Archive for Home Made Ingredients

Encore D’Orange

Posted in Exotic Citrus, Home Made Ingredients with tags , on April 26, 2011 by Mr. Manhattan

Over the weekend I had the occasion to serve some of the vin d’orange I made at the end of 2009. I actually hadn’t realized it had been over a year since I made this and reported about it on this blog. (If you are one of those people who are always making something new, you know the results of your old projects tend to get lost, which is what happened here.) Since then the vin has undergone several very wonderful changes in color and flavor. It’s developed a distinctly deep orange gold hue. Scott Beattie described it as being like padparadscha, a kind of orange sapphire. The flavors have merged with the bitterness, which was pretty dominating when it was younger, finally coming into balance against the citrus and sugar. It’s also developed a slightly oxidized or “rancio” like character, probably from the extended aging. (Note: it’s been kept in glass but not in bottles filled to the brim.) It’s a total pleasure to drink, neat or over ice.

Knowing that there were still some Seville oranges to be had, I decided to put up some more vin d’orange before they disappeared for the year. I decided to go a bit crazy and put up four times as much as I did last time—I’ve got some plans for this. Stay tuned.

A Rose (Aprium) By Any Other Name

Posted in Cocktails, Home Made Ingredients, Stone Fruit with tags , , on October 9, 2010 by Mr. Manhattan

A few weeks ago I documented my efforts to capture the embers of the stone fruit season by infusing gin with apriums, pluots, and dried plums. (Previously) I am pleased to say that my experiments were most successful—despite have been told not to expect much from folks who’s opinions I regularly value. I don’t know what I did that they did not, but I wound up with deeply colored, highly flavored gins. Drinkable in their own right, actually. And the flesh of the fruit did not disintegrate as I had feared it might. (I chalk this up to using less than fully ripe fruit.) I also think my choice of Plymouth, in which the juniper is fairly muted, was spot on.

Since then I’ve used the gins to make a number of lovely sours (one of which is destined for the menu at Plum). The only down side is that I am running out and, alas, there really are no more stone fruit (least not of the varieties I was using). Now I’ll have to sit on my hands and await the next season—only 11 months away!

Meantime, to whet your whistle, or to make you envious, you choose), here’s a recipe for one of the cocktails.

Rose Aprium Sour (AKA By Any Other Name)

1 1/2 oz. Rose Aprium-infused Plymouth gin [*]
3/4 oz. Honey syrup (2:1)
1/2 oz. lemon juice
1/4 oz. Maraska maraschino liqueur
1 egg white

Combine ingredients in a mixing glass and dry shake to froth the egg whites.
Add ice and shake about 20 times to chill.
Double-strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

[*] Details on how I made the gin can be found in this post. The only missing details are as follows: let the fruit infuse for about 10 days. When ready, run the infused gin through a Melita-type coffee filter before using.

Stoned (Fruit) Infusions

Posted in Home Made Ingredients, Stone Fruit with tags , on September 6, 2010 by Mr. Manhattan

Emboldened by my recent success with apricots (previously), I decided to undertake some further exploration of stone fruit, again, before they completely disappear. But this time I set myself a slightly different challenge. I wanted to capture stone fruit flavors in a spirit so they could be used for mixing after the season was over. Motivations were two: first, I wanted to learn more about how best to do that and then play with the resulting flavors. Second, because I’ve been thinking about the possibility of a signature cocktail for the bar at Plum. Seems obvious you’d want something made with plums, only the bar won’t be opening until well after the end of season. Perhaps a well made infusion could capture the embers of the summer fruit season, keeping them safe and sound until needed?

Of Apriums and Pluots…

Once again, faced with piles of stone fruit at Berkeley Bowl, I felt bewildered by the choices even this late into the summer. Choosing an apricot variety for “When the Fat Lady Sings” was kind of a no-brainer because, frankly, there were no choices. But there are still plenty of plums, peaches, and nectarines to be had. There are also plenty of the crosses or hybrids: plum-apricots (or pluots) and apricot-plums (apriums), named according to the percentage of which fruit they most resemble—pluots being more plummy and apriums being, well, more apricot-y. Both crosses appear to be the brainchild of Mr. Floyd Zaiger, about whom wikipedia oddly enough, has very little to say. However, I did learn that man has trademarks on both “Pluot®” and “Aprium®.” (I wonder how much that’s worth?)

