Measure & Stir

A Craft Cocktail Blog for the Home Bartender that Focuses on Original Creations Drawn from Culinary Inspiration.


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Cupcake with Fernet Branca Icing, Candied Ginger

I apologize, dear readers, for my unexplained absence. I have been sick. To make it up to you, I have, not a recipe for a drink, but a recipe for a cupcake. At the ground level of the building where I work, there is a fancy cupcake shop, and as I was gnoshing on a bourbon maple cupcake, I was suddenly struck by how much I wanted fernet-flavored icing. I am not very experienced at baking, but when I mentioned the idea to my friend James, he took it and ran with it.

We used a recipe from Magnolia Bakery in New York City, but we took some liberties with the icing, obviously.

Fernet Branca Icing
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter (room temperature)
6 – 8 cups confectioner’s sugar
1/2 cup – 1 cup + Fernet Branca (to taste)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1. Place butter in large mixing bowl
2. Add  4 cups of the sugar and Fernet and vanilla, mix on medium speed until smooth and creamy, about 3 – 5 minutes
As you’re mixing it, after the first 3 – 5 minutes, after it starts to become creamy, gradually add the remaining sugar, beating well after each addition (2 minutes), until the icing is thick enough to be of spreading consistency.

As you can see if you look at the picture closely, our buttercream came out with a slightly lumpy consistency, and the internet tells me this is because our buttercream was too cold. For perfect texture, the butter needs to be wholly at room temperature. Moreover, our frosting was a bit too thin to spread. In our eagerness for the bitter flavor of Fernet, we allowed the ratio of sugar/butter/Fernet to become too far weighted in the direction of Fernet. This made the frosting delicious, but it also made it run down the sides of the cupcake.

We garnished the cupcakes with a slice of candied ginger, and it paired beautifully with the Fernet. Here is the recipe for the cupcakes themselves, for those of us who are ready:

Magnolia Bakery Cupcakes
1.5 cup self-rising flour
1.25 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a medium bowl, combine the flours, set aside.
3. In a large bowl, on medium speed of electric mixer, cream the butter until it’s smooth.
4. Add sugar, beat for 3 minutes, until fluffy.
5. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each.
6. Add dry ingredients in 3 parts, alternating with the milk + vanilla.
With each addition, beat until the ingredients are incorporated but don’t over do it.
7. Spoon batter into cupcake tin with liners.
8. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the the cupcake has finished (tester comes out clean).
9. Cool cupcakes on a rack for 15 minutes.

Do not ice them until they have completely cooled. Even without perfect texture, these cupcakes were delicious. Why not eat them with a small glass of bourbon?


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Rum, Turmeric Juice, Lemongrass

Hot on the heels of the Curry Derby, I wanted to really explore this concept of turmeric in drinks. To that end, I purchased a healthy knob of turmeric, and ran it through my juicer, along with a bit of young ginger. The resulting juice was light, with a depth of peppery curry flavor, and a slight burn on the finish from ginger. Turmeric is something we have all experienced in Indian curries, but I had never really tasted it on its own, except for sad, dried out turmeric powder. A word to the wise: putting dried spices in your food is depressing; they have the texture of sand and most of the flavor. It’s the difference between a grand piano and a casio recorder.

The spices gave the drink a bitter dimension, but it still needed high notes, so I chose J. Wray and Nephew as the base. Lately I have been trying to temper my enthusiasm for rums with hogo — there are so many styles out there, after all — but the beauty of hogo is that it pairs so well with herbal and vegetal flavors. I enjoy seeking out such flavors, of course, so J. Wray is always in my well.

J. Wray and Turmeric was a good base, but the flavor was incomplete. A proper mixed drink needs an abrasive quality to make it pop. The most common sources for this are fortified wine, which provides astringency from herbs, and citric acid from fresh lemon or lime. There are other options: the tannin in tea can also be bracing, as can the pungency of aromatic bitters. Originally I had tried muddling some lemon grass in some simple syrup, but the lemon grass that I had purchased that day was of inferior quality, and would not convey a strong enough flavor to the syrup. I ended up deciding that rum called for lime, with the end result being a kind of succulent turmeric daquiri.

Tim Curry
1.5 oz Traditional Rum (J. Wray and Nephew)
1 oz Turmeric Ginger juice
.75 oz Lime Juice
.5 oz Simple Syrup

Muddle lemongrass in simple syrup, then combine all in a shaker. Shake over ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a piece of broken lemongrass.

Rum is a piratey drink, after all, and as such this drink is named after Tim Curry, mostly for his role in Pirates of the Plain, and because his name happens to fit the ingredients. Good. A couple of notes on working with turmeric: everything it touches will turn golden curry yellow. The tasteful 80s mauve of my juicer is now permanently stained golden. My finger nails, until they grow out. The place on the counter where some of the juice dripped. It’s positively Faustian. Definitely don’t spill it on your white shirt. Also, it oxidizes within about two hours, turning from glowing neon carrot to a more muted rust. Use it quickly if you want to extract maximum vibrancy.

Despite its appealing color, turmeric is not for the faint of heart. This drink was savory, halfway between a daquiri and a bloody mary, but not as thick. As the evening went on, we made this variation:

Señor Curry
1.5 oz Reposado Tequila (Espolón)
.75 oz Turmeric-Ginger Juice
.25 oz Lime Juice
.25 oz Pimento Dram (Homemade)
Shake over ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a cinnamon stick.

This was not quite as good as the first version, but the reposado tequila hit some of the same notes as the J. Wray, and the allspice liqueur complimented both the juice and the tequila. Still, the recipe wasn’t perfect. I think I would have preferred chocolate instead of allspice, but I did not have any on hand.


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Curry Derby

Another drink that I mixed at my parents’ house, this one by request. My father had visited Crave in Cincinnati, and ordered this drink, and he asked me to recreate it. If you follow the link, you will notice that their menu is cheesy; too big, too full of flavored vodkas, too full of names like “Kinky Heat”. As much as I want this menu to be ironic, we all know it’s serious.

Whatever. Coconut and turmeric is a flavor that I have enjoyed in at least one Indian curry, and I have long been intrigued by the possibility of turmeric in drinks, so I was eager to try this recipe. When asked, the bartender provided the following helpful instructions:

Kentucky Derby

1.5 oz Bourbon (Maker’s Mark)
1 oz of Coconut water
.25 oz of ginger infused simple syrup
.25 oz Monin Coco syrup
.25 teaspoon of turmeric powder

Shake vigorously over ice and double strain over ice into a rocks glass. Rim the glass with cinnamon sugar.

That’s all well and good, but the drink was too sweet as formulated above, so we opted to omit the coconut syrup and the cinnamon sugar rim. In retrospect, a bit of cinnamon would have fit the curry theme nicely, but this business with the sugar on the rim… is an indulgence best left to the ladies. Campari on the rim–that’s more my style! But I did not do that. Plain cinnamon is anhydrous and unpleasant in the mouth, so it ought not to be used for a rim. No, to put cinnamon in this drink, a cinnamon stick garnish, as yesterday, would be ideal.

Curried Derby
1.5 oz Bourbon (Woodford Reserve)
1 oz of Coconut water
.25 oz of ginger syrup
.25 teaspoon of turmeric powder

Hard shake and double strain over ice. Garnish with a cinnamon stick (dehydrated fig).

Powdered turmeric sucks every bit as much as every other powdered spice. Don’t use it, unless you want your drink to have a slightly powdery texture, no matter how much you shake it. Real gangstas of cocktailia run some fresh turmeric through a juicer, and make turmeric ginger syrup. YES! Turmeric ginger syrup, and cinnamon-infused bourbon, that is the Curried Derby that my heart truly desires.

Make a syrup using a cold process, i.e., mix the pure juice with equal parts of sugar and shake it in a sealed jar until the sugar is fully integrated. I don’t know how strong the turmeric juice will be in flavor, but I would start it with equal parts of turmeric and ginger juice, and taste until balanced. As for the cinnamon bourbon, only infuse it for a couple of hours, lest the cinnamon completely over take the whiskey. I will take these thoughts, which I have had just now as I was writing this post, and report back.

