In my family, when it’s your birthday you get to pick the cake flavor. For years when I was a kid, all I wanted was lemon cake with lemon frosting. I don’t know where that came from, but that’s what I wanted. And by golly, that’s what I got, even though no one else in my family wanted it. They didn’t mind too much, though, because by the time my birthday rolled around we had already had 3 cakes in the last 3 weeks and had another one to go two weeks later- my mom, 3 siblings, and I all have birthdays within a 6 week period, which means LOTS. OF. CAKE. So I essentially had a lemon cake to myself for years. The child me loved that and the child in me now still does because I love lemon desserts. Over the years I’ve refined the lemon cake with lemon frosting to lemon cake with lemon cream cheese frosting and a raspberry jam filling. That is now my go-to cake and one of my most popular flavors.
So this month, in honor of my love for lemon dessert, we’re discussing the wines that pair best with several different lemon desserts. I hit a couple Houston bakeries to find some delicious lemon options for you, ranging from sweet with just a hint of lemon to full on lemon deliciousness. These wines and desserts are all great for spring and will please a range of palates.
For dessert, I went to Rustika for lemon cornmeal cookies (kind of a butter-cornmeal cookie with a light lemon filling- just enough to let you know the lemon is there but not particularly tart) and lemon cake. If the cookies just hint at lemon, the cake is straight in your face lemony goodness. I also stopped by Michael’s Cookie Jar for lemon bars (theirs are some of the best I’ve had) and walked away with the bars and a cool cookie I’ve never had called alfajores. These are a lightly sweet shortbread sandwich cookie, vaguely reminiscent of a macaron, with a dulce de leche filling. The ones from Michael’s Cookie Jar had just a light hint of lemon.
So now let’s get into the wine pairings First up, let’s talk about chardonnay. Although chardonnay can have some bright citrus notes, I was a little surprised it paired as well with the lemon desserts as it did. I definitely recommend an unoaked chardonnay so you get more of the fruit flavors and so the butteriness of the oak doesn’t overwhelm the delicate lemon desserts. While I didn’t love the chardonnay with the alfajores, I thought it went well with everything else. The wine enhanced the tartness of the lemon cornmeal cookies without it being overwhelming. Since the lemon was so light in these cookies it was a nice enhancement. Chardonnay is easy to drink with the lemon bars, the dessert smoothing out the wine a little without the lemon coming off too strong. Finally, the chardonnay and cake pairing had a nice, smooth lemon aftertaste that I really enjoyed.
I liked the pinot grigio best with the lighter lemon flavored desserts. If you love lemon even more than I do, the cake and lemon bars with pinot grigio might be your thing, but it was a little too strong for me. I much preferred it with the lemon cornmeal cookies and alfajores, where the lemon was a nice accompaniment to the wine without taking over.
I saved sauvignon blanc for last because it is the most obvious pairing and, in my opinion, the best. Sauvignon blanc is known for bright citrus flavors and is often recommended as a pairing for lemon and lime desserts. There’s good reason for this- all of the desserts I tried it with paired well and the wine gave them a nice lemony pop of flavor. As a general rule, the citrus flavor of the wine will enhance the lemon flavor in the desserts, but it’s not in a harsh, overwhelming way. It’s smooth and bright and spring-like.
So what do you think? Are these wines the perfect pairings for lemon desserts or do you have another you prefer?