At any rate, you can see it was to the crosses was attracted. That’s in no small part because of the apricot component. It gave me a kind of psychic bridge from my previous success that I hoped would leave to more of the same. I poked and sniffed and even sampled a few pieces of fruit and finally settled on two: Rose apriums, cause they seemed like they had a lot of apricot nature, and Flavor Supreme pluots, for similar reason but they were intensely purple inside. I was also motivated by the texture of the fruit. I was concerned that very plummy fruit, with soft wet flesh would disintegrate when steeped in spirits. This seemed like it would make it hard to filter the infusion when it was ready and for some reason having a translucent (not cloudy) final product seemed important to me. Both of these varieties possessed a firmer, finer grained flesh.

I also had one further idea while in the store. Perhaps I could use dried plums (but not prunes) to make an tasty infusion? I had done this with dried apricots and pisco when making Ryan Fitzgerald’s “Il Terzo” cocktail for Left Coast Libations. Perhaps I could find and use dried plums to the same effect? And the advantage of that would be, honestly, the availability of dried fruit, into fall and winter. The Bowl did not disappoint: I found some rather moist (and tasty) dried plums in the bulk food section.

Method

I cut up three of each of the fresh fruit into pieces about 1/2″ on a size or smaller. (I discarded the stones.) I put the cut fruit into to one pint canning jars, added 8 oz. of Plymouth gin, sealed them up. I treated the dried fruit a little bit differently, cutting them into smaller pieces, about 1/4″ wide, to increase the surface area during infusion. I put these in a pint jar too and added 8 oz. of Plymouth. The jars are now sitting in my relatively cool (and frequently dark) basement/garage/warehouse.

Why Plymouth?

There are two reasons I chose to use Plymouth gin for this experiment. First, there’s a nice citrus/corriander component in the Plymouth which I always find very attactive. Its neither too juniper-ry not floral (like, say Hendrick’s). Second, Plymouth makes the best sloe gin, and sloe berries (as they are referred to) are close relatives of plums (both members of the genus prunus). So I already kind of know the two flavors can play well together.

Waiting…

So I am going to give my infusions about two weeks, sampling them along the way. They are already taking on quite a bit of color and scent. It’s also obvious that the fresh fruit is giving up a lot of liquid into the gin while the dried fruit is absorbing it. (I may even need to add some additional gin to this one.) I will let you know how all of them turn out and what sort of cocktails I come up with to showcase them in a future post. (Thinking ginger, thinking shiso.) And keep your fingers crossed I didn’t just waste most of a bottle of fine gin!

[A big shout out to Joel Baker for inspiring me to do this with his pear-infused rye. That's used in the "Claremont Affair" cocktail, a big seller at Bourbon & Branch, where Joel works as the Bar Manager.]

Calamondin Marmalade

Posted in Cocktails, Exotic Citrus, Home Made Ingredients with tags , , on August 28, 2010 by Mr. Manhattan

My little calamondin tree (previously) has been doing quite well and produced a nice sized crop of fruit this summer. When I went to water it a few days ago I realized most all of the fruit was ready to harvest. The question was what to do with it? With the winter harvest, I focused on muddling the fruit and created both a bourbon and a rum cocktail which were pretty decent. This time, however I had a lot more fruit than I thought could be reasonably used before going bad. So, I decided to preserve them by making a marmalade. I based the recipe below on one for kumquats by Matty Eggleston from Left Coast Libations.

Calamondin Marmalade

30 Calamondin
1 1/2 cups organic cane sugar
1/2 cup water

Makes approximately 1 pint of marmalade.

- Trim the very top off each calamondin and then slice in half across the “equator” of each fruit.
– Remove any seeds using the tip of the knife.
– Coarsely chop the cut and seeded calamondin in a food processor using “pulses” to prevent pureeing.
– Put the chopped calamondin into a medium sauce pan along with the sugar and the water.
– Bring the mixture to a simmer while stirring to dissolve the sugar.
– Continue stirring, removing any seeds which may have been missed.
– Heat the mixture for approximately 10 to 15 minutes or until it thickens, darkens, and most of the peel becomes translucent.
– Stir and adjust the heat as necessary to prevent boiling.
– Turn of the heat and remove the sauce pan from the burner.
– After the marmalade is cooled, put into an airtight container and store in the fridge.

I must say it came out fiendishly good! I mean like ‘eat it by the spoonful’ good. It’s also not too firm, a characteristic which would have made it difficult to mix with. I was also very happy with the couple of cocktails I made using it. Nothing ground breaking, just sturdy deliciousness. My favorite was the pisco sour and everyone who tried it thought so too. The smokiness of the pisco made a create completement to the rindy-tarness of the marmalade.

