We made a couple of cherry clafoutis this past weekend. That gave me the chance to try out the brandied cherries prep technique mentioned in the last post. Clafoutis are made from unpitted (traditionally) fresh cherries baked in an eggy crepe batter. The techniques for making brandied cherries I found (Imbibe magazine, The Art of the Bar book and various online sources) all call for simmering the cherries in sugar syrup and lemon juice for 4-5 minutes. The change was to prepare the cherries for the clafouti ahead, like you would in the brandied recipe.

Two day old stewed cherries, looking good

Simmering the cherries will double the volume of liquid you start with – in reality making a cherry syrup. I let the cherries soak in that liquid overnight. When it was time to make the clafouti, I strained off and reserved the syrup. I then used the cherries to make the desert and also filled an 8 oz Mason jar’s worth of good looking ones without the syrup. The jarred cherries were topped with 3 oz of Grand Marnier mixed with 2 tbsp of sugar and then sealed.  I thickened some of the reserved syrup with starch to make a sauce each time we served the clafouti. Both the unused cherries and the syrup have held up fine in the fridge over two days.

Here’s a tradition Clafouti recipe:

from Parisiane Home Cooking by Michael Roberts (William Morrow & Co., NY 1999)

  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 3 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoons kirsch
  • 3 cups cherries, stems removed
  • Confectioners’ sugar for dusting
  • Crème fraîche or sour cream for serving

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Butter and flour a 9-inch flan ring or round baking dish and set aside on a baking sheet.

2. In a bowl, beat the eggs and egg yolk together, then beat in the sugar. Add the flour and mix until incorporated. Stir in the cream, kirsch, and melted butter. Pour the mixture into the flan ring and distribute the cherries evenly over it.

3. Place in the oven until puffed and golden, about 30 minutes. Let cool, then turn the clafoutis upside down onto a wire rack or plate. Turn right side up onto a serving plate, sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar, and serve, accompanied by crème fraîche or sour cream (or better yet, skip the flipping over part and serve with  thickened cherry syrup)

You can use any fruit that has a similar consistency in this – berries, plumbs etc.

Good eatin'


Walking the dogs the other day when we stumbled onto one of the greatest neighborhood finds to date.  Several of the wild cherry trees along our street are covered with cherries this year. Last year I only identified one tree as a cherry. It had fruit, but the limbs were so high, my eight foot tent pole couldn’t reach the lowest branch. We had a lot of rain last year and a pretty wet, and for us, a colder winter. The plants around here must like that. We seem to be having a greener spring, with more pollen, more insects and it looks like, more cherries.

The trees (Prunus serotina) put out a good show of flowers in early April. That helped me find two that have limbs that I think I can reach. They are covered with fruit now, bit still a little green. We turned up two other younger trees while walking and one of these has ripe fruit ready for picking.

Picking is  a little awkward – I can only reach the lowest branch. One hand holds the branch while the other picks. I do this while clenching a small plastic grocery bag in my teeth to hold the cherries. Pretty awkward when I take the dogs to help provide cover – their leashes get held in the limb holding hand. Completely worth it though. The fruit is mostly pit, but the flavor of what’s left is great. The fruit doesn’t all ripen at once. Three trips back (last one without the dogs) has given me enough for two small projects.

Cherry Bounce 2010

Last year I did this with store bought fresh cherries. This year the neighborhood fruit will do the trick.

My standard infusion technique now is to just cover the fruit with the liquor.  The picture was taken after the first addition of fruit this past weekend. The second two visits gave enough fruit to get my preferred level of fruit to liquid.

One other side project – making some brandied cherries to use as drink garnishes. There are several recipes for this out there on the net. Here’s a representative one. They all involve cooking the fruit a short time in simple syrup, then combining with brandy and steeping for several weeks, plus or minus some spices. I took a short cut.

I mostly filled a Mason jar with sound cherries, covered that with water, then drained that off to measure the volume of liquid needed (3 oz). Next I combined 2 oz Cognac and 1 oz Cherry Heering. The Cherry Heering is sweetened. Next, I stirred in 2 tbsp of sugar and added 1/8 of a teaspoonful if lemon juice. I skipped adding any water and heating the mix. I wanted more alcohol to work as a preservative. The brandy mixture was then poured back onto the cherries in the jar. That will get set away in the dark for several weeks. The base recipe can be adapted to any liquor you choose,  just add one tablespoonful of sugar for each ounce of unsweetened liquor.

