My husband forgot to buy beer for the Super Bowl. Which might not sound like the world’s biggest catastrophe; if you read this post, you’ll know that I hardly pay attention to the game. The issue was that I’d made enough Super Bowl foods to feed a small supper club and was ready to wash them down with a cold frosty. When you’re eating nachos and jalapeno poppers, wine just doesn’t cut it.
In theory wine could work, I’m into highbrow/lowbrow things. Chips and Champagne, salmon mousse on saltines, Momufuku’s Corn Flake Chocolate Chip Marshmallow cookies.
But the thought of poppers and wine sent me running to my medicine cabinet for a preemptive Zantac.
Fortunately, something tastier came to mind: Rosemary Lime Gin & Tonics.
I posted a picture of my cocktail on Instagram and for some reason it struck a chord. Yes, you too can make Bemelmans-worthy cocktails at home.
It’s all about the sugar. It’s the secret ingredient in standout cocktails, but it can also be used to make your everyday foods a little more fun.
So put on your white lab coat. We’re going to make some molecular magic happen and you’ll be surprised by how easy it is.
Let me first say that I apologize profusely for the Martha Stewartiness of this shot. I don’t have a habit of labeling my creations with tags and striped twine for the sake of a well-organized fridge. The pack of salami that was wedged between the meyer lemon and kumquat syrups would agree.
The problem is that a few Sundays ago I made one jar of simple syrup, then it was two, then it was three. You might find the process equally addictive.
I first came across simple syrup years ago when I was learning to make lemonade. I feel compelled to remind you that for someone who was brand new to cooking, lemonade from scratch is a major culinary achievement. It required the use of both a stove and an appliance for one measly little drink.
But simple syrup, despite its name, which might lead you to presume otherwise…is deceptively simple.
It’s a 1:1 ratio, meaning that you never have to look at a recipe. Just mix a cup of sugar with a cup of water, add some herbs, spices, citrus peel, individually, or all at once, and you’re on your way an infinite number of homemade sweeteners. It takes a little simmering on the stove, just until the sugar dissolves, then you cool it, strain it, cap it and you’re done. 5 minutes of prep and you’ve got something you can keep for a month or more in your fridge.
Want candied fruit? Dice up some fruit (last week I used kumquats, but anything firm will do – pitted cherries, orange slices, etc…), and follow the same process for making simple syrup. Simmer, stir, dissolve, cool. Don’t strain this time, just pour the whole load – the fruit along with its syrup – into a jar and save it for a rainy day.
Vanilla sugar is even easier, just scrape the pods from a vanilla bean into a mason jar filled with sugar. Add the bean itself, screw on the lid, give a few shakes, and you can use it wherever you’d normally use sugar. This, my friends, will keep indefinitely.
Now the most important question of all: how the hell will you use this stuff?
If you’re stumped, some thought starters:
1. Cocktails: Add a splash of simple syrup to your normal cocktails (to make my Rosemary Lime Gin & Tonics, I combined Rosemary Simple Syrup + a squeeze of lime + Gin + Tonic; to make the Meyer Lemon margaritas pictured below, I used the Meyer Lemon Simple Syrup + lemon juice + Tequila + Triple Sec)
2. Popsicles: Blend simple syrup with fresh fruit and fill popsicle molds
3. Cakes: Mix a few spoonfuls of simple syrup with confectioner’s sugar and drizzle over pound cake or glaze angel food cake (even store bought cake, your secret is safe); Top your cake with your candied fruit (FYI, pound cake + candied kumquats is next level deliciousness)
4. Lemonade/non-alcoholic beverages: Sweeten freshly-squeezed lemon juice with flavored simple syrup (mint, rosemary, thyme, ginger, all would work here) and mix in your flat or fizzy water
5. Coffee : Use either simple syrup or vanilla sugar in place of table sugar
6. Sorbet: Blend simple syrup with fresh fruit and process in your ice cream maker
7. Granita: Follow the same instructions as above but place in the freezer, grating with a fork every so often
8. Yogurt: Add a tablespoon of simple syrup to plain Greek yogurt
9. Pancakes: Mix some flavored syrup with pancake syrup for an updated breakfast; top your pancakes with the candied fruit
10. Cookies: Sprinkle the tops with vanilla sugar before you bake
So there it is, hopefully I’ve convinced you that sugar and all of its derivatives aren’t the root of all evil and can actually be quite fun. If you’re someone who thinks that white sugar should be fed to your worst enemies, don’t despair; all of these tricks can be used with honey, maple syrup, and brown sugar. At the very least, I hope you’ve been encouraged to make a mess of your kitchen and start banging those pots and pans around. There’s nothing like a session of kitchen alchemy, just wait for that dreary Sunday…
(Oh, and one last thing,that pound cake that I posted on Instagram last week – the one that I used to show off my kumquat syrup? Recipe below.)
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 6 oz plain yogurt, either whole (preference) or low fat (I used Maia brand)
- 1 stick of unsalted butter
- 1 cup sugar
- 3 extra-large eggs
- 2 teaspoons grated Meyer lemon zest (2 Meyer lemons)
- 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8 1/2 by 4 1/4 by 2 1/2-inch loaf pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper. Grease and flour the pan.
- Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt into 1 bowl.
- In another bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
- One at a time, beat in the eggs, then add the yogurt, lemon zest, and vanilla and mix to combine.
- Slowly whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, making sure it's all incorporated.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 50 minutes, or until a cake tester placed in the center of the loaf comes out clean.
- When the cake is done, allow it to cool in the pan for 10 minutes; after 10 minutes, let it cool completely on a rack.
- If you check out Ina's recipe you'll see that Ina tried to make it healthy by removing the butter. I liked the concept of using yogurt, but put that butter back where it belonged. Apologies.
- If you'd like to add a fun topping, I layered mine with candied kumquats, but you can use any kind of candied fruit, a dusting of confectioner's sugar, or nothing at all.