I use wine (alcohol) and lots of different liqueurs when I cook, especially in cold weather and during the holidays. So I have often wondered, does alcohol/liquor cook/bake off when I use it? The answers surprised me.
I love wine in food, not just as an accompaniment alongside a meal. Whether it’s wine in Julia Child’s recipe for onion soup (yes, I know the traditional version does not use wine), coq au vin, or beef stew, wine elevates the dish.
And liquors of all types in desserts are superb too. My favorites include Guiness stout chocolate cake, vegan pecan pie with bourbon and Grand Marnier chocolate mousse. I’ve even dreamed about adding limoncello to my lemon pound cake glaze.
This definitely-not-exhaustive list is all the proof you need – when I’m cooking or baking, I often have a bottle of something close by.
And so, you can see why I’m interested in whether and if so, how much, will alcohol cook/bake off?
Does Alcohol Cook/Bake Off In All Cases?
The answer is that it depends by what we mean by “in all cases.”
Left Unheated, Alcohol Remains at Full Strength
Here are three examples.
- First, if you use alcohol in a glaze that you pour over a cake, or in truffles that are not baked, the alcohol remains at full strength.
- Second, if you soak ladyfingers in liqueur (Kahlua or Amaretto) for tiramisu, the liqueur does not bake off. In both cases, the liqueur is not heated and it remains at full strength in the dish.
- Third, if you add alcohol to a salad dressing or a marinade for a dish that will not be cooked (e.g. ceviche), the alcohol will remain at the level you put into the dish.
Heating Alcohol to the Boiling Point Does Cook/Bake Some Off
Alcohol’s boiling point is 173° F/79° C. Water boils at 212° F/100° C. If you make a stew with alcohol, water and possibly other liquids, the boiling point will be somewhere 173-212° F/79-100°. If you heat food containing alcohol to whatever that boiling point is, at least some of the alcohol will burn off. But how much depends on how long you cook the dish and other factors, such as whether there is a topping such as bread crumbs that inhibits evaporation.
Cooking/Baking Time Affects How Much Alcohol Remains in Food
This USDA chart shows generally how cooking time affects how much alcohol bakes/cooks off.
|Time Cooked at Boiling Point of Alcohol||Approximate Amount of Alcohol Remaining|
|2 & 1/2 hours||5%|
What Other Factors Affect How Much Alcohol Cooks/Bakes Off?
- A topping that prevents evaporation – like bread crumbs – means that less alcohol cooks/bakes off.
- The size of the pot or pan – the smaller the surface area, the less alcohol cooks/bakes off.
- Stirring increases the amount of alcohol that cooks/bakes off.
- Covering a pot or pan decreases how much alcohol cooks/bakes off.
Tests done on various dishes showed that flaming desserts may burn off only 20% of the alcohol before the flame goes out.
What are the Take-Aways?
- If you heat alcohol, some of it will cook/bake off. On the other hand, if you use it without heating it, the amount of alcohol will remain at the same level as what you put into the dish.
- How much alcohol will cook/bake off if heated depends on a variety of factors. After heating, the alcohol left will range from 80% (if you flambé crêpes or Cherries Jubilee) to 5% (if you make a long-simmered boeuf bourguignon.
- The only way to totally avoid alcohol in food is not to use it at all.