Alcohol itself does not contribute to the flavour of foods; only the main flavour component of the liquors or liqueurs does. Care should be taken to evaporate the alcohol fully or it may leave a bitter aftertaste in the dish.
Many bakers and pastry chefs use spirits to impart flavour. Two categories are of interest to the pastry chef: brandies and liqueurs. Their origin, the ingredients used to flavour them if any, the alcohol content, and the sugar content help differentiate these products.
- Brandy usually has an alcohol content ranging from a minimum of 40% to a maximum of 55%. Brandy derives from wine, usually white wine. Another classification of brandies made from fruits other than grapes is called eau-de-vie and includes Calvados (apple), Kirsch (cherry), and Williams (pear).
Liqueurs are mixtures of fine spirits, brandy, sugar, and flavouring. In Canada, they usually have an alcohol content ranging from 17% to 40% and at least 10% sugar. Because they are volatile substances that vaporize when heated, they should be used mainly for drenching cakes or flavouring creams and icings.
Note: Alcohol content is measured in Canada by volume. Water is 0%; pure alcohol is 100%. In the United States, the term proof is used. One degree proof is one-half a degree of alcohol by volume. Thus, 80 proof in the U.S. is equivalent to 40% by volume in Canada.
Since flavouring materials have a limited storage life, it is wise to buy a minimum at any one time. Protect all flavours from light and store in airtight containers. Flavourings lose their strength when stored too long. Protect liquid flavour from light, store in amber bottles, and keep bottle tops tight to avoid loss of flavour strength.