Calamondin Pisco Sour

1 1/2 oz. Don Cesar ‘Pisco Puro’
2 teaspoons calamondin marmalade
1/2 oz. lemon juice
1/2 oz. Senior Curacao of Curacao orange liqueur
1/2 oz. egg white
A few drops of Angostura bitters, for garnish

Combine all the ingredients in a mixing glass.
Shake hard, without ice, to froth the egg whites.
Add ice and shake 10 more times to chill.
Double strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Put a few drops of Angostura bitters in the froth and make a pretty design using a toothpick.

Cherries 2010

Posted in Cherries, Creme de Noyaux, Home Made Ingredients, Stone Fruit with tags , , , on August 4, 2010 by Mr. Manhattan

It’s been a good cherry season here in northern California with plenty of nice looking fruit still for sale. Commensurately, I’ve been busy. Here’s an update on my projects.

Candied Sweet Cherries—Two ways

Back in May I made two separate batches of candied cherries using Bing and some Van, both of which are bigarreau-type cultivars of Prunus avium, the sweet cherry species. These are really fleshy fruit and I wanted to see if I could approximate the texture and taste of candied Italian amarenata cherries (often incorrectly referred to as amarena). Those cherries are very dark and dense inside, almost like a fruit paste. Some folks don’t like ‘em, but I myself am quite fond of them, especially when they’ve had the chance to ‘make friends’ with some rye in a mason jar and loose all of that heavy syrup in which they come packed.

For the first batch I started out by partially cooking 2 lb. of fruit that had been stoned and then macerated for one hour with 1 lb. of organic cane sugar. I added a vanilla bean (split lengthwise), the peel of two Seville oranges, their juice and about half a cup of water. I stirred everything until all the sugar was dissolved and simmered the mixture for about 15 – 20 minutes, as if I was going to make preserves. I then switched over to a ‘classic’ candying protocol, leaving the cherries to sit in the syrup over night, draining them in the morning, re-heating the syrup to which more sugar is then added, and then pouring the enriched syrup over the cherries again. I did this for about five days; fully candied fruit may be processed for two weeks in this manner. I then gave them a final draining (reserving the vanilla-rich syrup, which is totally killer over ice cream) and put the cherries on a baking sheet to allow them to dry. After a few days I deemed them done.

For the second batch I decided to follow the candying protocol more closely, which meant the stoned fruit was barely cooked on the first day and with much less sugar. Once again I added a vanilla bean, orange peel (Sevilles were now gone however) and the juice of a lemon. I enriched the syrup with daily additions of sugar for another full seven days after which I decided they were candied enough. One thing I didn’t want was to wind up with an entirely glaced cherry. As it turned out, this second batch was far closer to that point that I realized. After being stored in a sealed container for 10 days they were in fact showing signs of becoming crystalized.

Of the two batches, the first is clearly the more successful. The flesh of the fruit is very moist and a lot of fresh cherry flavor remains. There’s also no sign of crystallizing, even after a month in the container. The second batch, while tasty, is definitely more sugary and the fruit has begun to show signs of crystallization. I’ve put a bunch of them into my ‘washing jar’ with some rye where I think they will fare better.

I should say that neither batch approximates the jamminess of the Italian amarenata cherries. I am not sure that I will ever be able to do that.

Brandied Balatons

I have waxed poetic before on the Balaton, a cultivar of sour cherries (Prunus cerasus) originally developed in Hungary, established in states like Michigan, Idaho and Utah, and now showing up in commercial quantities here in California. These seem to be easier far to find than the tart standard bearer, the Montmorency. In fact, I’ve never seen these for sale anywhere around here.

I lucked upon Balatons last year as they were more or less fading and just barely managed to get some home before the market scuttled the box as unsalable. (I’d have taken ‘em!) This year I kept my eyes open for them every time I visited Berkeley Bowl. Two days ago they made their appearance, this time pre-packaged in 2 lb. clamshells. This was actually an improvement over the loose boxes in which I found them last year. All the fruit was firm, bright and in good condition. (Note: two days later all the Balatons were gone—sold out. Guess I wasn’t the only one waiting for these.)

Last year I put my Balatons up two ways: one rye (with orange peel and vanilla bean) and one in mixture of cognac and kirsch. I eventually added some sugar to both batches. Of the two, I liked the cognac and kirsch best, so this year that’s all I did. I also bumped the sugar a bit and allowed the fruit to macerate for a couple of hours before adding the spirits. In about a week I will sample and and adjust the sweetness if necessary.

