Whiskey Should Be Your Top Choice For Boozy Homemade Cake Icing

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Spirits are no stranger to being paired with sweets — you can find them infused into cookies, cakes, bread pudding, and boozy truffles. They can even be substituted for vanilla extract when making baked goods, too. And while you can add liquor to the batter before you bake, one of the easiest ways to take a dessert like cake to the next level is to top it with boozy icing or frosting — and whiskey is at the top of the list of spirits you should use.

There are few liquors with as many different flavor notes as various whiskeys, which is what makes the spirit perfect for adding to your icing. An American rye whiskey may have undertones of cinnamon, cloves, coconut, or vanilla while bourbon may have notes of orange, peach, or vanilla. Even smoky, peated whiskies may have a place at the dessert table, with flavors of honey or coffee.

To determine the best whiskies to use and the types of cake that may pair well with your boozy homemade cake icing, we primarily relied on whiskey expert Heather Greene's recommendations for pairing food with whiskey as shared in her book, "Whisk(e)y Distilled: A Populist Guide To The Water Of Life."

Which whiskey to pair with different flavored cakes

When you're deciding what kind of cake to make with a whiskey-infused frosting, the most reliable answer is chocolate. In "Whisk(e)y Distilled," Greene indicates chocolate pairs well with almost any whiskey you might want to use. But if you've got your eye on a different flavor, you'll want to consider the flavor profile of your whiskey when deciding how to pair it with the cake. On page 164, she points to her whiskey enthusiast and friend Chef Robert Bleifer's advice to pair flavors that are alike, flavors that complement each other, or flavors that contrast.

So, if you're looking to make a vanilla cake, any whiskey with vanilla undertones (which means you have a lot of whiskies to choose from) will work since the vanilla in the whiskey and the cake will pair perfectly. Similarly, if you're aiming to bake a spice cake or carrot cake, American rye whiskey's notes of cinnamon will mingle well with the similar warm spices in those cakes. Many American rye whiskies also have a hint of coconut, which makes them perfect for coconut cake.

For complementing flavors, consider using wheat whiskey in an icing for fruity cakes like lemon or strawberry as it will pair well with the whiskey's notes of honey. And if you're looking for a type of whiskey that will complement nearly any flavor of cake, turn to bourbon — its inherent vanilla makes it a winning combination with nearly any baked good.

More whiskey icing pairings and tips for making whiskey-infused icing

The final recommendation was to pair contrasting flavors. For this, think about using wheat whiskey in a cream cheese icing for red velvet cake. While the vanilla will mingle well with the cake itself, the honey flavor is a sweet contrast to the tanginess of the cream cheese. Or, you can mix rye whiskey into the icing for a mellow cake, like banana, to spice it up.

To make any icing or frosting with booze, just start with your favorite recipe and go from there. A basic buttercream frosting or simple powdered sugar icing are two standard varieties that are the perfect blank canvas for experimentation. The top tip for success when making your whiskey-infused icing is to make sure that you add the whiskey slowly — taste as you go to make sure the taste of the alcohol isn't overpowering. You may also need to adjust the other ingredients along to way to make sure the icing is the consistency that you want it to be.

Another important consideration is the quality of your whiskey. Just like using wine when cooking, it's important to incorporate one that you'd enjoy sipping on, too. If you're new to whiskey tasting, or you want to get more information about flavor notes in specific whiskies, why not get experimental and try a whisky from India?

How we chose our pairings

First and foremost, we chose whiskey as the top choice for making boozy homemade cake icing due to its versatility. To inform our decisions about flavors that pair well with whiskey, we referred to whiskey sommelier Heather Greene — whose book made the shortlist of the New York Times' recommended wine and spirit books in 2014. In addition to writing and speaking about whiskey, Greene is currently the CEO of Milam and Greene Whiskies.

She also previously served as a whiskey ambassador for Glenfiddich and was the sommelier and director of whiskey education at Manhattan's Flatiron Room. Greene is also the first American woman to serve on the Scotch Malt Whisky Society in Edinburgh. Anthony Bourdain, when asked about the most knowledgeable person about whiskey in the world in an interview with Harper's Bazaar, pointed to Greene as the expert he'd seek to ask about whiskey.