When something is covered in gold it makes it special, right? Unless you’re Jill Masterson; then you’re an unfortunate casulty of a James Bond love affair. But let’s not get bogged down with my obsession with the James Bond franchise. Let’s talk gifts! Of Gold! For cocktails!
I’m sorry if you were expecting a certain gold-flecked liquor, instead I’m opting for some gold-wrapped champagne to top your cocktail. Make sure you mix it up nice with some blindingly beautiful accessories. And when you’re done, that bar cart is sure a nice way to store everything.
Probably every year about this time I start feeling uneasy and mumble to myself, “I’m not ready yet”. Purity jokes aside, it usually means I’m all a fuss about the upcoming holiday season. I mean, it’s 80 outside. It sure doesn’t feel like Santa is hiding in my chimney, ready to come down and scold me for not baking enough cookies this year.
But just because I’m a bumbling mess doesn’t mean YOU have to be. This year I’m trying to be more proactive and bring you, readers, timely gift guides. Not like those I threw out in March, even though, well, St. Patrick’s Day is also a relative holiday in my field.
Today we’re going to ease into just thinking about fun gifts for those cocktail lovers/enthusiasts/entertainers in your life. Or you can make a list for yourself! Who cares?! I don’t; you should see my “to buy” list, many items of which will actually be appearing here in the next few weeks.
Since it is still pretty balmy out here in Southern California, I’m taking you on a boat trip – with boozy gifts.
You’ll need a good Navy Strength Rum on this boat, and a couple of shatter-resistant glasses (for when it gets rough). Who wants to carry a bunch of full size products when you can have mini bitters on board? Adult ice pops? Yes. Just don’t forget the ice bucket!
So for this year, on the festival of lights, I decided to tweak a recipe I encountered in the Washington Post on Indian beverages. The ingredients might seem a bit out there, but if you’re interested in new flavors, this would be a great place to start. The flavors of India are perfect for many cocktail creations, as they encompass sweet, salty and savory all at once and taste a lot more complex than cocktails you might be familiar with.
Here’s a warning for this drink, not to scare you off, but one ingredient in here, the black salt, might be a bit too much for some of you out there. When you open your container, you will get hit with a great amount of sulphur. That is a flavor component that this adds. Smelly, smelly sulphur. However, if you eat Indian food, you will find this subtly in the background in many dishes, so you might have already tried it before. Here though, if you are terrified of ruining a decent cocktail, or just simply cannot get your hands on it, leave it out. I won’t tell.
Also, the article suggests adding herbs and whole black peppercorns to your ice cubes the day before. This is optional and mainly a decorative element. When the ice cube starts to melt in the drink, be mindful that the peppercorns may be now floating in your beverage and you might unknowingly almost swallow one. I might have just done that. Twice.
Caramel is boiling sugar. The recipe moves quickly so get all your ingredients together before you start and please, try not to spill it on yourself, it will hurt like hell.
Adapted recipe from The Gourmandise School
1-1/2 cups sugar
2 tbsp unsalted butter, Plugra is awesome and used here
1 cup heavy cream, room temp
1 tsp lemon juice
1/4 cup water
1 tsp fleur de sel, Murray River used here
1 oz. Buffalo Trace Bourbon
Seeds from one vanilla bean, or 1 tsp of vanilla bean paste
In a heavy bottomed sauce pan, combine sugar, water, vanilla seeds (or paste), and lemon juice. Stir once to combine. On medium high heat, cook until sugar dissolves, brushing the sides of the pan with a damp pastry brush if sugar crystals stick to the sides. Bring to a boil, undisturbed (do NOT STIR), until sugar reaches a dark amber color. (This can take anywhere between 10-20 minutes. Whatever you do, don’t leave the pan. It will almost always burn if you step away.)
Carefully add the cream. It will bubble and hiss like crazy, but this is normal. Bring back to a boil, then add in butter, salt and bourbon. Stir to combine and until slightly thickened, about 3-5 minutes.
Let cool and then jar up.
Here’s a few notes:
Your sauce is going to look watery at first. Don’t keep cooking it. If you pull a spoon out of the sauce and it leaves a layer, your sauce is thickened. As it cools it will thicken up much more. And once you stick it in the fridge, the next day it’s even more thick.
DO NOT STIR IT WHILE IT COOKS. Just don’t, it will create crystals and it will be grainy and gross.
The bourbon is added at the end, so you will taste it. That is the point of adding it to the sauce. Don’t like bourbon? You can add an aged rum if you like. Or just leave out the booze too if you have to.