Cherry Noyaux Experiments

My noyaux investigations continue. An abundance of cherries have been stoned in my kitchen over the past two months and I have not been letting the kernels go to waste. Unlike peach bunkers, cherry stones are easily cracked, though you get much less out of each one. For example, two pounds of Balaton cherries yielded just 19 grams of kernels. That’s “kernels,” the bit inside of each stone, not the shells which account for most of the mass.

I have made two distinct experiments using cherry stones at this point.

Experiment #1: Boosting the Peach Noyaux

The first thing I wanted to try was to add cherry kernels to the peach kernel noyaux I made last year. That first product has always felt a bit delicate and subtle to me. My thought was to boost the flavor by macerating some cherry kernels in it. One batch, using Bing/Van kernels, has been macerating for two months and has now been coarsely filtered. The aroma of this noyaux is definitely more intense but it’s the flavor which has really changed: much more marzipan and bitter almond. My current thoughts are to mix in more of the peach kernel noyaux to reduce the bitterness and/or add more sugar.

I also have a second similar batch based on the Balaton kernels in process. It will be interesting to see if it tastes any different than the batch based on Bing/Van kernels.

Experiment #2: Straight Cherry Noyaux

Another idea was to make a new batch of noyaux based entirely on cherries. Since cherry stones contain such small kernels I decided to just crush the stones and add everything—kernels, shells, and any flesh still attached—to a bottle of VS cognac. That batch is about one month old right now and has turned a coppery-red. You can smell the cherry in it and when tasted, it exhibits a light cherry flavor. It will be interesting to see how much more flavor develops in a month and how it tastes after it’s been sweetened. I may also augment this with some of the cherry-boosted peach noyaux.

And…We’re Off to the Printers!

Posted in Home Made Ingredients, Left Coast Libations with tags , on April 12, 2010 by Mr. Manhattan

It’s been a while since my last update on the book. I’m hoping to do that a bit more often going forward…

Last week we sent the completed print package for Left Coast Libations off to the printers, with no small sense of relief. All of last month was consumed with putting the finishing touches on the book: getting final hi-res color delivered, collecting releases from all the bartenders (herding cats, mon), completing the copyright page information, dealing with Library of Congress, building the index, adding a last minute section at the end for bartender updates, getting photos for our bios, etc etc. And now, that’s all done. Of course, as anyone who’s had a book printed knows, that particular stress was replaced almost immediately with concerns about things we might have missed (and that we’re going to find when we get our very expensive proof back to review) or problems in the print package itself (like missing fonts). It’s a never ending cycle of labor and joy, joy and labor.

What they are saying about Left Coast Libations

One really really cool thing we did in February was to send out early versions of the book as PDF to solicit quotes from key industry folks. These are the sorts of things you need for the back cover and for press releases which get generated before the book is made generally available for review. Amazingly enough not only did we get a 100% response from everyone we approached but everyone got back to us within a month. We didn’t have to follow up or cajole anyone. I am told that’s not always the case.

And, without further ado, here’s (some) of what “they are saying” about us…

“If cocktails aren’t your thing, buy this book anyway. Munat is delightfully entertaining, and his keen wit, coupled with a little sarcasm and a touch of attitude, have served him well here. It’s a darned good read. If cocktails are your thing you’ll get double your money’s worth with Left Coast Libations. It’s packed with fabulous formulas from all the big shots who hold forth from behind the mahogany on the west coast.”

Gary Regan, author of The Joy of Mixology and the bartender’s GIN compendium

“I am so very pleasantly surprised to learn that not only do some of our Western Territories have bars, but—if we are to believe this amusing and informative little volume—the conduct of those institutions is frequently placed in the hands of individuals who thoroughly know their business. I should like to visit them some day.”

—David Wondrich, author of Imbibe

“’Go West young man, go West!’ No truer words were ever spoken, then or now. It might seem like all of the nation’s trend-setting excitement is happening on the East Coast, but when you talk cocktails, you have to pay attention to what is happening in bars and restaurants up and down the West Coast. With Left Coast Libations, you not only have the opportunity to discover many of the great cocktails which have sprung out of the West, but also get a chance to meet the bartenders who created them.”

—Robert Hess, creator of DrinkBoy.com, co-founder of the Museum of the American Cocktail

“Munat and Lazar’s book is the finest attempt anyone has made to reveal the movement that culinary cocktail-making has become. Left Coast Libations not only delivers stellar drink recipes but also includes all of the sub-recipes for each of the bartender’s hand-crafted ingredients. Working through this process gives the reader a fantastic new arsenal of garnishes, syrups, foams, airs, and other unique ingredients that enable anyone to create memorable cocktails at home. Additionally, we get the chance to learn a little bit about the creative souls who contributed these recipes with sharp, humorous, and always entertaining biographies on each bartender. If you love mixology, you will love this book.”

