15 Classic Dessert And Cocktail Pairings From A Certified Sommelier

Mix of cocktails
Mix of cocktails - Auster Pics/Shutterstock

With courses and grocery store aisles dedicated to it, dessert occupies a special place in the hearts and minds of both the gourmands and average Joes of the world. But even though dessert is an epicenter for human enjoyment and culinary technique, some may want a little more bite at meal's end. If you've ever dipped your toe into after-dinner drinks, consider that dessert is the perfect place to get creative with cocktail pairings.

To help with the task of coming up with cocktails that pair well with classic desserts, I enlisted the perspective of Amelia Jacobsen, a certified sommelier currently working at New York-based restaurant Family Meal at Blue Hill, where she often helps diners pick a cocktail, glass of wine, or digestif to accompany dessert. "I like pairing cocktails with desserts to enhance the flavors of each," she says.

Based on flavor profiles and plays on traditional pairings, we've rounded up options to intensify your dessert courses at home and during a night out. Read on to discover the best cocktails, from the brandy Alexander to the boulevardier, to pair with an assortment of classic desserts.

Read more: The 40 Absolute Best Cocktails That Feature Only 2 Ingredients

Pair Crème De Violette With Dulce De Leche

Aviation and dulce de leche
Aviation and dulce de leche - Candice Bell & WS-Studio/Shutterstock

Popular across Latin America and Europe, dulce de leche is the classic dessert that's most often compared to caramel. At its most basic level, dulce de leche is crafted by cooking milk and sugar for a long time. Dulce de leche is rich and toffee-like in flavor and there are many ways to eat it; dulce de leche cakes or the confection used as a drizzle atop ice cream or coffee are fairly uncommon.

However you eat this classic dessert, it's great when contrasted with something floral and bright, says Amelia Jacobsen. Crème de violette is the perfect liqueur for the job. The alcoholic beverage made from violets is inherently floral, and violet as a flavor has been used harmoniously in sweets for centuries. Try making a crème de violette sour, utilizing gin and egg white, to accompany the classic dessert, especially if you will be incorporating fruit like blueberries into your dulce de leche. Another popular crème de violette cocktail is the Aviation. Whichever route you choose, the botanicals in gin and crème de violette are the perfect match for dulce de leche.

Sip A Black Manhattan With Your Walnut Brownie

Manhattan cocktail and brownie
Manhattan cocktail and brownie - asife/Shutterstock & Bhofack2/Getty Images

The walnut brownie may be associated with bake sales and the baked goods aisle at your local grocery store, but this dessert is classic for a reason. Playing upon the aged relationship between nuts and chocolate, walnut brownies are widely beloved, with recipes hailing from the back of the brownie mix box and from masters of entertainment, such as Ina Garten.

But what to pair with a walnut brownie? For fans of the deceptively simple dessert, a deceptively simple cocktail, the black Manhattan, is the perfect match. The traditional Manhattan cocktails feature whiskey, sweet vermouth, and bitters, garnished with maraschino cherry. The black Manhattan ups the ante by introducing Averna amaro into the mix, a traditional bittersweet Sicillian amaro with gentle spice.

Per Amelia Jacobsen, it's the dormant note of caramel in Averna amaro that makes it the perfect pairing (even by itself, neat or on the rocks), with walnut brownies. The black Manhattan also benefits by folding in orange bitters. This mix of rich, dark liquor, light spice and citrus, and chocolate nuttiness makes for a deeply indulgent pairing of classic dessert and elevated cocktail.

Spiced Hot Toddies Complement Apple Fritters

Hot cocktail and apple fritters
Hot cocktail and apple fritters - Bhofack2/Getty Images & Bhofack2/Getty Images

Although there may be nothing more American than apple pie, another treat, the apple fritter, may be the superior classic apple dessert. With likely origins in Europe and its subsequent Christmas markets, apple fritters are largely associated now with the humble donut shop. It can generally be defined as a deep-fried donut filled with apples and cinnamon and is often dressed up with a sweet glaze. From Dunkin Donuts to homemade versions, the apple fritter calls for a very specific kind of cocktail pairing: the hot toddy.

Hot toddies are hot cocktails comprised of liquor and water with honey, lemon, herbs, and spices. A hot toddy can be enjoyed simply or zhuzhed up. The fact that many hot toddy recipes call for cinnamon is one clear example of why it would pair well with an apple fritter, enhancing the cinnamon innards of the dough. And given that brandy can easily be swapped in for a tasty apple brandy moment, as well as apple cider in lieu of the water, the proof that the hot toddy cocktail is a brilliant pairing with an apple fritter.

