I love spiking sweet treats. Liquors, beers, wine and other kinds of alcohol bring a breadth of new flavors to baking, and it makes for a great conversation piece at parties. Here are some tips and tricks to baking with vodka.
1. Some alcohols have more flavor components than others. Bourbon, which is very popular in baking these days, can be smoky, oaky, wood or bitter with hints of honey, vanilla or cherry, depending on the different proportions of grains that are used and the distillation process. In short, there’s a lot of flavor going on in bourbon. Add it to cakes and cupcakes, and it’s going to impart that flavor.
Vodka, and especially premium vodka like Tito’s, is at the opposite end of the flavor spectrum. Premium vodkas are distilled multiple times to remove impurities, which also cleans up the taste, leaving very little flavor. Because the flavor is so minimal, using vodka as a wet ingredient in baked goods like cakes and brownies imparts more of a “cool factor” than an actual flavor. It’s fun and novel to serve a “vodka cake,” but the cake itself will not taste of vodka.
2. Take inspiration from classic cocktails. When baking with liquor, I take flavor cues from drink recipes. The Bloody Mary Muffins are a great example. Bloody Marys are made with vodka, so a muffin riff on that cocktail implies that vodka is included. Bloody mary mix, tomato paste, and hot sauce reinforce the flavor of this well-known drink. And even though you can’t “taste” the vodka per se, a true bloody mary (or Bloody Mary Muffin) can’t be made without it!
3. When baking with vodka, don’t cook out all of the alcohol. Just a little bit of burn lets you know that there really is vodka in the recipe. The Spiced Apple Mini Skull Lava Cakes are a great example. The gooey filling for the cakes is first cooked on the stove, but the vodka is added off the heat so that it keeps its original flavor profile. It’s the same story in the cream cheese glaze. A small amount of vodka is added to the cream cheese and confectioners’ sugar to loosen it to a pourable consistency, and to add an additional subtle layer of vodka.
4. Not all alcohols are created equal. Cheap stuff rarely tastes good, and baking can’t magically change its flavor. This is no secret: start with a better bottle to yield a better baked good. Tito’s Vodka is a premium product, so adding it to a recipe means adding a good flavor.