Besides the lovely bourbon taste, mainly you are going to get a buttery, salted caramel with hints of vanilla. And you will keep telling yourself, One more spoonful, until there is nothing left.
When I realized there was nothing to snack on at the house I went in search for a quick and easy recipe I could throw together with not much effort but be satisfied with the end result. I remembered I’d seen on Shutterbean a pretty straightforward brownie recipe that would accomplish both goals. But I wanted to put my own spin on it. Also, I wanted something my husband would want to eat and that meant throwing some kind of fruit into it and getting the walnuts out (otherwise I’d be staring the pan down with no regrets). Lately he’d been on a cherry kick and as an afterthought, I figured I would stick a couple cherries on top. Then I spotted the bottle of Angostura bitters and I had an idea. My first batch had a 1/2 ounce, but I found I wanted the bitters to be stronger throughout the brownies. Then I threw in a whole ounce and it was magic.
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
4 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1-¼ cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
1 oz. Angostura bitters
1 cup luxardo cherries (syrup drained off as much as possible)
Preheat oven to 350°. Spray a 8″ square baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Line bottom and sides of the pan with parchment.
Mix flour, salt, cocoa powder & baking powder together in a bowl. Set aside.
Place butter and chocolate in a medium heatproof bowl set over (not in) a saucepan of simmering water; stir frequently, until almost melted. Remove from heat; stir until completely melted.
Whisk in sugar until smooth. Add bitters and stir to combine. Whisk in eggs. Fold in cherries. Gently whisk in flour mixture until smooth (do not overmix).
Spread batter evenly in prepared pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached (they should form a ball when rolled between your fingers), 50 – 55 minutes. Cool completely in pan.
Use parchment paper to lift from pan; peel off and discard. Cut into squares (this is much easier to do with these brownies if you stick them in the freezer after they have cooled slightly for about 20 minutes).
I found that adding the bitters and the cherries made the batter a bit thicker and took more time to bake thoroughly. I would start checking on them at about the 50 minute mark and test every 5 minutes after. The end result is a fudgy brownie that has some super spicy notes from the bitters, and with the cherries, are reminiscent of chocolate covered cherry cordials. I decided to split the chocolate between semisweet and bittersweet to cut a bit back on the richness and try to highlight more of the spice. They really make a great holiday brownie too (I’ve now made this enough times over the past two weeks that I have the recipe memorized and could make them in my sleep).
For this recipe, I made a master batch of simple syrup and then divided it to steep the cloves and cinnamon separately.
Master Simple Syrup
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
Combine water and sugar in a sauce pan. Swirl to combine and place over high heat until warmed through and transparent. Do not let it come to a boil. Once sugar is dissolved, remove from heat if using immediately for below or keep over a very low flame- you will need the syrup to be warm to infuse.
1/2 cup simple syrup
1/4 oz of cloves (I used a kitchen scale to weigh this out. It’s about 3 tablespoons if I were to eyeball it.)
Combine a half cup of the warm simple syrup with the cloves in a heat-proof container. Let sit for 15 minutes. Strain into a bottle through cheesecloth or a fine sieve. Let the mixture cool and store in the refrigerator.
1 cup simple syrup
5 sticks of cinnamon, 2″ to 2-1/2″ in length
Combine a half cup of the warm simple syrup with the cinnamon sticks in a heat-proof container. Let sit for 15 minutes. Strain into a bottle. Let the mixture cool and store in the refrigerator.
Syrups will keep approximately 1 month in the refrigerator (or at least they do in my house).
Part of the costume was to be an empty Ralph’s container of milk, however they only had pints of half and half around. Instead of dumping out the milk when we got back, I can’t waste food, we poured it into some containers and I decided to put it to good use making some White Russians, for help getting “into character”.
I had to consult The Joy of Mixology since this isn’t a drink I often consume. Or actually, have ever had. But we needed to be authentic for the costume. It’s only changed slightly in that I built it in the glass and stirred it, and subbed out 1/2 and 1/2 for the cream. I know, there’s dairy in there, it should be shaken. But the Dude doesn’t go for that fancy stuff.
2 oz. Vodka
1 oz. Kahlua
1 oz. 1/2 and 1/2
Build ingredients in a rocks glass. Give it a good stir to combine. Try not to get it all up in your mustache.
What’s it taste like? Sort of like sweet, spiked coffee. It’s rich, and I can’t fathom how one could continually throw these back. But to each his own.