Scott Beattie, author of Artisanal Cocktails

“Far more than a how-to or a coffee table tome, Left Coast Libations stands as a complete and inclusive record of the state of some of North America’s finest bartenders as we wallow contentedly in the second Golden Age of cocktails. By turns humorous, stylish and evocative, Munat and Lazar open the doors to the rich world of American bartending west of the flyover zone.”

Phil Duff, door 74, Amsterdam

Makes my head swim every time I read those. More about the book soon…

P.S. And let no post end without a pretty photo…

I will be hosting a large cocktail event next month. We’ll be serving a selection of drinks from Left Coast Libations, naturally. One selection will be Jim Romdall’s El Globo Rojo which uses a homemade ingredient from Charles Baker’s A Gentlemen’s Companion. Here’s an (enormous looking) jar of what will become Tequila Por Mi Amante in about four weeks time. Slurp!

Cheers!

Chinotto Ripening

Posted in Exotic Citrus, Home Made Ingredients with tags , on January 27, 2010 by Mr. Manhattan

Last summer I purchased a few exotic dwarf citrus trees: calamondin (which I’ve previously written about), kaffir lime (from which I’ve made a very pungent tincture) and chinotto, a variety of Italian sour orange which I am told is used to flavor many amari including Ramazotti. Despite some serious rain and cold over the last couple of weeks, the chinotto (also known in the US as myrtle leaf oranges) are now ripening very quickly, which means I will soon need to decide what to do with them. A tincture from the peel to use as the basis of an aromatic bitters seems like an obvious choice. I am also considering macerating some whole fruit from which I can attempt a “digestif” but I am flying blind here. I’d love to hear any suggestions you all might have.

Oranges to Vin d’Orange

Posted in Exotic Citrus, Home Made Ingredients with tags , on December 27, 2009 by Mr. Manhattan

Following on my last post about calamondin, I explore a great use for another exotic citrus now coming into season, Seville oranges…

One of the blogs I regularly follow is simply called “Cocktail of the Day” where the bartenders at Range list their most recent cocktail inventions. These folks are prolific, inventing several new libations every week, often incorporating the local in-season produce. Every so often I find something which really turns me on and then I have to make it at home. [See note below]

A few months ago, they mentioned that the were making their own vin d’orange, an aperitif made by infusing dry white white, to which sugar and neutral grain spirits have been added, with sour oranges and spices like vanilla and/or cinnamon. Variations of it are made throughout France and it is, to the best of my knowledge, the inspiration for Lillet. With Seville oranges in season, I figured it was time to make my move.

To make my version, I did some web research and then settled on the recipe posted on Savuer Languedoc by a freelance food writer named Anne de Ravel. Here’s that recipe as I adapted it:

Vin d’Orange (after Saveur Languedoc)

2.5 lbs Seville oranges, washed and sliced
2 organic or pesticide-free lemons, washed and sliced
4 bottles dry white wine (I used Rosenblum Viognier and Qupe Marsanne)
2 cups 151-proof Everclear neutral grain spirits
1 cup Wray & Nephew overproof rum
1 cup grappa di moscato
2 vanilla beans, split in half
950 grams organic white sugar

Everything above is mixed together and stirred until the sugar is dissolved and then covered and let to stand for about 2 months. Anne de Ravel indicated she stirred everything once a day for the first month and then once a week during the second. After two months, the mixture needs to be strained, racked, filtered and bottled.

To make my life much easier, I used a white 2-gallon food grade container with a tight fitting lid instead of the recommended jugs. Cramming all that citrus into the small opening of a jug (and then getting everything out again later) just seemed like too much of a pain and unnecessary. It also meant I could slice rather than chop my citrus. Here’s a photo showing how pretty things looked inside the container during assembly:

If you compare recipes, you also note that I’m using much higher proof spirit than called for in the original. To be honest, that was really just a mistake on my part. I unthinkingly interpreted “clear unflavored alcohol” as Everclear, which I use for making tinctures. I imagine I can compensate for this if it proves necessary by adding some water but I’ll hold off making that call for a month. Do note however that the choice to use some overproof rum and grappa was deliberate. I thought these would add interesting complexity to the blend.

Two other modifications I plan to make to the recipe are as follows. After the first month, I’ll mix in a handful of charred french oak cubes for added flavor. These were purchased from a local beer and wine making supply. I’ll leave them for no more than one month. Second, after filtering and bottling, I’m going to try infusing a couple of liters of the vin d’orange with chinchona bark ala the ever elusive Kina Lillet.

