Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Xiao Long Bao


I have an obsession. An addiction to dumplings of all kinds. I mainly center that devotion to dumplings of the Asian persuasion, but I am an equal opportunity dumpling lover. Those who know me best, know this well. I'm proud to say I have received many gifts inspired by my dumpling obsession.

Showing off one of my favorite shirts while visiting Mexican Donald Duck at Epcot

One of my closest friends has gifted not only an amazing tee shirt with an illustration of a bun, and some very true words (see above), but she also recently got me an amazing framed illustration of a trio of bao wearing towels and hanging out in their steamer basket, much like one would detox in a steam room. It's one of the most amazing things I've ever seen, and I'm so proud to have it now hanging in my kitchen!

Inspired by my new gift, I thought I would share a bit of my recent adventures making xiao long bao, or Shanghai soup dumplings. These are definitely one of my favorite varieties of dumplings, featuring ground pork and seasonings encased with hot broth in a perfectly pleated wrapper. They are a bit more challenging to make than other dumplings, and require additional steps.

Before steaming

One of the biggest differences with a filling for soup dumplings as opposed to a standard pork filling is the gelatinized broth. Rather than make a highly gelatinous stock from scratch, the recipe I used from Andrea Nguyen's Asian Dumplings takes chicken broth and enriches it with flavor from ham, ginger, and scallion, and then uses powdered gelatin to help it set.

Once cooled, this meat jello is chopped up and then folded into the ground pork mixture, containing more ginger, scallion, rice wine, sesame oil, soy sauce, and seasonings.

Nguyen's xiao long bao are a bit smaller than some other recipes I have, but I decided to go with it. I like having small bites of these brothy dumplings, but larger ones are great as well. I'm sure you can adjust the size of your dumplings according to your preference.

Before steaming

After steaming

In retrospect, I probably should have chopped up the meat jello more finely to make it easier to tuck into the small dumpling wrappers. Although there was broth inside each dumpling, it was a bit less than I had hoped for, perhaps only about a teaspoon or so at the most. Maybe even less.

Draining the "soup" into the spoon

These dumplings were very juicy, but I would have liked it to be a bit more obvious that they were "soup" dumplings with more prominence in the soup to meat ratio. I also think my wrappers were slightly too thick and didn't get quite enough stretch to envelope all the filling properly. User error strikes again.

I ended up with only using about half the filling for the amount of dough called for in the original recipe so I made another batch of xiao long bao with another batch of dough and the remaining filling. Several other recipes I have found (like the version from Hey There, Dumpling!) uses the same amount of meat in the filling, but basically double the amount of dough, and makes much larger dumplings.

I may try that version out next time to see if the dough/filling ratio seems to suit me better, since in my experience I had way more filling than I had dough based on Nguyen's recipe (once again, not faulting her recipe, but perhaps my own execution a bit). I also imagine the larger size would be easier to manipulate and pleat, so we will give it a shot.

I'm not sharing the recipe for this xiao long bao myself, although you can find it here (with slight adaptations using grams instead of ounces and such), but I figure since it didn't work perfectly for me in terms of the dough to filling ratio, I will continue my xiao long bao adventures until I find a recipe I can execute better to yield more reliable results for the home cook.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Strawberry Balsamic Pie


I'm making a resolution to bake more pie. In fact, I've started a pie calendar (for real) and am marking down potential pies to make every month for the rest of the year (subject to change, of course).

Given the option side by side of cake or pie, I will pick the pie. In fact when faced with the same flavor profile, I will also pick the pie version over the cake (ie coconut cream pie vs coconut cake).

It's finally spring, and I'm so excited to have a new bounty of ingredients for cooking and baking. There are so many wonderful seasonal flavors that remind me of spring, and it was logical to step into spring this past weekend (when the weather actually felt more like summer) by baking a beautiful pie for Easter.

I'm a big fan of The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book, which along with Magpie make up my duo of favorite pie books on my bookshelf. It's the source of one of my absolute favorite spring pies, rhubarb custard pie. For Easter I decided to try another one of the fantastic spring pie recipes from that book, the strawberry balsamic pie.