Champagne Cocktails Elevate Lemon Bars

lemon bars and champagne
lemon bars and champagne - Rudisill/Getty Images & Yuri A/Shutterstock

What amateur baker among us hasn't attempted the ubiquitous and utterly delicious lemon bar? Composed of a slim shortbread crust and lemon custard, the lemon bar has touched many corners of American life.

So when you want to pair a cocktail with a classic of this magnitude, which direction should you go? Amelia Jacobsen says to celebrate the lemon bar in all its humble glory with its perfect pairing: the champagne cocktail. What she's specifically referring to is simply called a champagne cocktail, a drink that typically consists of sugar, Angostura bitters, Champagne, brandy, and a maraschino cherry for a garnish.

The lightness of the Champagne helps offset any cloying sweetness in lemon bars, while the brandy offers a semi-sweet note of depth to supercharge this lemon bar cocktail pairing. As Jacobsen explains, "When I want a cocktail to offer a reprieve from a dessert, I will choose something with bubbles or a lot of crispness. Champagne will cut through the sugary sour-ness of a lemon bar."

Dunk Shortbread Cookies In A White Russian

Shortbread and a White Russian
Shortbread and a White Russian - Lauripatterson/Getty Images & Ronbailey/Getty Images

Its origin often attributed to Mary Queen of Scots, shortbread is associated with another kind of girl power stateside: The Girl Scouts' shortbread cookie, Trefoils. Though by no means is our conception of shortbread limited to Trefoils: the Honolulu Cookie company makes the buttery cookie with distinct Hawaiian flavors, and amateur bakers often whip up batches of the simple, crumbly, buttery treats.

If you want to inject a little adult sensibility to your shortbread cookie consumption, Amelia Jacobsen suggests you try pairing them with the dangerous delight of a white Russian. The white Russian is a three-ingredient cocktail that (according to some) proves dairy and liquor are a sensible match. The classic white Russian requires only heavy cream, vodka, and Kahlua, the Mexican coffee liqueur. Aside from the obvious milk and cookies connotation, the notes of coffee also prove to be a big boon to the shortbread dunker. Thinking of having a grownups-only cookie swap? Pairing classic shortbread cookies with white Russian cocktails is just the move to make.

Order A Lemon Drop With Crème Brûlée

Creme Brulee and lemon drops
Creme Brulee and lemon drops - Adilson Sochodolak/Shutterstock & Bhofack2/Getty Images

Upscale yet utterly accessible, crème brûlée is what it means to be a classic dessert. Translating to burnt cream, several European heavy-hitters would like to claim credit as the birthplace of crème brûlée. Utilizing just a handful of ingredients, like egg yolks, heavy cream, vanilla, and sugar (and of course, a blow torch), crème brûlée is thankfully easy enough to make at home.

This sweet, custardy dessert pairs well with another well-known cocktail, the lemon drop. This relatively simple vodka cocktail is just the thing to brighten up your crème brûlée. It consists of vodka, fresh-squeezed lemon juice (a pivotal point in maintaining brightness), triple sec, and simple syrup, and a sugar rim. Although you may want to leave the last part off when pairing with crème brûlée, Amelia Jacobsen says the sweet-sour bite of the drink adds a notion of crispness that gives balance to the forward sweetness of the dessert. Especially if the crème brûlée is sprinkled with raspberries, a lemon drop is the perfect citrus-forward, fruity cocktail pairing.

Peach Cobbler Pairs With Whiskey Sour

Peach cobbler and whiskey sour
Peach cobbler and whiskey sour - 5PH & Kendra Reeder/Shutterstock

The American South is home to some delicious produce, perhaps most notably, the peach. It's no surprise, then, that the South has also produced a classic dessert centering that produce: peach cobbler. Typically peach cobbler from the American South features a thick biscuit crust on top and is filled with a variety of ingredients to enhance the filling. Most peach cobbler recipes suggests making the filling of fresh peaches, tapioca, and sugar.

Whiskey is the obvious choice when selecting a spirit starting point. For those looking to booze up their serving of peach cobbler, try pairing it with a whiskey sour. The cocktail generally consists of bourbon, simple syrup, and citrus juice, with a frothy egg white on top. Lemon and peach hit a super-powered sweet-sour combo, but it's whiskey and peach that are the real stars of the show. The woody, subtle caramel characteristics of whiskey is a match made in heaven with the peach sweet-earthy taste. Egg white foam combines for unctuous finish that matches the cobbler top. In this case, a classic dessert deserves an equally classic cocktail.

