Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Infusions: The Other Cinnamon

So I recently put up a post talking about the difference between real cinnamon and cassia.  My first infusions post discussed what an infusion of cassia is like and as I got my hands on some of the real thing I figured it was about time I put up a post about Cinnamomum aromaticum.  It is not nearly as spicy an infusion flavor as cassia, though it has more of a tannin bite.  There is a much woodier flavor, and some very strong floral notes in the background.  The visual tone of the infusion is a much more of a dark brown color, as opposed to the strong burnt sienna red tone of a cassia infusion.

Aside from those differences it is still very much a cinnamon infusion, and so the same flavor parings will work.  Turbinado syrup, and coffee combinations are ideal.  If you want to do a fruit cinnamon infusion, such as apple or orange (orange and cinnamon with chocolate is one of my favorite confectionery combinations) then I highly recommend using Cinnamomum aromaticum as opposed to cassia because the floral notes will match much more closely and the cinnamon is less likely to overpower the fruit in your infusion.

If you can get your hands on some of this it is an exciting ingredient to work with.  I highly recommend it for any appropriate infusion.  Mostly because my standard is that if you're going to make it at home it should be something you can't get commercially.  Why waste all your time recreating something you can buy in a store.  Enjoy.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Cinnamon and Cinnamon

So I found out the African and Latino grocery a block from my house carries real cinnamon. I was fairly ecstatic. I have read a lot about real cinnamon, as opposed to cassia. I recognized the true cinnamon from my time working at Big Jones. The aroma is very different and I have to say a great deal more complicated. Though it is certainly not nearly as strong. I am hoping to post one of the rundowns of it as an infusion ingredient soon. I need to let a batch go through a long infusion and a short infusion to see how the bark sap and tannins develop compared to cassia. So it will be a little while before I have a writeup done. I wanted to let everyone know I had it working though.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Infusions: Basil

So this was something of an experiment on my part. What would happen if I made a Basil infusion? So I'm going to break with my previous format and more describe what happened, because it's not exactly what I expected. First I took a ball jar, lightly packed it with organic rinsed and dried basil. It wasn't packed tightly, but filled to the top with fresh leaves. Then I covered the leaves in rum. I watched the color and after a couple days I tried the infusion and it was nice, but entirely too weak. So after a week I tried it again and it was grotesque. Given the quality of the earlier flavor I decided that I just needed to change my approach.

So this time I started another jar of basil and checked it each day. As soon as I saw the leaves start to break down I took them out and replaced them with a batch of fresh leaves. After two infusions of the same alcohol I had a finished product that was both flavorful enough and tasted like basil and not the bottom of an alcoholic compost heap. When you opened the jar it smelled almost like marinara sauce. A few people at the first liqueur class thought the same.

What is so delightful about the basil infusion is that it mixes with so many different flavors. It blends very well with fruit, much like a light basil chiffonade in a melon salad. At the same time the herbal notes bring a delightful brightness to a gin martini.

It's a very different approach to the sort of flavor palette than most people think of when they think of possible infusions and the flavor honestly is too odd in the mouth to be the main element of a liqueur in my opinion, but a splash of it is an amazing accent to many other flavors. It does mix well with sweet notes and I would recommend white sugar syrup for using it in sweet liqueurs. That said an unsweetened infusion might be best for a dry martini or other similar applications.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Infusions: Tea

This is a mixture of all ingredients actually. There are more teas out there than any one person could ever possibly explore. A cold alcoholic infusion creates a very different profile from the sorts of flavors you get from tea with boiling water. It also provides a surprising punch of authentic flavor in drinks like "Long Island Iced Tea". Currently I am experimenting with a Black Apricot Tea, but for your first round unless you have something in the cupboard you really want to get rid of I suggest using a plain tea, just to get a feel for the flavor.

The tea infuses a very distinct tannin that is different from the woody tannins of cacao nibs and cinnamon. It is herbal and potentially more delicate. The Tea infuses into the alcohol very quickly, so you don't want to leave your infusion for more than a day, and quite honestly you may find a couple hours is all you need. The flavor takes to sweeteners, and all the traditional tea compliments. For inspiration I suggest wandering through the tea aisle at your local specialty shop. Tea blenders and marketers have been exploring the culinary possibilities of this ingredient since the beginning of time, and have a mass of possibilities that you can easily pick up and apply when blending infusions to make a custom liqueur.