Before baking

After baking

Boy is this pie a winner! The filling reminds me of syrupy homemade strawberry preserves. The balsamic vinegar adds a bit of complexity to the strawberry filling, along with a couple dashes of Angostura bitters and a bit of black pepper to take things up a notch.

At the end of the day, all of these unusual ingredients take a back seat to the strawberries which are definitely the star here, but are enhanced by these subtle accents.

The filling did not set quite as much as I would have normally liked, but I actually enjoyed scooping up some of the syrupy strawberries that fell behind and enjoying them by the spoonful as a little post-pie snack. A scoop of vanilla ice cream would have also been pretty epic alongside this lovely pie.

I highly recommend making your pie crust from scratch. Store-bought just isn't the same, and for a pie as delicious as this one, you really want to go the extra step and make it completely from scratch if you can.

Chef's note: if you call this a fruit casserole instead of a pie, you can totally eat a slice of it for breakfast without feeling any guilt ;-)

Strawberry Balsamic Pie
Makes one 9-inch pie; serves 8 to 10
(From The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book)

All-Butter Double-Crust:
2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/2 pound (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup cold water
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1/2 cup ice

1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 pounds strawberries, rinsed, hulled, and quartered (5 to 6 cups)
1 small baking apple (such as Northern Spy or Golden Delicious)
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 dashes Angostura bitters
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
3 tablespoons ground arrowroot
2 grinds fresh black pepper, fine setting
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Egg wash (1 large egg whisked with 1 teaspoon water and a pinch of salt)
Demerara sugar, for finishing (I use Sugar in the Raw)

To make the crust: Stir the flour, salt, and sugar together in a large bowl. Add the butter pieces and coat with the flour mixture using a bench scraper or spatula. With a pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour mixture, working quickly until mostly pea-size pieces of butter remain (a few larger pieces are okay; be careful not to overblend).

Combine the water, cider vinegar, and ice in a large measuring cup or small bowl. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of the ice water mixture over the flour mixture, and mix and cut it in with a bench scraper or spatula until it is fully incorporated. Add more of the ice water mixture, 1 to 2 tablespoons at a time, using the bench scraper or your hands (or both) to mix until the dough comes together in a ball, with some dry bits remaining. Squeeze and pinch with your fingertips to bring all the dough together, sprinkling dry bits with more small drops of the ice water mixture, if necessary, to combine.

Divide the dough in half and shape the dough into flat discs, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, preferably overnight, to give the crust time to mellow. Wrapped tightly, the dough can be refrigerated for 3 days or frozen for 1 month.

Remove the dough from the fridge 5 to 10 minutes before you being rolling. Dough that is too cold will develop cracks when it is rolled.

Lightly flour your work surface and roll out one of the discs of dough until it is 2 to 3 inches larger than the pan you are using and about 1/8 inch in thickness. Fold the dough in half and lay it across one side of a well-buttered pie pan (no need to butter if you are using a ceramic pie dish), positioning the seam in the center. Unfold the disc and gently slide and fit the dough down into the pan; do not pull or stretch the dough. Make sure there are no gaps between the dough and the pan; if there are air bubbles, burst them with a fork.

Trim the dough overhang to allow 1 to 1 1/2 inches of excess, measuring from the inner rim of the pan. Cover the crust with plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, preferably 1 hour or more, and tightly wrapped, up to 3 days before using. The rolled out, fitted, tightly wrapped crust can also be frozen for up to a month.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the other disc of dough into a circle approximately 12 inches in diameter and about 1/8 inch thick. To cover pie with a pastry round, simply place dough round on a parchment lined pan and chill for a minimum of 30 minutes. If making a lattice top, use a pizza cutter or fluted pastry wheel to trim one inch of dough from either side of the circle, and then cut the remaining shape into 8 strips of equal width (this will result in a 4-by-4 lattice--you can cut from 12 to 18 thinner strips and create a 6-by-6 or 9-by-9 lattice respectively, depending on your preference of lattice style). Transfer the lattice strips to a parchment lined pan and chill for a minimum of 30 minutes.