All of this is fairly easy (I didn’t bother to wash or pit the fruit).  I’ll do some more as the other trees ripen.

I noticed that the first cherries I added to the Rye were starting to look very pale (and the rye was getting a red tinge). I thought the Cherry Heering  might help prevent a little loss of color in the jarred cherries. We’ll see. Another thought is to use 1/3 port wine and 2/3 cognac. Updates will follow-

Starting point for the Brandied Cherries

Man, protracted writer’s block the past few months. This blog was conceived with two thoughts in mind – give me a place to organize and collect my thoughts, and also give a place to try my hand at writing. The latter was becoming a chore and taking away some of the fun of the whole thing. We haven’t been sitting still, just not making too many notes about what was going on.

A brief update – the Pokeberry ink turned out so-so. It lost the brillant purple of the fresh berries turning a deep purple that went on to turn brown as it dried. Not a failure, but not a screaming success. One good thing – I now know where the poke bushes are so I was able to grab some poke sallit a few weeks back. Fried it up in bacon fat and scrambled it with eggs.You have to boil the greens twice before eating them. After that treatment, there isn’t much flavor left. Beyond the color, it didn’t add much to the eggs. I could see the attraction 100 years ago though when this was the first green thing you got to eat after a long winter of grains, cured meats and maybe canned fruits or vegetables.

We also had a little work done on the fire pit. Winter was not kind to it. The walls crumbled in a bit turning it into more

Latest Fire Accessory

of a fire depression. You can’t fight nature, so I turned it into a proper fire ring with more level ground surrounding it. Got my survival guides and I’m looking forward to cooking all manner of things on the campfire this summer.

The last big change was finally getting around to planting a vegetable garden. We’ve got a great spot. The dirt is mostly clay thought – it is cut into the hill that is the back yard. I’ve been through it a couple of times tilling, adding compost and all that. It’s still clay. My last great plan was to haul off the top 18 to 24 inches of clay, put in a drainage field then come back and fill it up with top soil. Right.

Future Julep or Southside

Bailed on that one for now. It was miles easier to put in two small raised beds and fill those with mostly good dirt. Root vegetables seem to do well around here so carrots (lots of carrots), beets, parsnips and radishes are in the mix, some  in the beds, some in the clay around them. For the kids – two tomatoes, a couple of watermelon plants and one or two sunflowers, For daddy – Fava beans, cabbages, brussel sprouts and corn. For future cocktails, I set out some raspberries and a mini raised bed of mint (synthetic plant pot with the bottom cut out – the stuff can run and take over a garden). The raspberries were an after thought, but an “ah-ha moment.” Why didn’t I think of them sooner? The wineberries up the street look great again this year. I hope to spend some time this summer extending the bed for the raspberries and put more plants out next spring. The mint is doing fine. As it gets warmer, I’m thinking Mint Juleps with the Peach infused Bourbon. We also have some horehound starting to sprout. I never did get around to making Rock and Rye last year. Hopefully it will work out this go round

As far as drinks go, rumor has it one of the private clubs in town is looking for a signature cocktail to serve. The idea got me thinking about the qualities of a drink that would fit their style . I would think something with a traditional style – a brown liquor base, with at least one local component, but no precious or obscure ingredients. It would need to be something a busy bartender could reproduce quickly, but still have some flair. It would also have to appeal to men and woman. Tough order. My first attempt:

The Private Club Cocktail #1

  • 1-1/2 oz Cognac
  • 1/2 oz Grand Marnier
  • 1/2 oz lemon juice
  • 1/2 oz Blackberry syrup
  • 2-3 dashes of Angostura bitters
  • 4-5 oz Champagne

Shake and strain the first four ingredients, top with the champagne, serve with a lemon twist.

It’s a more enriched variation of the French 75. The blackberry syrup is fairly easy to make. I used frozen berries for this batch. Fresh ones would be a treat. You could also plug-in a syrup from whatever fruit was current, or use crème de cassis or Chambord. As a nod to the local apple orchards I suppose you could use Apple Brandy or Calvados. Mmmm, may have to try that one once.

Blackberry Syrup

  • 4 cups of Blackberries
  • 2 cups of sugar
  • juice of one lemon

Simmer all ingredients for 10-20 minutes. Add to containers when it cools and refrigerate. This made about 500 ml.

Commercial Brûlot Mix

We’re back after an extended hiatus. Lots going on. Work seems to pick up this time every year as people who’ve been putting things off decide to get it done before the end of the year. That, plus catching up on continuing ed credits and a certification exam deadline combined to make time tight.  Taking the time to mix a cocktail actually became a luxury I couldn’t afford. Maybe I just couldn’t get myself to relax enough to take the time to enjoy one. I opted for easier drinks – beer and wine. Not much thought needed for those, just pop and pour.

Time is less compressed now that the holidays are here. We made our annual pre-Christmas visit to Atlanta. A stop at Tower Beverage got my thoughts back to mixing some up. They have a great selection of base liquors and modifying spirits – both yellow and green Chartreuse, Cherry Heering and many others. I made it home with a couple of minibottles of St. Germain elderflower liqueur, some Angorustera Orange bitters and a bottle of Barbancort 8 year Rum. I almost picked up some Columbian Aguaradente for the shear novelty. I ended up talking myself out of it because I had no idea what to do with it. A gentleman from New Orleans also passed on a copy of New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix em. This is a great, inexpensive guide to drinks from the only city in the US with a distinct cocktail culture. Looking through, one drink really struck me – the Café Brûlot.

The name means Spiced Coffee and that’s what it is. A mixture of Cognac and orange liqueur flavored with cloves, cinnamon and brown sugar. The drink is mixed like a punch at table side by pouring the burning liquor mix into a bowl of coffee. Did I say “burning”? I did, and that is quite cool.

Now a bowl of burning coffee isn’t practical on a day to day basis. The challenge was to come up with some Brulot mix that could be used for a single cup. There are a few recipes on the web, plus the one in the New Orleans book. Looking at those, I came up with the following infused liquor base:

ACG Café Brûlot base

Brûlot Starting Point


Step 1

  • 1 cup Cognac
  • zest of one orange

Steep the orange zest in the cognac for 2 to 3 days, then strain.

This is done to limit the orange flavor which can get quite strong.

Step 2

  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 1 tbsp of cinnamon chips or a 2 inch stick broken up

Steep the above items in the cognac for a week, then strain.

Alternatively, you could add the orange zest to the mix three days before the end of the week.

Step 3

  • ½ cup Grand Marnier
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar

Add these to you cognac base then store in a glass container until needed. This mix has a wonderful aroma.

The portions above will just about fill a split (375 ml half wine bottle).

Café Brûlot

Brew a cup of chicory coffee. To make this, I mix equal parts roasted chicory with ground regular and decaf coffee then measure and brew like you I for regular coffee.

Warm up 3 to 4 oz of your mix in a non-flammable container, I used a 1/4 cup metal measuring cup, ignite, then add to the coffee.


Try to keep it between the lines

Amateur Cocktail Gal has a birthday coming up. She’s invited some friends over for dinner to help celebrate. Two immediately good things have come about in response to that – the house is cleaner now than at any point since we moved back in last year, and a new drink is needed. The latest issue of Imbibe hit the mailbox last week. It is the holiday issue with a nice collection of drink recipes. One in particular caught my eye – the Spiced Pear Daiquiri. As constructed in their article, the drink is made up of rum, lime juice, pear juice and a spiced sugar syrup. I deconstructed it a bit to get the components more in line with the techniques I prefer. The apple infused vodka and cherry syrup from October were impressive, at least I was amazed at how well they turned out. Seemed reasonable to make a pear and spice infused rum as the base:

Pear Spice Rum

  • 75 cl of silver rum

    Spices used

  • 3 ripe pears peeled, cored and diced
  • 10 allspice berries crushed
  • 1 nutmeg crushed
  • 2 cinnamon sticks, crushed
  • 6 or so cloves

Infuse for a week and strain.

Starting point

I’ve noticed as I’ve made the various syrups and infusions that you can get different flavor profiles from you ingredients depending on how you extract the flavors. This was pretty obvious with a honeysuckle flower infusions I tried over the summer. The alcohol infusion had a strikingly more vegetal quality than the sugar syrup infusion. In working with the pears it made sense to flavor the sugar syrup in addition to the spirit to try and capture all the fruit has to offer-

Pear syrup

  • 3 pears, peeled,cored and diced
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • small amount of lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine

Mix and simmer for 45 – 60 minutes. Strain and bottle.

This makes around 300 ml of syrup. The wine gives a discernible positive difference over water. If you ue wine, you want one without oak flavor and good acidity. I’ve used whites from the Loire Valley in France (Vouvray and Samur) and most recently a $3 bottle of Wal Mart’s house brand Oak Leaf Pinot Grigio/Chenin Blanc. The Oak Leaf is 80% Chenin making it acidic enough to work well here.  Time for a drink-

The ACG Spiced Pear Daiquiri

  • 2 oz Spice Pear Rum
  • 3/4 oz pear syrup
  • 1/2 to 3/4 oz lime juice

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Nice. Prep for the party is now down to just squeezing a few limes. I could go as far as mixing up 8 – 12 drinks before hand. When the guests arrive, I’d measure out a serving, shake and serve.

