Brooke Siem, a chef who's worked in some of the most highly regarded kitchens in New York City, and Leslie Feinberg, a baker and longtime bartender, joined forces in 2011 to launch Prohibition Bakery, the city's "original alcoholic cupcake company" (clients must be 21 or older). In a spare, tiny shop on NYC's Lower East Side modeled after the area's original speakeasies, the duo turns out grown-up cupcakes with dimensions of flavors that present a decidedly masculine alternative to rival bakeries' pink buttercream variety. "It's incredible how many of our customers are guys," says Feinberg. "The most popular varieties are definitely Pretzels & Beer, the Old Fashioned, and the Car Bomb. We've found you can never go wrong with whiskey."
The Pretzels & Beer brings together pale ale and the namesake salty snack, plus white truffle for depth; the Old Fashioned is closely modeled on the classic cocktail, with whiskey, bitters, orange, and a whiskey-soaked cherry. Most intriguing is the hard-to-acquire Scotch & Cigar (available only in-store, one per customer, at the owners' discretion). "It's a ginger, molasses, and black pepper cake, filled with a tobacco infusion, with Laphroaig frosting," explains Feinberg. "The tobacco filling gives you that tickle in the back of your throat, just like smoking a cigar."
The cupcakes have a boozy center, injected post baking, that's similar in consistency to a jelly donut's. This differentiates the product from most cakes using alcohol, whereby the liquor goes into the batter and dissipates during baking. Siem and Feinberg experimented with technique and flavor extensively before launching their company. For example, the Shiny Apple, an ode to the bounty of New York, combines several of the state's autumn standbys: apple, cheddar, cider spice, and moonshine, which the bakers say must be Kings County Moonshine. "I tried every moonshine I could get my hands on before I found Kings County – it was a rough couple of weeks," says Feinberg. "This was the only one that had the right flavor and bite."
The best way to experience Prohibition Bakery is in the shop, but the goods can also be shipped in the U.S., provided you have a steady hand with a piping bag. Due to the delicate nature of the cupcakes (no one wants a soggy cupcake), they arrive in a kit that includes a piping bag and professional piping tip, with directions. For the holidays, we think a round of the seasonal Saucy Pumpkin would be a good bet, with its bread-pudding-like combo of pumpkin, chocolate, sage, and Oktoberfest beer. Supplement this with the Old Fashioned and Mulled Wine for the whiskey and wine and brandy drinkers. For a Super Bowl spread, we're sticking with the crowd-pleaser, Pretzels & Beer. [$2 each or 3 for $5; prohibitionbakery.com]