For the filling: Have ready and refrigerated one pastry-lined 9-inch pie pan and pastry round or lattice to top.

Sprinkle 3 tablespoons of the granulated sugar over the strawberries. Stir gently to combine and allow the fruit to macerate at room temperature for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Peel the apple and shred on the large holes of a box grater. Drain the strawberries of excess liquid and combine with the shredded apple. Sprinkle on the balsamic vinegar and Angostura bitters.

In a separate bowl, mix together the remaining 1/4 cup granulated sugar, brown sugar, arrowroot, black pepper, and salt. Gently fold the sugar mixture into the strawberry mixture. Pour the filling into the refrigerated pie shell, arrange the lattice or pastry round on top, and crimp as desired. Chill the pie in the refrigerator for 10 to 15 minutes to set the pastry.

Meanwhile, position the oven racks in the bottom and center positions, place a rimmed baking sheet on the bottom rack, and preheat the oven to 425° F. Brush the pastry with the egg wash to coat; if your pie has a lattice top, be careful not to drag the filling onto the pastry (it will burn). Sprinkle with the desired amount of demerara sugar.

Place the pie on the rimmed baking sheet on the lowest rack of the oven. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the pastry is set and beginning to brown. Lower the oven temperature to 375° F, move the pie to the center oven rack, and continue to bake until the pastry is a deep golden brown and the juices are bubbling throughout, 35 to 40 minutes longer (mine baked an additional 53 minutes).

Allow to cool completely on a wire rack, 2 to 3 hours. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature. The pie will keep for 3 days refrigerated or for up to 2 days at room temperature.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Ad Hoc Buttermilk Fried Chicken


The day after New Year's Day I signed up for a boot camp class, and have been going weekly ever since then. Also on that day, my random craving for fried chicken reached Everest proportions, and I decided that if I committed to my weekly boot camp classes, and waited until a really good occasion, you know, my birthday for example, I would treat myself to the best fried chicken I could possibly make. Totally awesome reward, right?

Fast forward 3 1/2 months till my mid-April birthday rolled around, and I was ready for fried chicken bliss! I had been dreaming of that day throughout every grueling boot camp class, and even though my weight loss and muscle toning has been minimal compared to other gym rats, I kept up my weekly commitment, which is huge for someone who hates exercising.

I spent quite a bit of time planning out the perfect fried chicken menu. The most important decision would be which fried chicken recipe to use. I've made really great fried chicken in the past, but I wanted this time to be epic! I've made excellent buttermilk fried chicken before, and my Korean fried chicken was ungodly good, but I still wanted to take it up a notch.

Enter Thomas Keller, arguably one of the best chefs in the world, and his recipe for buttermilk fried chicken from his Yountville, CA restaurant and companion cookbook Ad Hoc at Home. The recipe is simple, but time consuming. It requires a bit of planning, but is absolutely worth it.

We start out by brining the chicken. This is common practice for frying, roasting, and even grilling birds, but the magic of this brine comes from the multitude of common ingredients that marry together to yield the perfect balance of flavor and salinity. Halved lemons, garlic, honey, and herbs galore create an incredibly fragrant brine that would do any bird justice.

You must make the brine in advance and let it cool completely before submerging your butchered chicken parts. My chickens were about 3 1/2 pounds each, a bit larger than what is recommended, but I still yielded outstanding results. I made my brine Saturday morning, chilled it thoroughly in the fridge, and then submerged the chicken parts later that evening, allowing a full 12 hours to brine overnight.

The next morning I removed the chicken from the brine, rinsed off each piece, dried it with paper towels, and then left it in the fridge until a bit closer to fry time. The recipe has you leave the chicken out at room temperature for 1 1/2 hours or until it comes to room temperature, but since I wasn't frying until closer to dinner time, I popped the chicken back into the fridge until 1 1/2 hours before I planned to start frying. This timing worked out really well for future reference.