Astute readers will also notice that we dropped the completely boring and nondescript name, and everyone involved is better for it.


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Basil and Gin

I was in a particular experimental mood one night, and I had just purchased a fresh basil plant, so I thought I could probably put those things together. Alas, as I was eyeing the various liqueurs upon my shelf, I spied the bottle of Domaine de Canton, and was reminded of the way that thai cooking often combines basil with ginger. Would that I had not had such a thought, for Domaine de Canton makes a very poor cocktail; it is long on sugar and meager in ginger flavor. I have never mixed a drink with it that I loved, though I must confess it comes in a very appealing bottle. Ginger liqueur sounds great, of course, but the problem is that ginger, though spicy and strong of flavor, has a very light aroma.

As such, its flavor is not well-captured by the infusing process. Perhaps the good folks who make it are distilling it, but their website is unclear. Whatever they are doing, it is not working, because their product contains only the barest hint of a ginger flavor, and as such, it does not contribute to any drink with which it is mixed unless it makes up the majority of the drink’s volume. A quick browse through the recipes at the Domaine de Canton website confirms this analysis; all of the drinks they feature are very heavy on the liqueur. Perhaps that’s merely a ploy to sell more of their product, but either way, it’s a terrible mixer.

In its defense, it is delicious on its own, and I highly enjoy it neat or on the rocks, with with a twist of lemon peel. Since this post turned into an impromptu review of Domain de Canton, I’m going to sum up the pros and cons:

Pros: Excellent bottle. The spirit itself is slightly spicy from the ginger, and has a subtle vanilla flavor, with a hint of pear. Proof: 56, which is pretty good for a liqueur.

Cons: The flavor is too light to make any impact on a mixed drink unless you make it the bulk of the drink’s volume, throwing your sugar balance out of whack. Even dry gin overpowers it.

In any case, if you want ginger flavor in your drink, the proper way to do it is with either fresh ginger juice or fresh ginger syrup, which is made by shaking equal parts of white sugar and fresh ginger juice. Notice the common theme with these two ingredients. Ginger juice actually retains most of its flavor for a couple of days if properly sealed and refrigerated. I usually just use the fresh juice on its own, because that frees me to get my sugar from another source. A ginger syrup is useful if I know I want it to be the only sugar in the drink, but I find the fresh juice to be more versatile. If you don’t have a juicer, you can grate the ginger and squeeze the gratings through a strainer.

Basil and Gin
1.5 oz Gin (Beefeater)
.5 oz Dry Vermouth (Dolin)
.5 oz Domaine de Canton
1 dash Angostura Bitters
6-7 basil leaves
Muddle the basil leaves in the Domaine de Canton and then stir all with ice. Strain into a cocktail class and garnish with a smacked basil leaf and a lime peel.

Astute readers will notice that I grated lime zest on to the top of this drink, whereas my instructions call for a lime peel. I had never tried grating lime zest over a drink before, and for some reason it occurred to me as I was making this one to give it a shot. I don’t recommend this. In all honesty, I can’t see any reason to ever use grated lime zest over cutting a peel and expressing the oils. Grating puts substantially less oil into the drink, and produces a much fainter aroma. That would be fine if you only wanted a very faint sensation of lime, but when you do it this way, you end up with little pieces of zest floating in the drink, and that just sucks.

A proper drink should never have anything disrupting its texture. You want a light lime flavor? Just discard the peel instead of leaving it in the drink. Who came up with this grating idea? It looks dramatic, sure, but it simply is not functional. Stick to twists and large, rectangular peels.

Moreover, basil does not yield its flavor to a drink when it is muddled. Perhaps if I had used super fine sugar it would have worked better, but, in exactly the opposite situation from ginger, basil has a strong aroma and a mild flavor, therefore, if you want to truly capture its flavor, you need to use a tincture or an infusion.

