Shelby Costo of Sweet Costo shares 3 tips to help you impress friends and family with boozy desserts this holiday—or any time of the year. Modern CLE Staff Report
Shelby Costo’s parents were really into craft beer. As a teenager, she often found “unique” brews around the house—such as coffee porters and chocolate stouts, she says; and the high schooler—who worked part-time at a local bakery—couldn’t help but wonder what would go well with those beers.
“Eventually, I started incorporating different alcohols into my baked goods—and that kind of became my thing,” explains Costo, the 22-year-owner of Sweet Costo, a treats business that offers booze-infused cakes, macarons, cookies, and more.
Costo, who once worked as Great Lakes Brewing’s pastry chef, and graduated from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, says she was a picky eater as a child, which she later learned can be a sign of a more refined palette—a palette that’s helped her develop recipes that use booze.
“It’s something you can learn, but some people are born with it,” she says. “It’s like the ear for music. Once I decided to start pairing things up, that part of it came easily to me, even though I was in uncharted territory. There are a lot of things online made with alcohol, but when [I tested those recipes], I found the flavor baked off as you kill the alcohol content.”
For example, a chocolate brownie made with a coffee porter—a delectable pair, for sure—lost its beer tinge in the oven. “When you bake it and everything melts together, it’s not all that different than any other chocolate brownie,” Costo says. For her boozy treats, “I was really on my own trying to find ways to incorporate the alcohol without baking it all off.”
She has finally found success—with her recipes, and in her business. Since launching the company in spring 2017, Costo has worked with many companies to cater events and lead events that pair alcohol with treats, and hosts classes to teach the pairing skills she’s honed.
Her most popular baked good might just be her caramelized whiskey macarons, Costo says, but her tequila lime curd flavor is another favorite; she often bakes it into cake. Tomorrow, Costo will share her recipe for Chocolate Shortbread with Whiskey Glaze, so that you can bake a booze-infused treat at home, too.
But if baking isn’t your shtick, you can still pair alcohol with sweet treats. Here, Costo gives three tips for serving alcohol and baked goods in a way sure to please any kind of palette.
- Pair similar, yet different, flavors.
When serving sweets with alcohol, you want flavors that will complement—not compete. “If you pair a sweet red wine with a chocolate cookie, all you’ll taste is sugar,” she explains.
When it comes to wine, spicy or dry varieties pair best with chocolate, Costo says. Beer—especially coffee or spiced porters and stouts—pairs well with buttery cookies such as sugar cookies, she explains, “because they heighten the darker notes in the beer without masking them.” As for liquor, “anything with a caramel backbone would complement almost anything sweet,” Costo says, “but lighter spirits pair better with fruity sweets.”
- Add a garnish.
An easy-peasy way to pair alcohol with something sweet is to garnish cocktails with a treat. Sliced oranges or cherries dropped into a cocktail elevate the drink—and allow imbibers to enjoy a delicious, boozy snack when they’ve drained their glasses. While not sweet, Costo also likes to add a sprig of fresh rosemary to drinks during the holiday season. Rosemary “freshens lighter libations by bringing out their bright and citrus tastes,” she explains, “and it can also provide a woodsy hint to darker drinks such as red wine or chocolate beers.”
- A chocolate chip cookie and these three beverages never fail.
When you’ve whipped up a batch of homemade chocolate chip cookies—or baked them from a Nestle package—Costo says there are three no-fail local alcohol options to pair.
- Cleveland Whiskey Underground Bourbon. “The bourbon and the cookie both have vanilla notes, but the tobacco in the bourbon will highlight the chocolate chips for some contrast,” she says.
- Great Lakes Christmas Ale. “The spices and honey are strong enough to still be noticed next to the cookies without overpowering it,” Costo explains.
- CLE Urban Winery Drawbridge Pinot Noir. This wine is “filled with flavors of berries that complement chocolate very well,” Costo says, “and because it’s not too sweet, it doesn’t overpower the buttery and vanilla qualities of the cookie.”