We're not finished yet. Even after soaking in that delicious brine to help flavor and tenderize our chicken, we still need to bread it with additional flavor. Highly seasoned flour includes everything from garlic and onion powders to cayenne pepper. We alternate by dredging the chicken pieces in the seasoned flour, a pool of buttermilk, and then more seasoned flour. While dredging the chicken, the tangy aroma of the buttermilk filled me with excitement and anticipation to finally taste this extraordinary fried chicken.

Time to fry. I used a Le Creuset enameled cast iron French oven, which retains heat really well. Almost too well. Even as the heat of the oil fluctuated based on the heat of the burner, the bottom of the pot was still hot enough to singe my chicken pieces a tad, so if you're not using an actual deep fryer, use caution and make sure to flip the pieces periodically to make sure they don't brown too much on either side.

Now for the results. Was it worth the time and effort to plan ahead, making and chilling the brine, brining the chicken for 12 hours, doing a double coat of seasoned flour and tangy buttermilk, and frying the chicken pieces in well-organized batches (thighs first, then drumsticks, breasts, and finally wings)? The answer is yes. All caps and too many exclamation points YES!!!!!

Picture this: crunchy, perfectly seasoned breading wrapped around the juiciest, most flavorful piece of chicken you've ever had in your life. Even the breast meat, which is notoriously easy to dry out, is so tender and flavorful. This fried chicken is epic. I had no doubt in my mind that anything from the kitchen of Thomas Keller would be the best of the best, but this fried chicken really proves that. This is the best fried chicken ever. Period, end of story.

With that said, will I ever try another recipe for fried chicken? Of course I will. Variety is the spice of life, and there are other really wonderful fried chicken recipes in the universe. Some boast different flavor profiles, and yet others are simply faster and easier to prepare, without 12 hours of brining, etc. But this will certainly be my ULTIMATE fried chicken recipe, hands down. It was worth the 3 1/2 month wait...

I served this Holy Grail fried chicken with buttermilk mashed Yukon gold potatoes, roasted green beans with garlic, and pickles. Simple perfection.

I've halved the amounts for both the brine and the coating mixture in the recipes below. I feel that half the amount from the original recipe is more than enough for this quantity of chicken.

Ad Hoc Buttermilk Fried Chicken
Serves 4 to 6
(From Ad Hoc at Home--slightly adapted, coating proportions reduced by half)

Two 2 1/2- to 3-pound chickens
Chicken Brine, cold (recipe follows)

For Dredging and Frying:
Peanut or canola oil for deep-frying
1 quart buttermilk (realistically you will use less; I used about half)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons garlic powder
2 tablespoons onion powder
2 teaspoons paprika
2 teaspoons cayenne
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Ground fleur de sel or fine sea salt
Rosemary and thyme sprigs for garnish

Cut each chicken into 10 pieces: 2 legs, 2 thighs, 4 breast quarters, and 2 wings. Pour the brine into a container large enough to hold the chicken pieces, add in the chicken, and refrigerate for 12 hours (no longer, or the chicken may become too salty).

Remove the chicken from the brine (discard the brine) and rinse under cold water, removing any herbs or spices sticking to the skin. Pat dry with paper towels, or let air-dry. Let rest at room temperature for 1 1/2 hours, or until it comes to room temperature.

If you have two large pots (about 6 inches deep) and a lot of oil, you can cook the dark and white meat at the same time; if not, cook the dark meat first, then turn up the heat and cook the white meat. No matter what size pot you have, the oil should not come more than one-third of the way up the sides of the pot. Fill the pot with at least 2 inches of peanut oil and heat to 320°F. Set a cooling rack over a baking sheet. Line a second baking sheet with parchment paper.

Meanwhile, combine all the coating ingredients in a large bowl. Transfer half the coating to a second large bowl. Pour the buttermilk into a third bowl and season with salt and pepper. Set up a dipping station: the chicken pieces, one bowl of coating, the bowl of buttermilk, the second bowl of coating, and the parchment-lined baking sheet.

Just before frying, dip the chicken thighs into the first bowl of coating, turning to coat and patting off the excess; dip them into the buttermilk, allowing the excess to run back into the bowl; then dip them into the second bowl of coating. Transfer to the parchment-lined pan.

