Pastry Chefs Look Beyond Stout for Sudsy Desserts

Lori Rice

Using beer in a dessert is hardly an outlandish idea; chocolate stout cupcakes and ice creams are everywhere. Yet many pastry chefs seem unable to move beyond the idea that a roasted, malty stout that hints at coffee and chocolate is the only dessert-appropriate beer. And while stout is an easy match for sweets, it has become less of a creative ingredient and more of the standard for beer-tinged desserts.

No disrespect to stout, but there are other dessert-friendly beers. Pastry chefs across the country are picking up on floral, citrusy, hoppy and malty flavor profiles from IPAs, ales and other beers and using them to their advantage to transform homey desserts into something new and different. 

“The genesis of it was the tres leches cake,” says Peter Endriss, head baker at Brooklyn’s Runner & Stone, of his tres cervezas dessert. Unlike some inspirations that come after tasting a beer, this recipe was sparked by his desire to remake the classic Mexican milk-soaked cake with beer. As a result, Endriss says he was forced to find craft beers that would ultimately fit all three components of the dessert ($10, recipe).


Endriss had worked with a friend, Jason Sahler, the head brewer of neighboring Strong Rope Brewery, on previous projects and sought out his innovative beers to develop the recipe.

While the chocolate cake portion of the dessert uses a craft stout, the remaining components are more original. Endriss used Squash Maple Brown, a brown ale brewed with butternut squash and maple, in the milk chocolate anglaise; the beer’s mild bitterness balances the sweetness of the milk chocolate without masking the flavors. The cake is topped with a white chocolate whipped cream that whispers the hoppy, floral notes of the New York Classic pale ale. Endriss explains that the ale accomplishes a similar result as adding a floral or herb component, like lavender or rose water. These floral herbs are most often paired with white chocolate, which is what sparked the idea for the whipped cream.

The combination of the beers in the anglaise and whipped cream “adds a funk of fermentation that is like fresh-baked bread,” Endriss notes. “It’s almost like a savory component to the dessert.”

India pale ale, with its bitter, hoppy, citrus notes that often extend to floral and piney herbs, has been slow to show up in sweets, but chefs are proving that it works quite well in the final course. Ann Marie Stefaney, pastry chef at Heirloom in Charlotte, N.C., creates desserts using products from area farmers, breweries and distilleries, so when she decided to use beer in a dessert, she immediately thought of nearby Free Range Brewing. “When I went to taste a few beers for this project, I kept tasting the A Rural Union and We Knead Each Other side by side and immediately knew they belonged on a plate together,” she says. 

Both beers are used in her Free Range popover. The We Knead Each Other, a Carolina sour, tart IPA, is baked into the popover and used for the pecan shortbread crumble. The pastry is filled with apples poached in A Rural Union, a beer-cider hybrid using a blend of rye saison and fresh-pressed Carolina apples. The same beer is also used in the charred carrot liquid nitrogen ice cream and a brown sugar caramel ($9, recipe).

“The We Knead Each Other gives the popover a nice tang throughout, while the A Rural Union balances the poached apples, not making the dish overly sweet. Each component complements the others while still being an independent element of the dish,” explains Stefaney.

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For Brandy Wong, pastry chef/owner of Monterey Park, Calif.’s, Sweet Temptations, beer dominates her alcohol-infused desserts. To her, it’s a natural pairing, and she estimates that 98 percent of her desserts are made with beer and cider. She starts by visiting craft breweries and sampling the beers, identifying flavor notes from one beer that would be delicious in a cookie and those from another that would work well in a cake. One of her best non-stout desserts is her IPA lemon bars ($5, recipe), a classic homey dessert made more interesting with IPA. “The IPA has earthy flavors that lends itself well to the citrus in the lemon bars,” Wong says. 

Pineapple upside-down cake is another all-American dessert, but Tesa Butkus, pastry chef at Arcana in Boulder, Colo., updates it by adding Avery Brewing Company’s White Rascal, a Belgian-style white ale, to the sauce. “Beer and dessert is a rather new concept for me in the pastry world,” she says. “I find the idea to be an amusing challenge and have been trying to create desserts that pair well with not your typical dessert-y stout or porter.”

The dessert combines cake with a caramel glaze, pineapple beer sauce, and caramelized white chocolate ganache and is served with coconut lime rose sorbet ($9, recipe). 

“The pineapple sauce on the dessert complements the upside-down cake as well as the sorbet,” Butkus says. “It was actually made with this idea in my head of an old-school ice cream topping. You know, the stuff they put on banana splits. The White Rascal gives the pineapple sauce a phenomenal yeasty aroma. It’s totally fun.”

After all, that is what dessert should be: fun, creative and memorable, especially when it gets a hit of beer. 

Lori Rice loves the flavors of banana and clove in a German-style hefeweizen.