Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Great Blog Crossover: Dessert Pairings

The internet is a wonderful place, isn't it? Ignoring comment sections, obviously - they sort of make me lose faith in humanity. But it's a great platform to shout to the world, "LOOK HOW MUCH I LIKE SOMETHING." Ben Likes Beer is obviously my little corner of the internet that allows me to share my passion for the miracle elixir known as beer, and I'm grateful that you fine people come over and read what I have to say. I know there are other beer blogs out there... and you better not read them. Seriously. So help me I will find out...

Anyway, for whatever reason, other people are passionate about things that aren't beer, and happen to write some truly splendid blogs themselves. One of these creative scribes is a friend of mine named Rachel Rice, a lovely lady who specializes in all things "totes adorbs," including bunnies, handcrafted knickknacks and cup cakes  that will totally make you go "squeee." Her etsy shop can be seen here: - second only to pictures of baby pigs in terms of internet cuteness generation.

Perhaps my favorite part of Rachel's repertoire of skills is her uncanny ability to make the absolute tastiest desserts you've ever had. Take it from me, a devout anti-cupcake renegade, who took one bite of one of her specialties -a strawberry filled, almost cornbread-like number - and literally uttered "Oh my God." The girl's good.

So from this, two separate passions on different sides of the internet, from two different coasts, came an idea: The Great Blog Crossover. Here's how it works; I picked out a beer - Dogfish Head's Theobroma - and had her design a dessert that would go well with it. I, on the other hand, was sent a dessert recipe to recreate and pick a beer to go along with it. Pretty simple. Here's what she ended up with, please do yourself a favor and check it out.

Beer and Dessert - together?! Well, yeah, of course- practically every dessert out there begs to be paired with a brew, but more on that in a little bit. Here's the recipe Rachel so graciously lent to me:

I'm a decent enough cook, but baking was never particularly my specialty- aside from Christmastime, when I don the apron and pump out enough Christmas Cookies to feed a yuletide army. But a pie? A pie always seemed like the crowning achievement of a baker, but Rachel's recipe removes a lot of the chaos by graciously allowing you to use a pre-made pie crust instead of making one from scratch (which requires a PhD, I'm fairly certain). But this? This was cake. Or, you know, pie. And it's, Hell, I'll say it... yummy.

More or less a bourbon-accented apple pie, it's wondrously easy to put together. If your oven is as ancient as mine you'll need to leave it in a bit longer than 45 minutes, and mine sure as hell didn't come in any form that was "sliceable," but hey, it was really tasty and it pairs really well with beer. 

But what exactly makes a beer pair well with food, specifically dessert? We've all heard of wine pairings, of course, and dessert wines and the like. But Beer pairing is a very elaborate world in itself (and again I find the need to recommend Randy Mosher's Tasting Beer if you want to learn more), with its own set of guidelines, so taking a look at dessert pairings, arguably the easiest course to pair, is a great introduction.

First, let me share with you the beer I have gone with for pairing:

Stone's Russian Imperial Stout is a limited release that gets released in small batches, and the Espresso version, obviously, kicks it up with a robust coffee flavor. Like much of Stone's offerings, this beer is bold and intense, dark and sporting a notably hearty ABV of 11%, though the espresso flavor does well to subdue the burn of the alcohol. That doesn't suggest it's a "drinkable" beer - its richness alone will slow you to careful sips, and there's a fairly powerful background hop bitterness that actually pairs nicely with the associated flavors. It's very much an intense beer, but that works perfectly for what we're going for here.

Food AND Beer Porn. Eat your heart out, Instagram Hipsters

A big aspect of pairing beer with food is balance. Big, robust, bitterness demands a sweet counterpart to even it out, which is what we have at play here. Take a bite of pie, then a sip of beer. If you've paired well, it should be a completely different, and completely improved, experience. The sweet-and-tart flavor of the apple pie balances the rich bitterness of the Espresso Stout, bringing both to even levels. Add some vanilla ice cream and it'll go even better (duh).

But this, of course, is only one example. A lot of the time whether or not a beer will pair well is as simple as reading the "main flavor feature" of the beer, and determining if that ingredient, extracted from the beer, would go with the dessert by itself. Obviously coffee beers are a great option, given coffee's common pairing with a meal's finale. And so are bourbon barrel-aged beers, for a similar reason. In fact, given bourbon's presence in the pie, any of those beers would be a no-brainer pairing. If something boasts a caramel profile from caramel malt, this beer is practically begging to be paired with a dessert and you should do so immediately, preferably in the middle of store. Make some friends.

As a general rule of thumb, the more intense the flavor, the more intense the pairing. So, for example, you wouldn't pair a Pale Ale with a Chocolate Lava Cake, simply because the Pale Ale would get lost in the intensity of the dessert. Likewise, a delicate dessert like a panna cotta might night be able to stand to the richness of an Imperial Stout.

A few other rule stand-bys:

  • Generally, dessert pairings need need a higher ABV to stand up to the flavors associated with dessert. Think 8% or higher.Much less than that is gonna get lost very quickly. 
  • When in doubt, go Belgian. These beers tend to be chock full of flavors - caramelly sweetness, roasty malt, low hop profile - that will blend perfectly. Their elevated ABVs will help out, too. 
  • It seems counter-intuitive but hop-bomb Imperial IPAs can reign in an out of control sweetness some desserts might sport. Again, stick to a higher booze rating. 
So there you have it. You can never have too much of a good thing. Beer is good. Dessert is good. When their powers combine, well... it's almost too good to be true.

Big thanks to Rachel. Remember, check out her half of these shennanigans: