Thursday, December 31, 2009

Liqueur du Grapillon

One of the most important things
that distinguish man from other animals
is that man can get pleasure from drinking
without being thirsty.

~ Fernand Point

Not long ago, I plucked a 1974 copy of Fernand Point’s Ma Gastronomie from the shelf. Point was the French chef/restaurateur of La Pyramide, a renowned temple of gastronomy south of Lyon. I was looking for his recipe for a sort of simple French milk punch. Though he died in 1955, his life and work continue to inspire chefs today. Marc Vetri, for instance, whose restaurant Vetri Mario Batali claimed was possibly the best Italian restaurant on the East Coast, used to keep the same copy of Ma Gastronomie in his kitchen. Thomas Keller, no slouch in the kitchen, has written an introduction to a new edition of the cooking classic and it’s worth tracking down if, like me, you're into food as well as drinks.

The recipe I was hunting (from the oversized yellow-jacketed 1974 edition) is for a homemade liqueur that Point used to take with him as he went to survey the quality and maturity of the grapes of the Côte Rôtie. Reputedly, he would stop now and again on the steep slopes of the vineyards and take a swig of a tasty little pick-me-up he called Liqueur du Grapillon (or “Liqueur for the Grapes”).

The recipe calls for an entire lemon, cut into quarters, to be thrown in with brandy, milk, and vanilla. Citrus and dairy in the same drink can lead to some chewy disasters. They can be—and often are—combined without incident, but keep this formula in mind: [citrus + milk] = [curds + whey]. Fortunately, since the lemon is not squeezed into the mix and, as this mixture sits in the dark for almost two weeks, any curds formed are very small and easily strained out.

The result is a smooth, thick and mildly sweet liqueur, similar to egg nog but not as thick and without the eggy overtones, tasting of whole milk, vanilla, and cognac. After a few days of macerating, I tasted the drink and was leery: the lemon was overpowering, sharp, and biting. Resisting the temptation to yank it out of the jar (after all, presumably Point knew something about successfully combining tastes), I left it in and was rewarded after another week with a mellowed liqueur that no longer tasted like furniture polish.

On the last day of the decade, I poured myself a short glass, grabbed some dried sausage and a pocket knife, and moseyed out to the patio to read the paper and soak in the beautiful sun of Southern California. There are no grapes to survey, but the palm trees look mighty fine.

Liqueur du Grapillon
(“Liqueur for the Grapes”)

Combine sixteen ounces of milk, eight ounces of sugar, sixteen ounces of very good eau de vie or brandy and add a lemon cut in thirds and a vanilla bean. Let the mixture stand, stirring from time to time. After 12 days, strain and serve.
~ Fernand Point (1974) Ma Gastronomie. Lyceum Books, Wilton, CT.

Ingredient Notes: I’d used the vanilla pod in this recipe to make vanilla syrup as well as vanilla sugar, so a little bit of its moxie had been spent. To compensate, I used a pod and half, then, at bottling time, squeezed out all the remaining tiny black seeds as if from a tube of toothpaste into the strained liqueur.

For milk, use whole milk, preferably unpasteurized. It really does make a difference. Don't even bother with 1%, 2%, or soy abominations. The brandy I used was Claude Chatelier VS, about $20/750ml at Trader Joe's. If using a waxed lemon, give it a good short scrub in hot water to remove as much of the coating as possible. Pluck it from the backyward if, like me, you live in places where mixers grow on trees.

Secondhand editions of Point's book are still around, but if you want to score the new edition, here's the skinny:

Fernand Point with introduction by Thomas Keller (2008)
Ma Gastronomie
240 pages, hardback
Publisher: Overlook/Rookery


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Tracking Old Family Cordial Recipes

Americans may have forgotten some of the finer points of making tonics, tinctures, and infusions at home but we are, bit by bit, figuring them out again.

Take cocktail bitters. Hats off to all the bartenders making their own (and, please, keep doing so) but housemade bitters no longer raise eyebrows. Not because they are dull or passé, but because, more and more, we are coming to expect a level of applied curiosity in our bartenders. Bitters are one of the more familiar expressions of that trend.

As part of unboxing our own curiosities about the nation’s drinking past, older homemade beverages such as dandelion wine, sloe gin, and cherry bounce are showing up here and there. It’s a trend worth encouraging.

Tracking down those old recipes takes some legwork. Oh, sure you can find reprints of plenty of old bartending manuals for the 19th-century recipes, but sometimes our own friends and families can be surprising sources of information. I can’t even count the number of friends—city dwellers and professionals—who talked to me about my research into moonshine, found it totally alien, then reported back sometime later surprised to find that their own uncle, grandfather, cousin, or mother had first-hand experience making or moving applejack, corn liquor, or other black-market hooch.

I assure you, it’s the same with cordials, ratafias, tonics, and other homemade alcoholic beverages in your own family. While the holidays are still under way, ask around your own families and office parties to see who’s been making what. And, if anyone demurs with “Oh, that old stuff,” press ahead. It’s how my mother’s rumtopf recipe ended up in my moonshine book under the title The Stuff squared off against a recipe for curtido y mistela, a recipe from Chiapas from my good friend Noe. Who gave him the recipe? His mother.

That his mother supplied a recipe for homemade cordial isn’t surprising. Keep in mind that, from Charlemagne’s France through Elizabethan England to today, women tend to be the keepers of these recipes. Of course, men make boozy concoctions, but odds are, if there’s a written recipe for homemade drinks, it’s in a woman’s hand, so talk to aunts, grandmothers, and the extended networks of cousins. Below are some thoughts for tracking down older cordial recipes. And, remember, it's not just the ounces of this and the pints of that—the meat of the stories lies in how and when they were used and by whom:

  • Ask about holiday parties from years past
  • Browse through old family Bibles or journals for spare recipes tucked in between the pages
  • Go through handwritten recipe books or cards with the woman who wrote or inherited them, asking about drinks recipes
  • Ask how your older relatives kept cool in the summer (Do they remember August before air conditioning? Did they have a cellar with home-canned goods? What else was down there?)
  • Ask how they kept warm in the winter (tactfully, now—you aren’t suggesting that they are coeval with dinosaurs)
  • Ask what they did with wine/liquor bottles once they’d been emptied
  • If they keep gardens or fruit bushes/trees, ask where it all goes at the end of the season
  • Ask about traditional drinks brought from ancestors who immigrated to your country (anything from French vin cuit to Puerto Rican coquito)
  • Was there a special bottle that kids weren’t supposed to get into? Ask about it.
  • Ask what would be a good drink to put up on a child’s birth for his 21st birthday
For the record, my recipe for cherry bounce is posted over at Tuthilltown spirits. Very nice when made with corn whiskey, but bourbon is just fine…

What does your family put up in bottles and jugs?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Senator Tydings and the Kentucky Breakfast

As a meal familiar to bartenders around the world, Maryland Senator Millard Tydings (1890-1961, pictured left) offered his recipe for a Kentucky breakfast in Frederick Philip Stieff 1932 recipe collection Eat, Drink and Be Merry in Maryland.

Under the heading “The Reminiscent Toddy,” Stieff relates the Senator’s instructions precisely calibrated to each individual diner’s tastes, a recipe within a recipe:

This potation, to be thoroughly enjoyed, should be prepared in the following manner:

Supply each guest with a glass containing about one-half inch of water and one-quarter teaspoonful of sugar, and a spoon.

All should sit comfortably and stir the sugar until it is thoroughly dissolved. The host should tell the following story in a low voice while the sugar is being stirred:

"Have you gentlemen ever participated at a Kentucky breakfast?"

The answer is likely to be in the negative.

Then some guest will probably ask:

"What is a Kentucky breakfast?"

At this point the sugar is completely dissolved. The host passes around a bottle of Bourbon and each person pours into his glass, containing the dissolved sugar, such amount as suits his inclination. This is stirred for a while, during which time the most replies:

"A Kentucky breakfast is a big beefsteak, a quart of Bourbon, and a houn' dawg."

One of the guests will then ask:
"What is the dog for?"

The host then replies:
"He eats the beefsteak."

Ice water is then passed around in a silver pitcher to dilute drink to meet the requirements of the discriminating taste of each. A part of the Kentucky breakfast is then consumed.

(In order to extract the nth power of enjoyment from this receipt, when stirring the sugar and water, each should sit on the very edge of his chair or sofa, rest his arms on his knees with a slightly forward posture. Unless this is done the train will taste just a little less good.)
It takes no great imagination to adjust the recipe to one's circumstances, leading, perhaps to a Kentucky brunch, teatime, coffee break, or luncheon.

Order up!


Monday, December 14, 2009

Three Boozy Egg Drinks: Eggnog, Eierlikör, and Eierpunsch

Egg-based liqueurs tend to crop up mostly in winter months when the cold makes us crave extra calories. For Americans, eggnog stands as the classic example. Old egg recipes and what they’ve become — not just eggnog — are on my mind the days as I tease apart the convoluted family tree of egg nogs, flips, advocaat, Eierlikör, and other rich, egg-based drinks. That project continues and will turn into something down the road, but in the meanwhile, I offer you three items.

The first is Jeffery Morgenthaler’s recipe for eggnog from the pages of Playboy (which I read, in all honesty, for the recipes).
Clyde Common Eggnog
Beat a dozen eggs in blender for one minute on medium speed. Slowly add 2 1/4 cups of sugar and blend for one additional minute. With the blender still running, add 3 teaspoons of freshly-grated nutmeg, 1 1/12 cups of Amontillado sherry, 1 1/2 cups of anejo tequila, 4 1/2 cups of whole milk and 3 cups of heavy cream until combined. Chill thoroughly to allow flavors to combine.
The rest of the article How Not to Spike Eggnog is here.

