“I’m making coke.”
I looked down at the counter and saw the mound of granulated sugar that I’d just pulled out of the food processor, which did in fact look like 3 lbs of cocaine.
“Syrup – like the cola.”
And that was the extent of the conversation about my kitchen laboratory. Had another day been available for my cutting board delivery, I clearly would have chosen it. A day, perhaps, when it didn’t look like a citrus grove had exploded in my kitchen and when I might not have been confused with the neighborhood drug dealer.
But as was the case, Pete, a furniture craftsman from Brooklyn who’d been working on my cutting board for the past few weeks, was going to be in the area.
And I was eager to get my hands on this custom-made board. There will be more photos to come where I put this baby to use. But truthfully it’s such a work of art that I’m afraid to use it. Here’s a quick snapshot that I took right before I swiftly removed the plate, grabbed a damp cloth and buffed her free of any bread or dust particles.
Pete wasn’t deterred by the bombed-out look or overpowering citrus scent in my apartment. He seemed to be more concerned that I might pass out right in front of him.
Like a teen at her first Nick Jonas concert I went cross-eyed when I unwrapped the board from its paper. I barely heard the instructions…damp cloth…no dishwasher…. periodic mineral oil treatments…..
Fortunately the abundance of citrus was like smelling salts for the home. Fainting was physically impossible.
Why so much citrus? And why on earth was I making cola syrup?
Let’s start with the first question.
Cola, strangely enough, uses about 18 tons of citrus zest. Lemon, lime, orange. The rest of the ingredients likewise took me by surprise – cinnamon, nutmeg, star anise, lavender, ginger and vanilla. Had I known that cola contained these wonderful ingredients I’d have become a regular drinker years ago.
Pepsi and Coke hold their recipes close to the vest, but the end result from this science experiment tasted pretty close to the real deal, so I’m guessing that the big brands are using some combination of these ingredients. Or at least the artificial version of these same ingredients.
Which is why I was making cola syrup from scratch. I hate artificial.
Bringing me to the second question – why make cola from scratch?
A few weeks ago someone sent me a bottle of stolen rum. And this is why capitalization is so critical (I’m talking to you Molly Yeh!) Stolen rum is a new rum on the market that is, drumroll please….smoked.
I love anything smoked. Salmon, salt, tomatoes, and now you can add rum to the list. I didn’t want a ho hum Rum & Coke to make a mockery of this fine spirit, but felt that a smoked rum and coke might make for an interesting combination.
It didn’t take long to realize that I needed to go where no human has gone for 100 years. To the land of cola from scratch.
Fortunately a human went to that very place recently and brought her wisdom to the masses. Julia Moskin wrote an article for the New York Times about the resurrection of classic soda shops, and was kind enough to include a recipe for cola.
Despite the extensive ingredients list, most of the items will be in your cupboard or available from the local grocery store. I had to special order one item– citric acid – from Amazon.
At first I was apprehensive about the citric acid…because it’s….acid. But after some research I learned that it’s not a synthetic ingredient. It occurs naturally in citrus fruits (more citrus!) and adds an acidic note to your food (think sour gummies). Is it my favorite ingredient? Not by a landslide, but I was comfortable enough with the ¼ teaspoon.
I did choose to pass on the caramel color, and used a little espresso powder to darken the syrup instead. Feel free to use caramel color if you’re into that kind of thing, but with the exception of those Oreo-based sledding brownies, I like to keep things pretty natural around here.
Before you go to the lengths to make this cocktail: it isn’t for everyone. I was recently at The Clam in the West Village and ordered a cocktail made with Mezcal, quince, Barolo Chinato, and rosemary. To me it was the best thing since clam dip. My friends’ reaction: “girlfriend, your drink is nasty”.
Smoke is a strong taste, particularly in a cocktail.
But if you’re into that kind of thing, and wouldn’t mind making some faux cocaine while exploding a citrus grove in your kitchen, this baby will be right up your alley. Cheers!
- Grated zest of 2 medium oranges
- Grated zest of 1 large lime
- Grated zest of 1 large lemon
- ⅛ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ⅛ teaspoon nutmeg, preferably freshly grated
- 1 section of a star anise pod, crushed
- ½ teaspoon dried lavender flowers
- 2 teaspoons minced ginger
- 1 one-and-a-half-inch piece vanilla bean, split
- ¼ teaspoon citric acid (available on Amazon)
- 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 tablespoon (packed) light brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon of hot water
- 2 teaspoons of espresso powder
- 2 ounces of Stolen rum
- Club soda to taste
- Slice of lime
- In a heavy pot over medium heat, bring 2 cups water to a simmer with the zests, cinnamon, nutmeg, star anise, lavender, ginger, vanilla and citric acid. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer gently for 20 minutes.
- In a food processor, blend the sugars for one minute (this will help them dissolve), then transfer to a large bowl.
- Line a colander with a double thickness of cheesecloth and place over the bowl. Pour the contents of the pot through the sieve. Gather up the corners of the cheesecloth and twist the top to close. Use a spoon to press the bundle against the sieve, squeezing out all the flavorful liquid.
- Stir the syrup and let cool, stirring occasionally until the sugar dissolves, about 15 minutes.
- While the syrup starts to cool, mix the water and espresso powder together, making a slurry, and then add it to the cooling syrup.
- Cool the syrup completely in the fridge before using in your cocktail. You’ll have quite a bit left over, and feel free to riff on additional recipes- cola-glazed ham, slow roasted cola-based carnitas….
- To make the cocktail, add a large ice cube to an old fashioned glass. Add 2 tablespoons of cola syrup, 2 ounces of Stolen smoked rum, and top with plain soda water. Give it a stir and garnish with a slice of lime.
- The cola syrup will yield approximately 3 cups.