Ratios: As with normal tea a little bit will do. A couple tablespoons will infuse a large mason jar quite nicely, though ratios will vary depending on the product you're using. Try to get large whole leave teas though, as you will draw out the bitter aspects of the finely ground teas used in bags very quickly and if you use a fine loose leaf tea you're likely to end up with sediment problems in your final product that you'll have to rack out. In terms of turbinado sugar or regular sugar that can easily go either way, or a pure green tea honey liqueur could be exceptionally nice. This one honestly could be an entire blog unto itself.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Infusions: Strawberry

I've been focusing on the spice and nut side of things, and I thought it would be nice to take a jump over to fruit, just for a change of pace. Strawberry is a classic flavor in all senses, and there are certainly quality strawberry flavored drinks out in the market already. All of that said there are several benefits to making your own. The most significant one is that commercial strawberry infusions tend to be exceptionally sweet because of the American palette. If you infuse your own liqueur you have the leeway to control the sugar content, and to use heirloom strawberries from your local farmer's market which can be much more flavorful, and much more tart.

Ratios: With berries ratios are a little harder to establish because one strawberry might be very small, but be almost entirely flavorful red flesh, while another strawberry might be huge, but most of the mass might be white pith which provides nothing to the flavor. So as a general rule, I start by removing the green top of my freshly rinsed strawberries. Then I fill a jar with them and pack them down lightly, but not enough to bruise the fruit. Then I barely cover the fruit with my alcohol. This insures maximum flavor, and with fruit you can't really over brew the flavor. You can leave strawberries in the liquor almost indefinitely with no adverse effects to the finished product.

Flavor Profile: This infusion tastes like strawberry. Pretty much all of the base flavor is imbued into the alcohol. It is slightly tart, very bright and exceptionally light. It goes very well with fizzy things, and all other fruits. It does not pair well with turbinado syrup, or other sweeteners that have their own distinct taste. I generally pair strawberry with simple white syrup.

Infusions: Black Pepper

Black Pepper is a classic home infusion in vodka. It was one of the first infusions I did, inspired by everyone's favorite quirky ridiculous cooking show, Good Eats. Unlike most of the other infusions I will be posting here it is not an ideal match for sugar syrup, though it can be an excellent accent to several liqueurs. Traditionally it was used as a flavor profile in Bloody Mary mix. It is also an amazing accent in a dirty martini, though I have to say I am a gin martini man I can easily put a few drops of this in one of mine and it's quite delightful.

Ratios: Alton Brown recommends 2 Tbsp of slightly cracked black peppercorns for a 750 ml bottle of vodka. I generally do double that because I really like my mix to kind of kick you in the fact so you only need a couple drops of it. That is mostly because I don't use it as a main flavor, so I want to be able to maximize the volume of my other flavors in whatever mix I'm making.

Flavor profile: PEPPER!!! With a lot of infusions the alcohol pulls out a specific set of flavor molecules from your source ingredient that are volatile and prone to dissolving in alcohol. Black Pepper's flavor is made up almost entirely of these volatile chemicals. It's why grinding pepper in advance is such a terrible idea and almost everyone has a pepper grinder at this point. In alcohol everything about the pepper that is sharp and spicy and intense is emphasized and made stronger. In terms of flavors that are good for pairing the sky is the limit. I had never paired it with fruit until my first liqueur workshop and a couple of the participants mixed it with peach and strawberry. Their finished liqueur was absolutely amazing. A splash is good for cooking, and it's amazing with any "harsh" style cocktails especially ones with herbal notes. A few drops are also pretty amazing with cocoa flavored items, much like black pepper brownies. Really the sky is the limit.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

A Little Discussion of Simple Syrup

So I jumped right into discussing infusion flavors and the dynamics they add to a liqueur without talking about the almost forgettable ingredient of simple syrup. There are many flavored liquors in the world, but a liqueur or cordial is partially sugar. In most cases that means simple syrup. The ratio in most liqueurs between alcohol infusion and simple syrup is 50/50. A skilled home liqueur maker might tweak those ratios to get a more specific effect, but it's a good starting point.

