Dominique Ansel is an internationally renowned pastry chef, perhaps most famous for introducing the world to his baked good mashup the Cronut. This made him the obvious choice for Dr. Bill Lumsden, Glenmorangie’s director of whisky creation, to collaborate on the distillery’s latest release, A Tale of Cake. This single malt was finished in Hungarian Tokaji dessert wine casks, bringing a soft sweetness to the spirit that makes it pair nicely with desserts like, well, cake. On a recent Zoom call, Ansel readily admitted that initially his whisky knowledge was pretty limited. “Everything has changed now,” he said. “I think whisky is a beautiful product, a pure labor of love, patience, and science. I have a lot more respect for it.”
The concept for A Tale of Cake came about when Dr. Bill’s daughter made him a pineapple upside down cake for his birthday. “We had the inspiration to make a whisky that gave you the same feeling, the delicious treat sensation of a cake,” said Brendan McCarron, Glenmorangie’s head of maturing whisky stock. “We were looking for someone who makes the best cakes, and also had a passion and drive for innovation, and that led very quickly to Dominique.” A Tale of Cake started out as ten-year-old whisky aged in ex-bourbon barrels before being finished in Tokaji casks. These are unique for two reasons, according to McCarron—they are not commonly used in scotch, and Hungarian oak has a higher tannin content which imparts notes of sea salt and a bit of spiciness to the whisky.
According to Ansel, the collaboration was a natural fit and he enjoyed learning about the intricacies of single malt. “For me, the most important part was… to understand how to taste and appreciate whisky, how to pick apart all those beautiful layers,” he said. “I work a lot with contrasting textures and flavors. So I had to figure out how to incorporate the whisky into a cake, without being overpowering.” He ultimately came up with a “CakeTail” to pair with the whisky—layered pineapple cake soaked with whisky-infused passionfruit, caramelized pineapple with star anise deglazed with whisky, and brown sugar ganache. Mixologist Jeremy Le Blanche created a pineapple Old Fashioned to pair with the cake, and the two collaborated on a few other CakeTails to match with other Glenmorangie whiskies.
Ansel was pleasantly surprised at the similarities he discovered between baking and making whisky. “Science is so important,” he said. “It’s something I wasn’t good at in school, but I learned very quickly you have to know science to be a good pastry chef. You have to be meticulous and measured and, scale and take the temperature of everything. A lot of this goes into making whisky.” But he said that the most important throughline between the worlds of pastry and whisky is the respect for tradition that is so crucial to both. “You have to know how to make a traditional whisky in order to break or twist the rules. It’s the same with pastry. You have to know your classics, your foundations, and then you can tweak them to bring textures and flavors that are unique and different.”
Dominique Ansel’s pineapple CakeTail is available at his NYC bakery in Soho until October 6 (while supplies last), and Glenmorangie A Tale of Cake will be available in the US on October 1.