The second is a video about William Verpoorten, the Bonn-based liqueur-maker whom Deutsche Welle dubs “Der König des Eierlikörs” (the King of Egg Liqueurs). Verpoorten claims to use 1.3 million eggs per day for his firm’s Eierlikör, a German liqueur whose primary ingredients—as Verpoorten makes it—are egg yolks, alcohol, and water. Notice the lack of cream and milk, making this similar to, but not quite, what we think of as an eggnog.

The last is a recipe for Eierpunsch, a rum-and-wine egg “punch” from my battered copy of Elise Hannemann’s Kochbuch (Berlin, 1904). Keep in mind I learned German when I was very young, so it's sketchy these days, but I do still get by. My working translation [with corrections for directions omitted in the original] is below. Anyone want to correct my translation? Please do.


2 egg yolks
2 whole eggs
3 Tbl lemon juice
1/4 liter white wine
1/4 liter water
1/16 liter rum
120g sugar

Whisk the egg yolks and whole eggs together with sugar, lemon juice and 1/8 liter of cold water until frothy; Pour in 3/8 liter of boiling water [and white wine combined] and cook the whole thing on a very hot hearth whisking until frothy. Then, pour the rum into the punch and serve immediately.


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Rowley’s Gift Guide for Drinkers: Sazerac Glasses

Not long ago, a properly made Sazerac cocktail was something you'd find almost exclusively in New Orleans. Oh, they make 'em in San Francisco and—here and there—you could find one in New York. But the drink itself is an icon of the Crescent City, a cocktail anachronism from an earlier age. It's so identified with the city that it's now the official cocktail of New Orleans.

Visitors will find them at the Sazerac Bar in the bottom floor of the refurbished Roosevelt Hotel. If you can't make it to the bar or the Roosevelt's gift shop, but want a set of the right glasses in which to serve the drink, go online to the Tales of the Cocktail gift shop and order a set of four glasses. If you've got whiskey fans on your gift list, they'll thank you for this one. Shoot, you might just get this one for yourself.

New Orleans booster and cocktail wrangler Chuck Taggart calls this "an absolutely exquisite cocktail" and I concur. His notes on it are here. And, please, do as he says: use rye whiskey, not Bourbon.

$30 for a set of four. Order here.

See the gift guide as it grows here.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Rowley’s Gift Guide for Drinkers: Homemade Vanilla Syrup

In twenty years of cooking my own meals, I have made some flat-out amazing dishes. So far, none has been as delicious as my own homemade vanilla syrup.

If you are inclined to make your Christmas presents, here’s one that drinkers on your gift list should get some miles out of. It’s an integral component to the tropical Nui Nui, lends an ethereal air to a Ramos gin fizz, and in small doses lends a velvet softness to whipped cream for topping Kahlua-spiked hot chocolate.

There are two primary ways of making the syrup at home. One uses high-quality vanilla extract. The other—the one that I feel gives superior results—uses actual vanilla pods. We will take a look at both. First, a quick-and-dirty version that starts with a sugar syrup that I tend to keep around in large quantities.

Quick & Dirty Vanilla Syrup

1 cup 2:1 simple syrup*
1 tsp vanilla extract

Stir the vanilla extract into the syrup and bottle. And Bob’s your uncle: It is now ready for use.

Note: use a high-end vanilla extract or don’t bother making your own syrup. Reputable brands include Penzey’s and Nielsen-Massey Vanillas. I use the heady Mexican brand Orlando Gaya Hijos from Veracruz.

Now, here’s the recipe I use when I don’t need a bunch of syrup immediately. As in Philadelphia-style vanilla ice cream, tiny black seeds are shot throughout.

Rich Vanilla Syrup

2 cups sugar
1 cup filtered water
5 vanilla pods

Pour the sugar and water into a small, heavy saucepan. Slice each vanilla pod along its length and open like a book. Scrape as many of the tiny black seeds as possible into the pot. Using kitchen shears, snip each pod into 1” lengths. Add these to the pot and bring all to a boil. Immediately reduce to a simmer, beat gently with a long-handled whisk to release even more seeds from the pods and allow the syrup to simmer about two minutes. Let the syrup cool in the pan. Strain the larger pieces of vanilla pods and set aside, but leave in all the small black seeds in the syrup. Bottle and refrigerate.

Air-dry the pods and toss them into a bin of sugar to infuse it with the aroma of vanilla. Next time you make Rich Vanilla Syrup, use this vanilla-scented sugar.

* Using the term “simple syrup” is enough to raise voices among some bartenders and cocktail aficionados. “Simple” in this instance does not refer to a perfect one-to-one ratio of sugar to water. It means simply that the syrup contains no ingredients other than sugar and water. Bartenders had no special claim on the term which has, in fact, been used by pastry chefs, soda jerks, confectioners, and home cooks for a very long time. Each of these has different ideas about the correct proportion of sugar to water in “simple” syrup. Increasingly, you may hear of “rich” syrup when proportion of sugar is higher than that of water. This 2:1 rich syrup is the one we use almost exclusively at home. It’s just so simple.

The easiest way to make rich syrup is to add two parts sugar to one part water in a saucepan, heat only until the sugar dissolves, then cool and bottle. Store under refrigeration.

See the gift guide as it grows here.