I’ll let you know how things are going in a month…

NOTE: If you visit the Range cocktail site you’ll notice right away that they don’t provide measurements for any of the recipes nor how do they tell you to how to make special ingredients when these are required. The good news is that if you post a comment and ask, someone from the bar will respond. It may take a day or two so keep checking back.

Crème de Noyaux: A Short, Moderately Accurate, Incomplete History

Posted in Cocktails, Creme de Noyaux, Home Made Ingredients, Stone Fruit with tags , , , on November 19, 2009 by Mr. Manhattan

By now most of us know the stories of “lost” cocktail ingredients like orgeat, grenadine, and pineapple gum syrup. These are well known to us today, in part, because their fortunes are linked to many famous (and delicious) cocktails: orgeat to the Mai Tai, grenadine to the Ward 8 (among others) and pineapple gum to Pisco Punch. (The lesson here is that it pays to be well connected if you’re an obscure cocktail ingredient.) Today however I am going to talk about an ingredient far less storied and far less referenced in “The Canon” of famous cocktails. In fact, this ingredient is most famously associated with a cocktail many (if not all) of us would likely eschew if one were offered to us today. This is a story about crème de noyaux—along with a little history of its poster-child cocktail, the Pink Squirrel.

“So, what the heck is this pink stuff in my glass, anyway?”

According to the source of all truth (wikipedia), crème de noyaux (or noyau as it is may also be spelled) is “an almond-flavored pink crème liqueur made from apricot kernels.” Actually, that’s most of the article quoted for you right there. Short and, unfortunately, misleading. Why?

First off, it is inaccurate to say crème de noyaux is “almond-flavored.” Crème de noyaux may taste of almonds, but no almonds, as such, are used to make it. (Aside: Amaretto, another “almond-flavored” liqueur, is similarly almond-free.) Second it doesn’t tell you that in addition to apricot kernels, noyaux may also be made from peach and cherry stone kernels, possibly a combination of all three. Third, it doesn’t tell you that, being made from the kernels of fruit in the Prunus genus, it contains traces of amygdalin, which is converted into cyanide as a side effect of digestion. (OK, by the enzyme beta-glucosidase, if you must know). Finally, it doesn’t tell you what the heck makes it pink. Today, of course, that pink is likely to be good old artificial food coloring. I’d hazard a guess that once upon a time it was colored with cocineal, though my research on this was quite inconclusive.

[N.B. If you didn't already know, the term "crème" does not refer to the use of cream (or a non-dairy equivalent) as in "Bailey's Irish Cream," but rather to any highly sugared liqueur. See, this article is full of information!]

The State of Crème de Noyaux Today

Here in the United States crème de noyaux has pretty much vanished. In the San Francisco bay area where I live, the only brand of crème de noyaux I see with any regularity on the liquor store shelves is the Hiram Walker, the provenance of which I can only speculate. Mostly or entirely artificial in flavor and color would be my guess. (If someone can prove me wrong, please do.) Elsewhere you may find Bols, DeKuyper and Marie Brizard, but these may be called crème de almond instead of noyaux—a name which I believe crept into usage in the 1950’s. (Someone with a set of Old Mr. Boston Guides could probably help settle this.) One of these offerings, the Marie Brizard, is also completely clear.

The French are a bit luckier, naturellement. Best as I can tell from the Internet, they have two choices, de Poissy and de Vernon, both of which are naturally flavored. However Erik Ellestad has tried obtain these (according to his blog entry on the Eye Opener Cocktail) but without any success. (Either that or he’s not sharing with the rest of us. ;->) Also unknown to me is whether these offerings are tinted the traditional pink or not.

Getting High on Your Own Supply

Let me now rewind things by a few months and explain how I became interested in this particular ingredient in the first place…

In May 2009, Erik Ellestad wrote up his experiences making the Old Etonian cocktail (part of his on going project to make all the cocktails in The Savoy Cocktail book). The Old Etonian calls for the elusive crème de noyaux. Erik had received a bottle of homemade noyaux from another famous blogger, Matthew Rowley at Rowley’s Whiskey Forge. I already knew the execrable state of domestic noyaux, Rowley had published the recipe he used on his blog and since I love making exotic ingredients, I knew right away that I had found my next project!