Carefully lower the thighs into the hot oil. Adjust the heat as necessary to return the oil to the proper temperature. Fry for 2 minutes, then carefully move the chicken pieces around in the oil and continue to fry, monitoring the oil temperature and turning the pieces as necessary for even cooking, for 11 to 12 minutes, until the chicken is a deep golden brown, cooked through, and very crisp. Meanwhile, coat the chicken drumsticks and transfer to the parchment-lined baking sheet.

Transfer the cooked thighs to the cooling rack skin-side-up and let rest while you fry the remaining chicken. (Putting the pieces skin-side-up will allow excess fat to drain, whereas leaving them skin-side-down could trap some of the fat.) Make sure that the oil is at the correct temperature, and cook the chicken drumsticks. When the drumsticks are done, lean them meat-side-up against the thighs to drain, then sprinkle the chicken with fine sea salt.

Turn up the heat and heat the oil to 340°F. Meanwhile, coat the chicken breasts and wings. Carefully lower the chicken breasts into the hot oil and fry for 7 minutes, or until golden brown, cooked through, and crisp. Transfer to the rack, sprinkle with salt, and turn skin side up. Cook the wings for 6 minutes, or until golden brown and cooked through. Transfer the wings to the rack and turn off the heat.

Arrange the chicken on a serving platter. Add the herb sprigs to the oil (which will still be hot) and let them cook and crisp for a few seconds, then arrange them over the chicken.

Note on chicken size: You may need to go to a farmer's market to get these small chickens. Grocery store chickens often run 3 to 4 pounds. They can, of course, be used in this recipe but if chickens in the 2 1/2- to 3-pound range are available to you, they're worth seeking out. (Pssst, my chickens were about 3 1/2 pounds each, but still yielded excellent results).

Note: We let the chicken rest 7 to 10 minutes after it comes out of the fryer so that it has a chance to cool down. If the chicken has rested for longer than 10 minutes, put the tray of chicken in a 400°F oven for a minute or two to ensure that the crust is crisp and the chicken is hot.

Chicken Brine
Makes 1 gallon
(From Ad Hoc at Home--recipe slightly adapted and reduced by half)

3 lemons, halved
12 bay leaves
1/2 bunch (2 ounces) flat-leaf parsley
1/2 bunch (1/2 ounce) thyme (I used a combination of thyme and rosemary)
1/4 cup clover honey
1/2 cup garlic cloves, skin left on, lightly smashed with the side of a knife
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
1 cup (5 ounces) Diamond Crystal kosher salt
1 gallon water

Combine all the ingredients in a large pot, cover, and bring to a boil. Boil for 1 minute, stirring to dissolve the salt. Remove from the heat and cool completely, then chill before using. The brine can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Black Forest Torte


Today is my birthday, and this is my birthday cake.

Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, or Black Forest Torte, is a German classic, and one of my favorites. I made it this past weekend for my early birthday family dinner (yes, I made my own birthday cake).

It features layers of fluffy chocolate sponge cake, delicately sweet and light as air, soaked with kirsch (cherry brandy), filled with whipped cream and sour cherries, and finished with bittersweet chocolate shavings.

The cake itself is reminiscent of angel food cake in technique, but also includes the egg yolks whipped in after the whites reach a meringue consistency. A combination of sifted cake flour, cocoa powder, and cornstarch bind the mixture together, which is baked in a 9-inch springform pan. There is no butter or oil in this cake, and the only leavening comes from the expertly whipped egg whites.

There are a couple very important ingredients one must procure to make this cake. The most difficult believe it or not was the kirsch or kirschwasser. I've purchased this many years ago, but had run out recently and was not able to find another bottle after calling many local liquor stores. One finally offered to special order it for me. I didn't realize it would be this hard to source, but beware and plan ahead.

The jar of sour cherries was ordered through Amazon, however I later found an identical jar at my local whole foods for half the price (now I know for next time).

After thickening the cherries with cornstarch

This cake definitely requires a bit of planning not only to get some of the specialty ingredients, but also because the assembled cake must chill in the refrigerator for 4 to 24 hours to really soak in all the flavors. It's worth the wait, though!