The final product, a little more than two bottles of Apple vodka and three bottles of premixed Manhattans

Here's what we ended up with - two bottles + a little extra of the Apple vodka and three bottles of pre-mixed spiced Manhattans

Meant to put this up sooner…We settled on a coupe of drinks with the apple infused vodka. One fairly simple made with the vodka, Rose’s Lime Juice and the cherry syrup. You have to be a little careful with the last two so that the sweetness doesn’t get out fo hand:

  • 2 oz apple infused vodka
  • 1/2 oz cherry syrup
  • 1/2 oz Rose’s Lime Juice

Shake and strain

The next idea came a couple of days after Halloween as I tried to figure out what to do with the left over vodka. I’m not a big fan of vodka (I mean what’s the point?). I’ve switched most of my drink making and infusing to using base liquors with some favor of their own. I still had a bottle and a half of the apple vodka to use up though. I thought of the Side Car cocktail, and a variation David Embury wrote about that substituted Calvados for the brandy. Pulled up Eric Felten’srecipe for the Sidecar and modified it a bit to get-

The Apple Sidecar

  • 1-1/2 oz apple infused vodka
  • 1/2 oz cognac
  • 1/2 oz Cointreau
  • 1/2 oz lemon juices
  • 1/4 oz cherry syrup

Shake and strain.

Now that was a cool drink. Cheers

Apple Sidecars

This one has been making the rounds on various sites as Halloween approaches. Best discussion is here.  The same picture that is offered with each posting looks great. I had to try it out. The basic idea is to pipe Bailey’s Irish Cream into acidified vodka to form a coagulated brain-looking mass, then drizzle that with grenadine for a blood effect. Sounds great and seems easy enough. Picked up some Bailey’s on the way home tonight. Someone suggested that I try and come up with a virgin shot for kids. Got some whipping cream and half-and-half  for that.

The recipes floating around use Rose’s Lime juice for the acidity. The recipe uses only a small amount of Rose’s.  I tried it in rum with both 1:3 and 1:2 Rose’s to rum. Both coagulated the Bailey’s but the coagulum sank to the bottom of the glass in each case. Not terrible, but not as advertised. I have some bright red cherry syrup made a few days ago. It falls to the bottom of the glass as well and made a good show when mixed with the brain matter. The final drink (pictured) was made with some of the Apple Vodka started earlier this week. The cream and cherry syrup made a great, apple pie and ice cream tasting drink. You just have to get past the lump in the bottom.

I then tried a mix of Rose’s and Welch’s white grape juice. The mixture was actually pretty good by itself. The Bailey’s worked and it floated, I suspect due to the high sugar content of sugar in the juice and the resultant higher specific gravity. Not a drink for the kids though. Unfortunately, the cream and half and half only formed a thin layer of coagulated  solids on the top of the juice mixture. Same result when I used 1% milk and skim milk.  I’m going to try one more after mixing some egg white with the cream to see if that works. One other idea was to pipe yogurt into the juice and see if it held together. If all else fails I’ll drop a gummy eyeball into their drinks and call it at that.

This is my first time playing with Bailey’s. There must be something in it – proteinacious? – that coagulates in the acid. I remember reading that the product was a breakthrough because of it’s ability to keep the cream from separating in the bottle. Creative food chemistry I suppose.

So that all wasn’t lost, an ounce of Bailey’s was added to my evening coffee to make a good night cap.

Cherry Syrup

  • 24 oz frozen sweet cherries (2-12 oz packages of Dole)
  • 2 lbs sugar
  • juice of a lemon
  • small amount of water

Mix the cherries and sugar together in a bowl large enough to hold them. Let sit in the refrigerator overnight.  Stir occasionally. Add the lemon juice. Transfer to a pot and simmer for 15 minutes. It will boil over easily. Add a little water as needed to dissolve all the sugar. Strain out the solids and bottle. It should keep for quite some time in the fridge. Add a little vodka if you want to be safe. This made enough to fill one wine bottle and about half of a split.

I’ve tried this as a substitute for simple syrup in daiquiris and the Cynar/Gin sour. It really is quite good. The cherry flavor is present without overpowering.