As many purveyors of the puzzling pleasures do, I often enjoy torturing … err, treating my friends and colleagues to a few choice selections to try. One of my favorites has a number of merits which make the puzzles just perfect for sharing with friends. They are extremely portable, able to fit easily in a pocket and produce when the moment seems right. Which is usually when someone says, “so what puzzle box do we have to solve this time?” The puzzles are elegant and beautiful, and happen to look like tempting, tasty treats. And of course, they are very, very tricky, a finding belied by their delicious looking exterior and small form.

Cinnamon Walnut Twist Cake by Perry McDaniel

I also like the fact that their creator is from Texas, so I can call him a “local” artist when describing the pieces to others. Perry McDaniel hails from Midlothian Texas, just shy of Dallas. He is a master joiner, precision woodworker and Incra magician. He is also a brilliant puzzle box designer. He enjoys fashioning his work to mimic actual desserts such as slices of cake or pie, and more recently has diminished his work – at least in scale. It seems he has expanded them in complexity at the same time. He opens the “Puzzled Guy Patisserie” on rare occasion and the pastries fly off the shelves. The “Strawberry Very Short Cake” and the “Cinnamon Walnut Twist Cake” were on offer almost ten years ago at a pop up shop in San Francisco and they are still as fresh as ever. Part of Perry’s “Petit Four” series, these two perfect pastries look good enough to eat, and each deliver plenty of puzzling to make you earn those calories. Better still, this is a dessert that you can share, over and over again.

Strawberry Very Short Cake by Perry McDaniel

Perry’s pastries, which are really puzzles, always make me want to mix things up with my cocktails, so to speak, as well. For his “Blackjack Cake” I made a cocktail cake based on panettone, for example. Here’s something equally puzzling – a sorbet, which is actually a cocktail. I’m very slightly famous around citrus season for my ruby red grapefruit sorbet, which uses Texas Rio Star grapefruit, the most delicious in the world. I’m also rather fond of the Negroni, and all its variations. It’s one of the more versatile classics of the cocktail world, although many feel that it’s an acquired taste. This may just be the most delicious way to start you own infatuation with the Negroni, in that case. If you already love them, even better.

Grapefruit Negroni sorbet

The classic Negroni has equal parts gin, Campari and sweet vermouth. This combination of standard and lower proof spirits actually lends itself well to ice cream and sorbet making, since too much alcohol will make it impossible to solidify the solution (unless your ice cream maker gets down to -173.5 degrees Fahrenheit). Using a standard 80 proof gin is key (not higher proof versions like “Navy Strength”). Combining this with Campari, which is 56 proof, and vermouth (such as the rich and delicious Antica Formula, at 16.5 proof), results in a solution of around 50 proof, or 25% alcohol content. With straight 80 proof spirits you can add around 2 oz per quart and yield a softly scoopable dessert. The Negroni sorbet allows for a slightly more generous dose, if preferred. And we prefer! Here’s to sneaky sweet surprises in all shapes and sizes. Cheers!

Waiter, there's a cocktail in my sorbet ...

Grapefruit Negroni Sorbet

2 cups fresh squeezed ruby red grapefruit fruit (such as Texas Rio Star)
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 Negroni cocktail (1 oz each of Gin, Campari and sweet vermouth)

Combine ingredients in an ice cream maker and freeze. Let it set in the freezer for a few hours before serving in cocktail glasses. Garnish with an orange twist or flower.

These sweets are surprising

For more about Perry McDaniel:

For more Negroni variations: