

Mixing spirits and sweets is nothing new: Witness rum cake or the classic bourbon bread pudding. But there’s a trend—or should I say a sugar rush—for matching childhood favorites with artisanal liquors.

Floyd takes more than a dozen classic cocktails, such as the old fashioned, dark and stormy, and fuzzy navel, and turns them into sinful cupcakes. For the Manhattan, Floyd soaks brown-sugar cake in Templeton Rye and spikes the frosting with vermouth and bitters. “The booze cuts the sweetness,” she says.

Liqueurs epitomize the happy marriage between booze and sugar. And nobody knows this better than the Italians. The dessert menu at Gianni’s in San Ramon is laced with liquor—like the amaretto in his tiramisu. “It cuts through the sugar, the egg, and the chocolate,” says Gianni Bartoletti. “It brings another level of flavor.”

Bartoletti also serves ice cream with Limoncello, a simple Italian liqueur made from lemon peel and vodka. “It gives you a little kick,” he says.

The most classic of all Italian desserts is the zabaglione, an airy custard made with rich, full, and nutty Marsala wine. Bartoletti is reluctant to offer it at his restaurant only because it must be made to order if serving hot and won’t hold long cold. But he has wonderful ideas for serving it at home. (See sidebar, Zabaglione at Home.)

Even his non-alcoholic desserts mimic liqueurs. His famous panna cotta is served with amarena cherries—fruit typically soaked in brandy or flamed tableside a la jubilee. And his affogato, the classic Italian dessert of hot espresso over gelato, is topped with crumbled amaretto cookies.

But Bartoletti says there’s no need to worry about putting a bit of booze in your home desserts, even if the kids join in. “My father gave me wine when
I was nine or 10 years old,” says Bartoletti. “I never needed medical attention.”


Zabaglione at Home

You can find any number of zabaglione recipes online. (We prefer one from La Cucina Italiana magazine.) What sets Bartoletti’s zabaglione apart is his presentation. If serving it hot, he arranges sliced strawberries on a flat plate, covers them with a layer of zabaglione, and then caramelizes the top with a crème brûlée torch. When serving cold, he spoons the zabaglione into chilled martini glasses, dusts it with cinnamon, and serves it with ladyfingers—to be used as a spoon. If the zabaglione is made ahead and chilled, give it a quick whisk before serving.


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