There are two types of simple syrup that I tend to use in my house. The first and easiest to make is plain simple syrup made with white sugar. The recipe for said syrup is:

1 part white sugar
1 part water
boil until completely dissolved

There really isn't much to say about plain simple syrup other than I primarily use it to pair with light fruity liqueurs. Strawberry, lemon, peach and similarly delicate flavors.

The second type of syrup I make is Turbinado syrup. The recipe for that is follows:

1 part organic evaporated cane juice
1 part water

Bring ingredients to a boil, then reduce to a steady simmer. A film will develop on the top of the syrup that is very similar to the scum that develops on the top of chicken stock. Skim the froth off with a spoon or similar implement and discard. Continue to simmer until the syrup is completely clear and froth is no longer developing. Depending on how much syrup you are making, and how long this process takes (different turbinado sugars have different concentrations of impurities) you might need to add some extra water to compensate for the moisture that boils off.

This syrup is nice because it is easy to find organic turbinado sugar. Turbinado also brings a nice earthy roundness to the flavor party. This syrup pairs well with cacao, coffee, vanilla, nut infusions other earthy flavors.

The other thing you can do with these syrups is do a heat steeped flavor infusion instead of infusing your flavor in the alcohol. Ginger works very well for this, as does lemon zest. I try to keep ginger turbinado syrup around whenever I can. The water and sugar infusion draws very different flavors out of your ingredients because of different solubility profiles in the flavor molecules. A ginger syrup can add a very different flavor profile to a liqueur than a ginger alcohol infusion. So it's something to consider experimenting with. I recommend infusions that do not involve fruit as they will add pulp to the syrup and that will effect the liqueur texture.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Infusions: Cinnamon

So when I say Cinnamon here I mean cassia. For most people they are the same thing, but in truth original ceylon cinnamon has a very different flavor. I'm hoping to get some ceylon in the near future, but it will depend on when Mountain Rose herbs puts in their next order.

Cassia Cinnamon is what most people are accustomed to. It is the bark of the Cinnamomum aromaticum plant. It is the strongest and most fiery of the cinnamon varieties, and is also the most common cinnamon spice in America and Canada. Most cinnamon liqueurs made commercially have a very strong fiery flavor which looses the subtle nuance that the whole bark can bring to a flavor profile. To get this effect many of the least expensive schnapps and liqueurs only use artificial cinnamon to get the fire to the exclusion of everything else. In many cases the initial infusion of cinnamon may be distilled to remove the resins and complex compounds and keep only the most volatile of the cinnamon flavors that will survive the distillation with the alcohol. Cinnamon brings a very strong tannin profile, and if left in the liquor long enough will actually thicken the infusion with no simple syrup at all because of the resins in the cinnamon bark. So be very careful about your infusion times. While the cinnamon tannin can be very nice and I know several people who enjoy it, it can also get out of hand, so test regularly and stop when the tannins are at the level you enjoy them.

Ratios: Because the strength of stick cinnamon can vary so much I recommend going very heavy with your intial infusion and if it is stronger than you want then you can add additional pure rum to the mixture and reach the flavor balance you are going for. I would break up 4-6 sticks of cinnamon (depending on size) for a ball far sized infusion. More like 10 sticks of cinnamon for a full bottle. The reason I recommend breaking the sticks is so you don't have to use more alcohol than necessary to cover them in a ball jar. If you are just putting the sticks into a full bottle of rum then breaking them is not necessary. You will have a delightful quality infusion in 24 hours. If you want a strong tannin profile you can go as far as you want without any bitter or unpleasant side flavors. Just be aware that the tannin profile of this infusion can become very intense.

Flavor Profile: You will have fire, and wood, and earth. This is a very grounding flavor despite its fiery front. It pairs very well with coffee, other spices, nut liqueurs, and some fruits as well. Left just as in infusion it is also delightful in many desserts. Though I recommend a brief low tannin infusion for dessert applications.

Infusions: Cacao Nibs

So as a followup to my work on the infusions-liqueurs class I am going to be posting some of the things that we infused. I'm hoping to expand my experimentation with liqueur making and post the success stories . . . as well as the failures here. First is a classic in our house.

