Toward the end of “The Art of Good Cooking” there’s a small dessert section where my grandmother explains that since she had already written an entire book on cakes and other baked desserts (“The Art of Fine Baking”), the few dessert recipes provided would focus mainly on fruits, flans, and creams.
I was surprised by the number of recipes that used not only strong liqueur but a fairly large amount. From what I understand, liqueur flavored desserts were more popular in the 1960′s than they are today. Now, liqueurs and liquors are used in just a handful of popular desserts and the difference between the two is much less distinguishable. Liqueurs are traditionally fruit flavored sweet alcohols, usually with lower alcohol content, while liquors are straight alcohols. Today liquors are often flavored (i.e. raspberry vodka) as well, making the two very similar.
The book describes such desserts as Pineapple with Kirsch, Baked Pears in Orange Sauce (Cointreau), and Frozen Raspberry Mousse (Kirsch). These seem strong and less appealing today where few popular liqueur flavored desserts such as tiramisu, rum cake, baked Alaska, and bananas foster remain.
One recipe struck me as particularly strange and out of place; it’s titled “My Husbands Favorite Dessert” and consists of poached canned baby pears drowned in cognac. That’s it. No whipping, no beating, no baking, no piping, no rolling, no mixing, or any slightly fancy pastry technique at all. Since her books were normally somewhat formal, this perplexed me. I decided to ask my father. Before I could finish explaining the details of the recipe, my father began chuckling. He recalled my grandfather taking canned peaches or pears and dumping whatever alcohol on hand on top, hardly a gourmet dessert but more of an excuse to drink cognac or whatever alcohol was available.
Unless you really enjoy the taste of alcohol or you are hoping to catch a buzz, some of these old fashioned liqueur flavored desserts just don’t seem worth it. I personally believe that liqueur only has a place in uncooked desserts if it enhances the flavor in some way. For example, coffee liqueur enhances the espresso soaked lady fingers in tiramisu. Rum in a coconut rum cake adds to the sweetness and overall tropical aroma of the cake. And the delicate orange flavor of Grand Marnier adds a sweet citrus flavor to the rich chocolate velvet cake made here.
Of course, there’s always the reasoning that adding liqueur to an uncooked dessert will give you a buzz or get you a little tipsy but then why not just have a drink?