Not only is it a beautiful creation, totally fitting for a birthday celebration, but it's light, airy, and not-too-sweet with bursts of sourness from the cherries.

Making your own birthday cake is totally worth it when you are making something as delightful as a Black Forest torte. Whether you make this for yourself or for a loved one, it's sure to impress!

Black Forest Torte (Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte)
Makes 1 (9-inch) torte
(From Classic German Baking)

6 eggs, separated
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon (180 grams) granulated sugar
3/4 cup, scooped and leveled, minus 1 tablespoon (100 grams) cake flour
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon (50 grams) cocoa powder
1/3 cup plus 1 teaspoon (50 grams) cornstarch

Filling and Topping:
1 (24-ounce/680 gram) jar or can pitted sour cherries in sugar water
1 tablespoon cornstarch
3 cups (720 ml) whipped cream
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
3 to 6 tablespoons (45 to 90 ml) kirsch
Large chunk of bittersweet chocolate, chilled, for grating

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Line the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper.

To make the cake: Place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Add the salt; begin whisking on medium speed, and then increase the speed. As the egg whites whip and froth, slowly add the sugar in small increments. Beat until the egg whites are thick and glossy and at least tripled in volume. The sugar should be fully dissolved (you can pinch a bit of the mixture between thumb and forefinger to see whether it's still grainy).

Lower the speed and beat in the egg yolks, one at a time. Turn off the machine.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, and cornstarch. Gently shake this mixture over the whipped eggs. Using a spatula, gently but thoroughly fold together until the batter is smooth and creamy and no streaks remain. Scrape the batter gently into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for 25 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven and let cool on a rack for 30 minutes. Run a thin knife around the edges of the cake, then remove the springform ring. Turn the cake upside down, remove the bottom of the pan and the parchment paper, and let the cake cool completely.

To prepare the filling and topping: Drain the sour cherries over a bowl, reserving the juice. Set aside 13 to 15 cherries for the top of the cake. Pour the cherry juice into a measuring cup and add enough water to come up to 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (200 ml) (you may have enough juice without needing to add water--it depends on the jar of cherries you buy). Pour 2 tablespoons of the juice into a separate bowl and stir in the cornstarch until no lumps remain. Set aside. Pour the remaining juice into a saucepan.

Bring the pan of juice to a boil. Add the drained cherries, bring to a boil again, and then immediately stir in the cornstarch mixture. Let cook over medium heat until the mixture thickens slightly. Remove from the heat and let cool--the mixture will continue to chicken as it cools.

Whip the cream and sugar together until very thick. Set aside.

Cut the fully cooled chocolate cake horizontally into 3 equal layers (if your cake has domed a lot, you can carefully trim the top so it is a bit more level). Place the bottom third on a cake platter. Sprinkle evenly with 1 to 2 tablespoons of kirsch. Scrape some of the whipped cream into a pastry bag fitted with a round tip and pipe 3 concentric circles onto the cake round. Fill the rings with half of the sour cherry mixture. Gently place the second round of cake on top and repeat the process with the kirsch, whipped cream, and cherry mixture. Place the third round of the cake on top and sprinkle with the remaining kirsch. Frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining whipped cream (you can reserve a bit to pipe rosettes on top of the cake at the end, after scattering the grated chocolate), and then arrange the reserved cherries on top of the cake.

Grate the bittersweet chocolate and scatter it over the top and sides of the cake. How much you use is up to you. Refrigerate the cake for at least 4 hours or up to 24 hours before serving. If refrigerating for 4 hours, remove from the refrigerator 30 minutes before serving. If chilling for longer, remove from the refrigerator 1 hour before serving. The cake will keep, lightly wrapped in plastic wrap, for several days.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Beauty Elixir


One of my favorite things about dining out with friends is enjoying delicious craft cocktails. The nicer the restaurant, the nicer the cocktails typically are. It feels like a work of art trying some of these wonderful drinks, and I enjoy creating them at home as well when the opportunity arises.