Matthew’s recipe comes from the 1910 edition of the “Picayune’s Creole Cook Book,” which he has generously allowed me to reproduce from his blog. Here it is:

Peach Kernel Ratafia
(Ratafia aux Noyau de Peches ou d’Abricots)

¼ pound each of peach or apricot kernels
4 pints of brandy
2½ pounds of sugar
2 pints of water

Pound the peach or apricot kernels – some also pound peach stones – steep them for one whole month in four pints of brandy in an earthen jar, and at the end of that time add a syrup made of two and a half pounds of sugar and 2 pints of water. Mix all well together, and then filter, and bottle and seal, and keep in a cool, shady place.

[Here's a link to Matthew's original blog post.]

As you can see, it’s a straightforward and relatively uncomplicated process. The only real challenges are collecting the peach stones (you need quite a few) and then cracking them open to extract the kernels inside.

To get my peach stones I took a tip from Rowley and went to a local bakery well known for their fruit pies: Bake Sale Betty in Oakland, CA. As it turned out, the owners were familiar with making liqueurs from apricot pits, so my request wasn’t completely strange to them. All I had to do was wait for peaches to reach their seasonal peak, a which point the bakery would start making their pies, saving the stones for me. A few weeks later, I stopped by to see how things were going at which point they handed me a stack of “to go” boxes filled with peach stones, about 20 pounds worth. As they say, I had scored. Incredibly grateful, I promised to come back in a couple of months with a bottle of crème de noyaux, in payment.

Cracking peach stones open is the really hard work, any way you do it. Rowley used a hammer and cracked them open on the concrete sidewalk outside his house. I decided to try using a pair of giganto-sized Vicegrips to split them open. It took me the better part of two hours and my hands were hella sore for a day afterwards. But, for my trouble, I obtained 8 ounces worth of the precious kernels, enough to make two batches of Rowley’s recipe.

The rest of the recipe involves pounding the kernels in a mortar and pestle, macerating them in the cognac, waiting, sweetening and then filtering the results. Let me add a couple of notes about sweetening and filtering.

Sweetening: While waiting for Bake Sale Betty to collect peach stones for me, I was given a small pile of nectarine stones which I used to make a test batch of the noyaux. Nectarine stone kernels turn out to be much less fragrant than those from peaches and the resulting liqueur was pretty lackluster. However, by making it I determined that the amount of sweetening specified in Rowley’s recipe was way way too much for my palate. I find the Cajun palate is generally inclined to make things much sweeter than I prefer, so this wasn’t too surprising. When it came time to sweeten the batch I made with peach kernels, I used half the amount of sugar called for.

Filtering: Even after filtering through several layers of fine muslin, the noyaux retained a suspension of very fine particles. Over the course of about a month, these settled out, allowing me to rack off almost perfectly clear liquid. I tried to reclaim what was left behind (several ounces) by using regular Melita coffee filters, but most of the particles simple passed right through the paper. I suspect that if you really want to get things perfectly clear, you’ll either need to use a Buchner filter and 3-micron filter paper discs or try following the procedures provided on Rowley’s blog from the same book as the noyaux recipe. These involve using felt and or isinglass.

“So, what the heck does it taste like?”

The homemade noyaux definitely has a unique aroma and taste. The nose is very effusive, practically volatile. There’s a lot of marzipan backed by the grapey scent of the cognac in which the kernels were macerated. The marzipan continues onto the tongue where it’s joined by a little tea and the sugar. It finishes with a distinct bittersweet edge, which at first I found a little challenging. I was worried that the bitterness would dominate the experience of drinking the noyaux, much the way tannins can build up on the tongue and dominate the fruit in a young cabernet. That did not happen. Instead I found that after a few sips, the sweet and bitter components achieved a pleasant equilibrium. I was reminded of the experience of tasting a Del Maguey mezcal for the first time: you sense you’re drinking a very “pure” product, something from the earth which has been processed just enough to express itself fully and no more.

A Mostly Obscure Bestiary of Cocktails

Appropriately enough for a ‘lost’ pre-Prohibition ingredient, the majority of cocktails which call for crème de noyaux are to be found in The Savoy Cocktail Book. Here’s the complete list:

Eye Opener Cocktail
Fairbanks Cocktail (No. 2)
Jockey Club Cocktail
Lily Cocktail
Mikado Cocktail
Old Etonian Cocktail

Of these, the Mikado, a variation on the Japanese, is my personal favorite though, ironically, it also contains orgeat which is of course made from…almonds. I find this somewhat diminishes the impact of the crème de noyaux. The Lily is the only one of these in which crème de noyaux plays a significant role, equal in proportion to gin and Kina Lillet. However I can’t say I really love how that one tastes. Too angular a combination of tastes, me thinks.

