Boozy desserts are getting a new life. While infusing alcohol with sweet treats is not a new concept, young people's penchant for unusual flavors and creative cocktails, added to an Instagram-fueled fascination with food, has yielded an innovative new crop of spiked sweets.
Bakeries are seeing "an increased demand for premium desserts inspired by alcoholic beverages," according to trade site Baking Business. "Topping off cakes with a sweet liqueur drizzle or blending the beverage into a filling enhances its flavor profile and adds a sophisticated touch."
A number of small baking businesses in particular are cashing in on the trend, one that helps them stand out among Goliath competitors like Dunkin', Mrs. Fields and Krispy Kreme. Here are just a sampling of some small bakeries making use of the new trend.
The Doughnut Project, a small bakery located on a quiet side street in Manhattan's West Village sells handcrafted doughnuts. Since its launch in late 2015, a number of its flavors have been booze-infused.
"Our inspiration has always been food and cocktails," former attorney and co-founder Leslie Polizzotto, 50, tells CNBC Make It of herself and co-founder Troy Neal, 41, a former bartender. "We love to have some cocktails, and we're both foodies, so we like to take the ingredients you use in a cocktail or in a dish at a restaurant, and use them for our doughnuts."
Spiked offerings include the Instagram-ready Chandonut Rosé, made with a Chandon sparkling rosé glaze and garnished with edible rose petals atop a seasonal Bourbon Eggnog doughnut. The Chandon adds an extra layer of sweetness to an already sweet treat.
The doughnuts are boozy thanks to alcohol in either the filling, glaze or garnish. But these doughnuts won't get the average person tipsy. Typically, one sparkling wine doughnut, for example, would have less than one-fourth of a flute of Champagne. The Butterscotch Devil's Delight doughnut, which uses whiskey in its filling, glaze and whipped cream, is made with just three-fourths of a bottle of whiskey for a batch of glaze, which yields about 100 to 150 doughnuts.
"We have to find the right balance of how much sugar is too much, versus how much alcohol can we put in to not be over the legal limit to sell," Polizzotto says. In New York, alcohol-infused confections have to contain less than 5 percent alcohol by volume. (Doughnut Project does not card consumers, but lets parents know when something has been spiked.)
So far this year (January through mid-November), the Doughnut Project says its boozy doughnut sales have accounted for about 15 percent of its overall sales, which include everything from non-alcoholic doughnuts to merchandise.
"We have people from all over the world who follow us on Instagram and they come in and see us when they visit New York," Polizzotto explains.
"All of our Instagram followers visit our shop because of all of our unique flavors," she adds. "But the boozy doughnuts are always a big hit."
Bang Cookies, in Jersey City, New Jersey offers cookies infused with bourbon and whiskey. As a cookie junkie who is also health conscious, serial entrepreneur George Kuan wanted his cookies to be high quality and made with organic ingredients. Kuan launched Bang in 2016, which debuted its boozy cookie offerings in September.
"Amongst my friends, I've always enjoyed a good glass of bourbon, sometimes scotch," Kuan, who is in his mid-30s, tells CNBC Make It. "And we were playing around with the idea of possibly just infusing the alcohol and cookie together, and making maybe something that is not mainstream, commercially sold, and that's how the idea came about."
The boozy cookies currently offered by Bang include the Bourbon Walnut Toffee cookie, the Cinnamon Whiskey Crackle chocolate cookie, the Bourbon Kitchen Sink cookie (made with organic toffee, pretzels and bourbon) and the Pumpkin Spice Bourbon Crackle chocolate cookie.
Kuan explains to make the spiked cookies, alcohol is mixed into the dough, which is allowed to sit before it is molded and baked. The alcohol adds a flavorful twist to a basic dessert. (In New Jersey, it's legal to sell sweets that have less than 5 percent alcohol by volume. Bang Cookies only sells the alcohol-infused flavors to patrons older than 21.)
"The combination of certain foods with certain types of alcohol really go hand in hand," Kuan says, like "bourbon has different woodsy notes to it, and it can pair well with the chocolate profile, and even different types of flavors within the different nuts that we have."
Another popular boozy dessert shop, Prohibition Bakery, is hidden in the basement of Subject bar on Manhattan's lower east side. The shop is named for a time in the '20s and '30s when the sale and production of alcohol in the United States was restricted. "We're hiding the booze in these cute little cupcakes you would never suspect," says co-founder Leslie Feinberg, 34.
The shop has sold spiked cupcakes since 2011 and while the bakery did not invent the concept of boozy cupcakes, it says it is keeping them relevant.
Currently, Prohibition Bakery offers 15 different cupcake flavors, including the Old Fashioned (made with whiskey, bitters, orange and a whiskey soaked cherry), the Dark & Stormy (made with Gosling's rum, ginger beer and lime) and Pretzels and Beer (made with New Belgium Fat Tire, pretzel, Nutella and white truffle).
The cupcakes are baked and then injected with alcohol via a dropper. The frosting is mixed with alcohol and some have alcohol-soaked garnishes.
Every cupcake is a single bite and truly does taste like the cocktails they are named for — particularly the Dark & Stormy, which has that drink's distinctive tropical flavor. This can be surprising to first-time visitors, says Feinberg. "They don't expect it to actually be boozy and they don't expect it to actually be good."
Prohibition's clients have included major companies like Ted Baker, American Express, Stoli, Grey Goose and Bacardi for catering, and that's in addition to the cupcakes that sell to patrons at Subject bar (which she also owns).
Though some might brush off boozy baked goods as just the latest food fad, Feinberg is confident. "I think boozy desserts are definitely here to stay. They've existed for a long, long time in various forms, and I think that as we find new ways of incorporating booze into products, we're going to see it more and more."
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