Dessert Pairings: Some Wine or Beer With Your Dessert?
Don’t assume that dessert has to be paired with a dessert wine. Restaurateur Marlo Scott likes to enhance sweet dishes’ flavor with a wine or beer—for instance, apple cake with a zesty Sauvignon Blanc or red-velvet cupcakes with a creamy golden ale.
“People are surprised to have beer with a cupcake and that it’s going to work,” says Ms. Scott, owner of Sweet Revenge, a restaurant in New York’s West Village that offers such pairings.
A sweet dessert may need to be balanced out with a drink that is spicy, crisp or mellow.
“I don’t want to do death by sweetness,” she says. “You don’t want to double down and be overwhelmed by an overpowering sweet dessert with an overly sweet dessert wine.”
When looking for a pairing, Ms. Scott follows no hard rules. She keeps an open mind and takes many different sips and bites to see which combinations work. She first considers the flavor profile of the dessert and then searches for notes in the drink that can emphasize those flavors without going overboard.
“To me, it doesn’t matter whether I’m tasting a beer or I’m tasting a wine,” she says. “I’m looking for notes that are going to work well with the dessert.” She may accentuate a spice, a fruit or a nut flavor. “I’m looking in the pairing to create something more complex and more interesting by having the bite and the sip together,” she says.
If Ms. Scott has a dessert heavy on fruit flavors, she looks to complement it with spice, cream, nuts or even another fruit. She pairs almond cake and strawberry walnut cream cheese frosting with Früli, a dry strawberry beer from Belgium.
“We are amplifying the strawberry notes while cutting the sweetness” of the cake, she says.
For a party at home with dessert-and-drinks pairings such as a dessert party or a shower with lots of sweets, she recommends that people first decide whether they want to base the menu around the dessert or the drinks. If you have a favorite dessert, buy some different wines and beers, and take bites and sips until you see what pairing works. If you want to have champagne, then create a dessert around that.
In beer pairings, Ms. Scott looks for unusual flavor combinations. She pairs a Kopparberg pear cider from Sweden and a Valrhona chocolate cake with dark-chocolate truffle. Pear and dark chocolate work well together, she says. The cider “counterbalances the bitterness of the chocolate, provides a little bit of sweetness and makes it a slightly more refreshing experience,” Ms. Scott says.
She pairs her raspberry red-velvet cupcakes with Belhaven, a Scottish ale. In this case, the pairing works because Belhaven’s creamy nature goes well with the cupcake’s cream-cheese frosting.
“I can’t say with every red-velvet cupcake that you should have a golden ale,” she notes.
Alternatively, people who prefer bubbly drinks can have a cupcake like this with a raspberry Bellini.
An apple cake can be paired with a glass of Simply Naked Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand or a glass of Palma Louca, a lager from Brazil. Both the wine and the beer have citrus notes, and that really “makes the apple pop,” Ms. Scott says.
Her favorite pairing is a glass of San Huberto Malbec wine from Argentina with a peanut-butter cake that has a ganache filling and peanut butter fudge frosting. Not every Malbec works with this cake, Ms. Scott says.
“If there are too many tannins, if it it’s too dry, if it’s blackberry-noted fruit as opposed to jammier, slightly sweeter berries in the wine, it won’t work,” she says. But “this is a really velvety, very mellow, jammy red from Argentina. That, with the peanut butter, is the ultimate peanut butter and jelly for adults.”
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