More to my taste was another cocktail I found on CocktailDB called the Crawl Cocktail. Here’s the recipe:

Crawl Cocktail

1 oz. Cognac
1/2 oz. light rum (Flor de Cana Aged white)
1/2 oz. Crème de noyaux
1/4 oz. Curacao
1 dash Angostura bitters

Stir over ice. Serve in coupe with a lemon twist for garnish.

Despite my best efforts, I was unable to find any attribution for this cocktail. If you know anything about it, please drop me a line and let me know.

The Trail of The Pink Squirrel

The most famous crème de noyaux cocktail is, of course, the Pink Squirrel. I decided to learn what I could about it for this blog post. The trail led me to Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where, legend has it, the cocktail was invented. Byrant’s, as it turns out, is still around and still makes Pink Squirrels (and Grasshoppers) as part of what looks like a serious bar program. I contacted the folks at Bryant’s to answer some of my questions.

According to John M. Dye (manager) and Shirley Lowery (former manager and first licensed female bartender in Milwaukee), Bryant Sharp invented the Pink Squirrel in 1941. (Prior to 1941, Bryant’s had been a beer hall, tied to Miller Brewery.) The original recipe called for ice cream and not the heavy cream called for by modern recipes. In the 1960’s, Bryant’s second owner, Pat Malmberg, decided to cut the crème de cacao from Bryant’s original recipe since felt it was unnecessary. Bryant’s still makes their Pink Squirrels according to this recipe today.

Less clear is whether the Pink Squirrel started life as an alcoholic beverage or as milkshake to which spirits were then added. (After reading Dye’s account, I have myself wondered whether Bryant was in fact serving ‘spiked’ milkshakes prior to Repeal, but have not been able to obtain corroboration of this theory one way or the other.)

I also quizzed Dye regarding the brand of crème de noyaux that Bryant might have been using in his original cocktails. Dye says he’s believes it might have been Bols but really he’s not sure. He says that Bryant’s has a long history with Bols and they use their crème de noyaux today.

Unanswered Questions

Like the title says, this history is short, only moderately accurate and definitely incomplete. There’s more research that could be done and I am hoping over time I’ll be able to answer some or all of the following questions:

1- Was pre-Prohibition crème de noyaux colored pink?

2- What was originally used to color crème de noyaux pink?

3- Are the French offerings pink colored?

4- At what point did crème de almond become a “synonym” for crème de noyaux?

5- When did the Pink Squirrel first appear in the Old Mr. Boston guide (and with or without the ice cream)?

One For the Road

I’ll end this with an original recipe of my own. It’s pretty simple and to the point. Along with rye, I’m mixing the noyaux with maraschino, which is made from the kernels of yet another Prunus genus fruit, the cherry.

Kernel of Truth

2 oz. Wild Turkey rye
1/2 oz. Homemade crème de noyaux
1/4 oz. Luxardo maraschino liqueur

Stir over ice. Serve in a chilled cocktail glass.

Cheers!

Cherries Jubilee: A Five Day Followup

Posted in Cherries, Home Made Ingredients, Stone Fruit with tags , , on August 25, 2009 by Mr. Manhattan

So last night I sampled my two batches of cherries. Here are my notes:

Cherries in Rye: These seemed a bit tart to me and not very well integrated with the rye spirit. I decided to doctor things a bit. I strained the cherries out of the spirit (now a lovely red) and removed the orange peel. I ran the spirit through a coffee filter to get all the cloudiness out (took a while) and then added an additional 1/2 cup of sugar. (I had about 1 cup of spirit after filtering.) I put the sweetened spirit/syrup back in the jar with the cherries so they can spend some more time together. (N.B. I used caster sugar so it dissolved quickly and easily.)

Cherries in Cognac and Kirschwasser: This seems like the winning combination. Simply delicious. The kirsch married with the fresh cherry flavor so naturally – which I guess shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. As with the cherries in rye, I strained the cherries out of the spirit, removed the orange peel and ran the spirit through a coffee filter to remove any cloudiness. I thought “maybe a little bit sweeter” so added in a some sugar, just a 1/4 cup, and then put everything back together again. Did it really need more sugar? Maybe not. I’ll see what happens and let you know.

Cherries in Brandy and Kirsch

[P.S. I also filtered the Thomas Handy rye in which I'd been soakling all the cherry pits. Man that smells great! I haven't decided what I'm going to do with this next. There's only about 4 oz. Any suggestions, besides just drinking it (as if you're reading this ;->)?]

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 54 other followers