On top of those two mistakes, I ended up using twice as much as I wanted in an attempt to make the flavor discernible. So the basil was poorly expressed, there was lime zest floating on top, and the whole drink was too sweet. In summary: Don’t make this drink, at least not this way. I will probably not iterate on this it, but if I did, the basil would be infused into the gin, and the ginger flavor would come from fresh juice, and I would use orange bitters instead of Angostura. If you never make a mistake, it means you aren’t taking enough risks.


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Pineapple and Fernet

Last Saturday was a great day. James had just purchased his first bottle of Fernet Branca, and the occasion merited a thorough exploration of the ingredient. Pineapple juice and Fernet is one of those few truly extraordinary flavor pairings, like chocolate and peanut butter, or foie gras and sauternes, and I wish it were better-known.

Moreover, fresh pineapples have a limited window of availability, and I like to get while the gettin’s good, so I juiced a whole pineapple, and separately, a few ginger roots, and took them to the party. For our first drink of the day, I mixed up a Bartender On Acid. I first learned of this drink through CVS, and I fell in love with it because it was a classed up version of a prole drink, like Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady.

Bartender On Acid

1 oz Fernet Branca
1 oz Fresh Pineapple Juice
1 oz Traditional Rum (Wray and Nephew)

Shake over ice and double strain. Serve “Up”.

The Bartender on Acid is a highly improved version of that old college classic, the Surfer On Acid, a trainwreck of a shooter containing equal measures of canned pineapple juice, Jagermeister, and Malibu. Fernet Branca has the same dark, herbal, bitter personality that Jager does, but it has much more subtlety, and much more bitterness. It also has the alluring quality that frat boys don’t really drink it.

A traditional rum such as Wray and Nephew or Smith and Cross replaces the Malibu’s artificial coconut flavor with a hefty slug of “hogo“, the sulfurous, grassy, funky quality of rum which is distilled from molasses in a pot still, as in the traditional style. It’s rare to see an equal portions drink achieve such an excellent balance. A+, would drink again.

For round two, I was feeling inspired by this post at the Tiki Speakeasy, so I decided to put that pineapple juice to good use with a couple of original creations. Ginger and pineapple is another great pairing, and so is ginger and fernet, so I had it in my mind to combine the three of them into a highball.

Piña Branca

1.5 oz Pineapple Juice
1.5 oz Pusser’s Rum
.5 oz Lime Juice
.5 oz Fernet Branca
3 barspoons Fresh Ginger Juice
1 oz Ginger Beer

Combine all except ginger beer in a shaker, shake over ice and double strain over fresh ice. Top with ginger beer and garnish with a pineapple slice and a lime wheel.

Double-down on your garnishes when you’re making a tiki drink. It has to look exotic, and we accomplish that with more cut fruit. I added a few spoonfuls of fresh ginger juice to this drink to add a ginger spice, and relied on the ginger beer to contribute the necessary sugar.

It was very refreshing, but without any simple syrup, the whole drink was very dry, perhaps too dry for some palates. Such a drink is to my taste., but we also had some orgeat hanging around from the Trinidad Sour, and James wanted to see how the orgeat would fit into this drink.

Marzipiña

1.5 oz Pineapple Juice
1.5 oz Pusser’s Rum
.5 oz Lime Juice
.5 oz Fernet Branca
3 barspoons Fresh Ginger Juice
.75 oz Orgeat Syrup
1 oz Ginger Beer

Combine all except ginger beer in a shaker, shake over ice and double strain over fresh ice. Top with ginger beer and garnish with a pineapple slice and a lime wheel. Cut the pineapple so that it’s eating the lime wedge, like Pac Man.

I tasted this drink with only .5 oz of the orgeat, and it didn’t really have the almond sweetness that I was looking for. The addition of orgeat covered up the fernet, and I didn’t want to add any more lest I upset the balance between the other flavors. The addition of sugar to the drink made it much more approachable, and I think that a mint leaf might help bring the fernet back into focus.

This variation will probably suit most peoples’ tastes more than the Piña Branca, and I’m fine with that, as long as it keeps them off of the Malibu.