I was recently approached by to spread awareness and share a signature cocktail in honor of an upcoming event in Las Vegas called For the Love of Cocktails. It's a 72-hour fundraiser directly supporting bartenders in need of cancer pre-screenings and care. This is more than a breast cancer awareness event, it's also a party for mixologists to get together for a cause, and celebrate something they love.

Breast cancer is a cause that is near and dear to me, as I've had several family members who have survived the disease. I'm happy to offer my support, and direct mixologists and drink enthusiasts who may be interested in taking part in this exciting event to find more information on how to get tickets, and plan their trip to Vegas.

While I personally won't be able to make it to Las Vegas, I'm happy to share a lovely cocktail recipe today in honor of the cause. One of the signature cocktails at Beauty & Essex (in New York City, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles) is the Beauty Elixir.

At Beauty & Essex, the cocktail starts out with muddled cucumber and strawberry puree which is shaken over ice with Hendricks gin, lemon juice, and lemon simple syrup. It's strained into a cocktail glass (the restaurant uses a coupe cocktail glass) and topped off with rosé sparkling wine, and garnished with a cucumber slice.

Lucky for us, the recipe for Beauty Elixir is available in Chris Santos's recently released cookbook Share. This drink reminds me of one you would get at a spa (if you were hypothetically drinking alcohol at a spa), or something much more interesting than a mimosa or bellini for brunch. It's also excellent before, during, and after dinner. And let's not forget that it's PINK, the color for breast cancer awareness.

Light and fruity, with a hint of sweetness from the strawberries, tartness from the lemon, effervescence from the sparkling wine, strength from the gin, and an herbaceous touch from the cucumber, this cocktail has it all.

My cocktail glasses are perhaps a touch larger than most, so I can fit more drink into them. I made the recipe below following the "party-sized" instructions, and yielded 1 1/4 cups liquid before shaking and topping with sparkling wine. This divides up to exactly 5 tablespoons per 4 cocktails, but I was a bit more generous with mine (a very generous 1/3 cup) and yielded 3 cocktails instead of 4 (with plenty of room to top off with sparkling wine).

Either way, this is a fun, fresh, fruity cocktail with an unexpected twist from the cucumber. Considering the fact that a bottle of sparkling wine only stays bubbly for so long before going flat, it would make sense to shake up this cocktail for a small crowd unless you have stocked up on those tiny, single-size champagne bottles.

Beauty Elixir
Makes 1 or 4 cocktails
(From Share)

2 (1/4-inch) slices Kirby cucumber, unpeeled, plus more for garnish
3/4 ounce (1 1/2 tablespoons) strawberry puree (see note)
1 1/2 ounces London dry gin
1/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/2 ounce lemon simple syrup (recipe follows)
1/2 ounce rosé sparkling wine or champagne, as needed

Muddle the cucumber and strawberry puree well in a cocktail shaker. Add ice and gin, lemon juice, and lemon syrup; shake well. Strain into a chilled martini glass. Top with the sparkling wine. Garnish with a cucumber slice and serve.

Note: To make strawberry puree, process hulled strawberries as needed (3 large strawberries make about 1 1/2 tablespoons puree) in a mini-food processor until smooth.

Party-Sized Beauty Elixir: Pulse 8 slices cucumber and 3 ounces (6 tablespoons) strawberry puree in a blender to mince them. Add 6 ounces (3/4 cup) gin, 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) fresh lemon juice, and 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) lemon syrup and pulse just to combine. Strain the gin mixture through a wire sieve into a small pitcher. (The mixture can be covered and stored at room temperature for up to 3 hours.) For each drink, pour about 3 ounces (a generous 1/3 cup) into an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Strain into a martini glass, top with the sparkling wine, and garnish with a cucumber slice. Makes 4 cocktails.

Lemon Simple Syrup
Makes about 4 ounces (1/2 cup)

1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Bring the sugar and water to a boil in a small saucepan over high heat, stirring constantly to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat and add the lemon juice. Let cool. (The syrup can be refrigerated in a covered container for up to 2 weeks.)


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