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

Terry Teachout had a great piece on amateur musicians in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal. This section was especially germane to the goals of this blog:

You’ll notice that I used the word “amateur” pejoratively. To call a performance “amateurish” is one of the biggest bombs in a critic’s arsenal. Yet the word itself descends from amator, which is Latin for “lover,” and throughout much of its history it has also been used to refer to people who engage in an activity for love rather than money. The world of art is full of such passionate and admirable creatures, some of whom share their passions with the public. If you’ve ever heard a concert by the Doctors Orchestral Society of New York or seen a play performed at one of the innumerable community theaters that dot the American landscape, you know how useful a role the serious amateur can play in the life of a culture. Anyone who seeks to make art rather than merely receiving it passively is on the side of the angels—so long as he doesn’t succumb to delusions of grandeur.


from “What They Do for Love” by Terry Teachout

The Wall Street Journal, January 3-4. 2009, W10


Taking a break from the cocktail scene to try one of the latest Anchor Brewing Seasonal Christmas beers. I think I first had one of these in 1987. I’ve tracked them down about every year since. Some years it was tough – I think my three years in Virginia Beach routinely drew a blank when I went looking. It’s become one of those habits that I keep up even though the love is not so strong.  Here’s some nostalgia – the beers in the early nineties were stellar. The recent ones I’ve tried have left me, well, uninspired. The tend to be a bit over-the-top with too much crammed into the flavor profile.

This years offering has shown up and I dutifully picked one up last night. Popped and poured tonight. Dark black/brown color, bubble gum and allspice nose. Not quite as harsh as I remember from the last few versions, but fairly aggressive bitterness. There is an almost metallic after taste. I’ll stop with this one.

Now, for a really good Christmas brew look for Highlands Brewing Companies Cold Mountain Ale. Production is up this year so there is more to go around. It is distributed in the mid Atlantic US. I think you can mail order some from Brusin’ Ales here in Asheville. Whereas Anchor throws in the kitchen sink, John Lyda at Highlands keeps it in check. He says there is one “hole” in the recipe he fills each year with a different spice flavoring. Smooth and pleasant. Next up: waiting for Pisgah Brewing’s Baptista to hit the shelves.

Big Day – the 75th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition. It seemed to pass unnoticed in these parts. I stopped into my local wine shop and drew a blank from the guys there (although they got a little excited when they heard about it). The fellow pouring wine tastes at my next stop at the grocery store was equally unaware. I also stopped in the ABC store for some ingredients and didn’t bother to mention it. Nobody ever seems too happy to be at work there. I guess it’s just another civil service job. Oh well. Drank an Aviation and tried another recipe from the Cafe Royal Cocktail Book. This one was a mix of Sherry and silver rum with just a touch of lime. I used a dry sherry (the wine store acquisition today). Not the best. It needs something sweet. Maybe an Amontillado next time. I didn’t finish it, and went to another old one I hadn’t tried yet – the Black Velvet. It is half Guinness and half champagne. Not bad. The champagne really dominates the flavor profile. This would be one to try again with more aggressively malty / chocolaty micro-brewed stouts.

(I know Champagne is the stuff from Champagne and the stuff I used is from Napa. It is a mixer, so I think I’m okay with my selection)

Came across this recipe on the Plymouth Gin site while looking up info on my newly acquired bottle of Plymouth Sloe Gin. It has a Martini vibe going on.

Blackthorn English

25 ml sweet vermouth
8 drops orange bitters
35 ml Sloe Gin
25 ml Plymouth Gin

Stir with ice and strain

I suppose you could punt and just use an ounce (30 ml) of each ingredient, but I wanted to stay true to the recipe. That meant using my 100 ml graduated cylinder as a measuring vessel. It worked alright.

The drink was interesting. The nose is the earthy vermouth. The taste is a bit sweet and dominated by berry flavors from the Sloe Gin.  It’s one to sip either before or after a meal. I may try dry vermouth in the next one to see if it tones down the sweetness.

The credit for this mix goes to Lucy Brenenan. I first saw this idea in her Hip Sips book of cocktail recipes. The idea came to her while eating a beet salad. She uses it as a base for a vodka sour called “The Ruby.” From that name you know she is using red beets. Her bar apparently goes through 10 bottles a week of the stuff. The recipe is here and here. She uses a 1:1 simple syrup per Hip Sips.

Lately I’ve been on a tear with golden beets. They showed up in our local markets a few months ago. They looked interesting so I brought some home and roasted them. The earthy flavor with a little sweetness is very enjoyable. I never would have thought to put them in a drink, but once I read about it, I was ready to try. Using golden beets would be my contribution.

The recipe calls for 1 ½ pounds of beets to 1 liter of vodka, infused for three days, “no more or less.” The liter measure makes it very scalable. For my first attempt, I thought I had enough beets. After peeling and dicing, the beets weighed in at 14 oz. That’s 58% of the 24 oz called for in the recipe, so I mixed my batch with 580 cc of vodka. I used some Tito’s that was sitting around. (Don’t get me started on the virtues of one vodka over another)

The vodka takes on the color of the beets fairly quickly. You get a beautiful colored vodka. I strained them out at three days. The aroma is striking. You really smell the beets. Amateur Cocktail Gal used the word “earthy” to describe it without any prompting. That word comes up a lot when people talk about beets.

We started off mixing up some sours using my standard recipe: 2 oz base liquor, 1 oz citrus juice, ½ oz 2:1 simple syrup. This cuts back a bit on the 3 oz of vodka called for in the original Ruby recipe. It was good, but the lime was a tad too prominent. Better to go with the whole 3 oz pour. The drink color is beautiful, and it seemed to hold a frothy head from shaking longer than other drinks I’ve made. I’ll keep the gemstone theme and call it a Citrine

Getting creative, I substituted ½ oz of Cherry Heering (I had some open) for the simple syrup. Good, but needs a whole ounce next go round to bring the cherry flavor up a bit more.

Final trial was to substitute a ½ oz of crème de cassis for the simple syrup. Cassis has an earthiness of it’s own that I thought would compliment the beets. This one was a keeper. The main disadvantage though was the final color. It was muddy. Appropriate for a drink based on earthy flavors, but it would probably have looked better in a red beet infused vodka. BTW this would be called a Vodka Cassis, one of a series of drinks that mix base spirit, citrus and cassis. (That from the Cocktail Database). I suppose you could also use a vintage, LBV or ruby port in place of the cassis.

Initial assessment: Neat idea, beautiful color in the vodka and pleasant flavor. Drinks made with it should highlight the color and the beet flavor. A simple stirred martini with dry vermouth with maybe a dash or two of an herbal bitter is the next mix to try. Or, maybe a Gimlet or Vesper variant…

What next? I have two more small batches going – one using silver tequila and the other one using gin as the base. “Earthy” can describe Tequila so that seemed like a match. The herb flavorings in the gin have the potential to marry with the beet. We’ll see. Also, chioggia beets showed up at our local market. Might be worth a try.

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