Cacao Nibs are the unprocessed bean that is used to make chocolate. The bean is generally crushed into small pieces that are a few millimeters wide. As an ingredient it has a very nutty flavor that is vaguely reminiscent of chocolate, but really has a profile all its own. When made into a liqueur the effect is somewhere between Creme de Cacao and Amaretto. There is no real way to describe it adequately, but it is something you will never find in a liquor store and is well worth investing in doing at home. This ingredient does have a tannin profile. If you do not mind the tannins then this can be left to infuse for weeks. If you want to more closely monitor the tannin development then test a teaspoon of the infusion mixed with a teaspoon of simple syrup periodically after the third day of infusion. Strain when you like the finished effect.

Ratios: Fill the container you are going to infuse in a quarter to a third full of nibs. Then fill the container with a clear liquor like Rum or Vodka. I personally use Don Q whenever I can find it. It's a bit smoother than Bacardi, but tends to be less expensive in America. The important thing is for the liquor to be smooth and not really bring anything to the party that might interfere with the flavors of the nibs.

Flavor Profile of Final Infusion: Nutty with a light but earthy finish. Mild to moderate tannins depending on how long the alcohol is given to infuse. This pairs well with coffee, vanilla, cinnamon and other spices that go well with nuts or chocolate. It is also an ideal candidate for turbinado simple syrup. In addition using golden liquors for this infusion could be quite nice. A delicate whiskey or golden rum can add some additional complex woody flavors that could make for a delightful final liqueur. Don't use anything with too much burn though or you will overwhelm the cacao profile.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Elixers and Liquers Playshop at Edible Alchemy

This past weekend I taught a playshop at Edible Alchemy on making custom liqueurs at home. The class went incredibly well. I learned a great deal from the process, both in terms of teaching and about food. I learned that peach and black pepper go shockingly well together. I learned that sometimes the person with the least previous knowledge on a subject has the most to teach you because they can approach a topic without pre-conceptions.

The other thing I discovered while doing research for the class is that there is very little information available on making custom infusions and liqueurs at home. There are several sites that have recipes for simple single ingredient infusion based liqueurs. There are a few recipes out there designed to re-create Drambuie, or Kaluha. However, finding recipes based on innovative flavor combinations, or posted information on how to go about innovating in this field on your own is very limited. Given how many people take part in the much more complicated process of home brewing beer and wines I have to say I was very surprised at the lack of comprehensive information on the topic.

Home brewing liqueurs is very simple and incredibly rewarding. Purchasing decent sweet infusions in a liquor store can be an incredibly expensive endeavor, and while it is unlikely that you will be able to make a perfect Dissarono at home, or recreate Chartreuse, there is a lot of leeway to make unique fruit infusions from the bounty of your home garden. It is also incredibly easy to make liquors out of ingredients that aren't commonly utilized in the commercial liquor industry like fresh ginger, or cacao nib. The zest these creations can give to a dessert, or a custom drink (basil liqueur gin martini with a lemon zest garnish. Just saying) gives you the ability to connect with your beverages and make a more personal investment in the drinks you provide your guests at your next party.

While I am primarily concerned with this as a culinary obsessive this does very easily lend itself to pagan pursuits. While we often provide wine as an offering in ritual there is something to be said for having an offering of an infusion that started in the live giving cradle of your garden, and you infused for a lunar month, and then carefully aged over the next lunar month before bringing to your ritual. These skills lie us to what we consume, and therefore tie us to the land and more.

My partner has been studying alchemy, and over the past several months began practicing with some of the distillation and refinement of alcohol and more complex reagent creation methods. For the truly invested practitioner one could brew their own wine, then distill it into a strong slightly fruity spirit working with energy intentionally at every step of the process. Then when they had enough refined alcohol they could pull the infusion from their garden and begin the elixir process before carefully blending their work for offering in a ritual. While this process is certainly more involved than any witch I know would probably invest in such acts empower our workings, and our sense of connection to what we do.

I am hoping to do more work in this vein, and I will be teaching another class at Edible Alchemy on May 19th. The focus is entirely culinary, for now my pagan musings remain here but I would encourage anyone interested to attend. I am going to try to make quite a few more infusions than I had at this last class and I had quite a bit with me for the most recent class. I am also thinking about starting to put my work together and post it online. It should be exciting.