Drink A Grasshopper With Flourless Chocolate Cake

Chocolate cake and green cocktails
Chocolate cake and green cocktails - Brent Hofacker & Trendy Rowdy/Shutterstock

A flourless chocolate cake is the classic dense, nuanced answer to grocery store chocolate cake. Often featuring a chocolate ganache, powdered sugar dusting, and raspberries, this sophisticated classic never skimps on the indulgence factor. But if you want to live the more-is-more ethos, try pairing it with a cocktail that matches its opulence: the Grasshopper. "By mimicking flavors, a dessert experience can become intensified," Amelia Jacobsen says. "For example, a Grasshopper with chocolate cake makes for an amplified chocolate experience."

This evocatively named cocktail allegedly hails from Tujague's, a bar in New Orleans' French Quarter. The drink, which is bright green and utterly creamy, features a mint chocolate profile that takes the dessert taste, mirrors it, and then adds another herbaceous level. Crème de menthe is sweet and mint-flavored, while the crème de cacao, as maybe you've surmised, is a chocolate liqueur. The Grasshopper cocktail also includes heavy cream, which all in all gives the denseness of a flourless cake an even richer body.

Have Pineapple Upside Down Cake With A Daiquiri

Two daiquiris and pineapple cake
Two daiquiris and pineapple cake - nelea33/Shutterstock & Bhofack2/Getty Images

Lovers of tropical flavor profiles are well acquainted with the classic (if not somewhat old-fashioned) dessert, the pineapple upside down cake. Baking the cake is not much more involved than your typical cake, and includes the usage of those ingredients which are the basis for many baked goods, like sugar, eggs, milk, vanilla, and flour. Other ingredients, like dark brown sugar and pineapple, give it its distinctive tropical flare. A well-established love affair with these very ingredients is the basis for the best cocktail pairing: pineapple and rum.

"Rum and pineapple upside down cake speak for themselves," Amelia Jacobsen says. "Take a sip and you can practically feel a tropical breeze." If you're no stranger to the appeal of a tropical breeze (on top of dessert and booze), try your next helping of pineapple upside down cake with a daiquiri. This quintessential rum drink has the basic building blocks of rum, simple syrup, and lime juice. There are countless expansions bartenders and mixologists have made upon the daiquiri, but this foundation is a can't-go-wrong pairing to elevate your pineapple upside down cake experience.

Sip A Boulevardier With Pecan Pie

One boulevardier and pecan pie
One boulevardier and pecan pie - Yinyang/Getty Images & Maksym Fesenko/Shutterstock

Everyone's got their favorite kind of pie and, oftentimes, that favorite is seasonally and regionally dependent. But undeniably one of the most beloved, and most American (in every sense of the word), is the pecan pie. With roots in ancient Native American cooking culture, to the advent of pioneers' baking the pecans in the 1800s, the nutty, rich, buttery flavor of pecan pie is a Southern staple. So when thinking of what to pair with pecan pie, follow your palate to the American South once more by choosing whiskey.

A great cocktail to pair with pecan pie is the boulevardier. Though not Southern in origin (we have Paris to thank), the cocktail's components of whiskey, vermouth, and Campari make it the perfect complement to pecan pie. "The dark whiskey and bitter Campari in a boulevardier complement the nutty sweetness of pecans in a pecan pie," says Amelia Jacobsen. Though the boulevardier is just a jumping-off point: With hundreds of whiskey cocktails, and a robust on-the-rocks and neat whiskey culture as well, you can take the pecan-whiskey dynamic duo in many directions to suit your tastes.

Enjoy Boozy Coffee And Donuts

Donuts and espresso martini
Donuts and espresso martini - Khandie Photography & Pong Stocker/Shutterstock

Sometimes simple (and store-bought) is best. There are few desserts that embody this sentiment quite like the glazed donut. Dunkin die-hards and Krispy-Kreme crazies can attest to the true, gripping power of fried and glazed dough, to say nothing of the faithfuls who frequent smaller donut outposts. And what goes better with donuts than coffee? That's why the perfect cocktail to pair with classic glazed donuts is...the espresso martini.

Compared to donuts, the espresso martini perhaps falls on the other end of the spectrum: Though it's been around for decades, the beverage's huge surge in popularity in the last five years makes ordering it a decision whether or not to join the super trendy cult of cocktail. The espresso martini is not a monumental challenge to craft at home, though a real espresso maker in this case is a game changer. Follow this Tasting Table espresso martini recipe, and pair this strong cocktail with a super sweet, fried, bready dessert for a ticket to "after hours'' coffee and donuts. And if you've got a craving for the Big Easy, switch it up to beignets.

Raspberry Martinis Match Cheesecake

Cheesecake and raspberry cocktail
Cheesecake and raspberry cocktail - Enez Selvi/Shutterstock & Clarkandcompany/Getty Images

Cheesecake: You know it, you love it, and sometimes you over-indulge in it. The calorie-bomb cake is one of the most delicious offerings on any given dessert menu, and has cemented itself as a classic dessert. What, then, to pair with this titan of confections? For a starting point, look to the raspberry that is often drizzled atop classic cheesecake. Thus, a raspberry martini is the perfect pairing with a slice of cheesecake.

Martinis are one of the most experimented-upon cocktails in the history of mixology, so upgrading a martini to make it raspberry-forward can be as simple as playing around with raspberry juice or garnishing with raspberries. You can also use it more as a replacement for the drizzle. "Raspberry in a martini will almost act as a sauce or topping for the slice of vanilla cheesecake," Amelia Jacobsen tells us.

Try playing upon the raspberry drizzle in a subtle way with a French martini, which includes elements of the raspberry. A classic French martini recipe features pineapple juice and Chambord, and a raspberry liqueur. The tartness of raspberries cuts through the rich, sweet density of cheesecake to refresh your palate.

Make Margs With Coconut Cream Pie

Pie and a margarita
Pie and a margarita - Boateng090/Getty Images & Anton Vierietin/Shutterstock

Coconut cream pies are the sweet, fluffy, tropical fusion of pie and coconut. Its murky origins (and one company claiming to be its sole originator) can't stop coconut cream pie from its status as a bonafide classic dessert, however. Given that coconut is what distinguishes this dessert from other cream pies, that's where you should begin with your cocktail pairing.

The very harmonious combination of lime and coconut leads to the perfect cocktail to pair with coconut cream pie: the margarita. "A margarita will be refreshing and light next to a slice of decadent coconut cake," per Amelia Jacobsen. Sharp, refreshing lime cuts through any excessive sweetness, while playing up the nutty goodness of coconut. Perhaps the most refreshing combo on this list, a margarita (either with a sugar or salt rim) paired with your coconut cream pie is a tasty way to mix summery, boozy flavors and classic dessert sweetness. This recipe for triple coconut cream pie, and this recipe for perfect frozen margaritas, is the perfect excuse to break out the baking supplies and blender any day of the week.

Dip Oreos In A Brandy Alexander

Oreo and a brandy Alexander
Oreo and a brandy Alexander - Brent Hofacke & Achmad Agus Ilyas/Shutterstock

Dunking Oreos in milk– has there ever been, and will there ever again, be a more delightful dessert experience? The classic "dessert" of an Oreo cookie is only heightened by a touch of dairy (Oreos are actually vegan themselves). But for those who want their dairy to pack a little more punch than a standard glass of 2 percent, look no further than pairing your Oreos (dessert, snack, or otherwise) with a brandy Alexander.

The brandy Alexander is a bit of an old-fashioned cocktail and a take on the still older cocktail, the Alexander. The brandy Alexander is retro, not for the lactose intolerant among us, and deliciously simple to craft, consisting of only cognac, dark creme de cacao, cream, and nutmeg shaved on top. Creamy and dairy-forward with just a pinch of warming spice, the brandy Alexander is the ultimate boozy alternative to your typical Oreo and milk ritual. "I love the high-low pairing of an Oreo and a brandy Alexander. A very creamy cocktail to match the creamy Oreo filling. Plus," adds Amelia Jacobsen. "It's the perfect excuse to dunk."

Mix An Old Fashioned With Flan

Flan and an old fashioned
Flan and an old fashioned - Heleno Viero & MShev/Shutterstock

Flan is a dessert known by many names. Sometimes referred to as crème caramel, caramel pudding, and condensed milk pudding, the dessert is a custard-based treat with a layer of clear caramel sauce. Flan is particularly a classic in Latin-American kitchens and cultures. The perfect pairing for this widely beloved dessert is a cocktail match that is equally a mainstay of bars worldwide: the old fashioned.

Flan has a sweet and eggy flavor, in addition to its obvious notes caramel courtesy of the sauce. Old fashioned cocktails are deceptively simple, containing within the sugar, bitters, water, and whiskey a subtle vanilla and caramel undertone. "An old fashioned has flavors of caramelized sugars that are lovely with flan," according to Amelia Jacobsen. The strong quaff cuts through the sticky sweetness of flan, and its more nuanced flavors complement the classic caramel custard. Use marshmallows for a secretly easy at-home flan, while this cocktail recipe offers an intriguing take on an old fashioned to kickstart your boozy flan pairing.

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