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Champagne Cocktails for Valentine’s Day

Champagne Cocktails for Valentine's Day

The devil is in the details. An idiom, a truism, and something I firmly believe. It’s the little things—the subtleties—that make something truly sparkle and definitely very sexy. And when it comes to champagne cocktails, for me, at least, subtlety is key. If I’ve got good bubbles, I want to taste them. But just the right amount of subtle accent can take a flute of champagne to a whole other level. I created this trio of distinct champagne cocktails in honor of Valentine’s Day with the hope that you can take your love to the next level. Cheers.

Champagne Cocktail: French Kiss
A riff on the classic French 75, French Kiss is the lightest of the three champagne cocktails presented here. A subtle sweetness from the St-Germain and spice from the ginger liqueur mingle with herbaceous, sour, and dry, adding a surprising layer to this “fruit-on-the-bottom” drink.

French Kiss

1 oz. Plymouth Gin
1/4 oz. Lemon Juice
1/4 oz. St-Germain Elderflower Liqueur
1 barspoon Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur
4 oz. Moët & Chandon Imperial Champagne
Lemon twist for garnish

Place a sugar cube in a champagne flute. Combine the gin, lemon juice, St-Germain, and ginger liqueur in a mixing glass. Shake with cracked ice and strain into the champagne flute. Top with the champagne and garnish with a lemon twist.

Champagne Cocktail: Rich and Famous
My personal favorite of the bunch, Rich and Famous is at least half of its name. Hopefully the famous part will follow.

Rich and Famous

1 oz. Pierre Ferrand Ambre Cognac
1/2 oz. Bénédictine
1/4 oz. St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram
3 1/2 oz. Moët & Chandon Imperial Champagne
3 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
3 dashes Angostura Bitters
1 demerara sugar cube

Place a demerara sugar cube in a champagne flute and drench with the bitters. Combine the cognac, Bénédictine, and allspice dram in a mixing glass. Stir with ice and strain into the champagne flute. Top with the champagne.

Champagne Cocktail: Difficult Loves
A trinity of Italian ingredients come together in this bitter but savory champagne cocktail, named in honor of Italian writer Italo Calvino’s short story collection of the same name.

Difficult Loves

1/2 oz. Cynar
1/2 oz. Carpano Antica Formula
1/2 oz. Cocchi Americano
4 oz. Moët & Chandon Imperial Champagne
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
1 sugar cube
Orange twist for garnish

Combine the Cynar, Carpano Antica, and Cocchi Americano in a mixing glass. Stir with ice and strain into the champagne flute. Top with champagne and garnish with an orange twist.

Champagne Cocktails

Scotch Cocktail: The Lamplighter

Scotch Cocktail: The Lamplighter Cocktail

Back in the old days, when men were men and lights weren’t electric, it was someone’s job to make sure all a town’s street lights were lit before it got dark. That responsibility fell to the lamplighter. And depending on the village or town where the lamplighter was employed, he might be tasked with the additional duty of night watchman. Nowadays, the lamplighter is an anachronism; a relic of a simpler time with darker nights. Visitors to Brest, Belarus, however, can still glimpse a bona fide lamplighter, who has been employed since 2009 as a tourist attraction.

Scotch Cocktail: The Lamplighter CocktailWith The Lamplighter Cocktail, I was after two things: 1) to create a scotch cocktail, and 2) to use citrus in a drink that you’d see fit to place within the fall/winter spectrum. What I ended up with was an extremely well-balanced cocktail that elegantly combines smoky, sweet, and tart. A perfect way to light up a cold, dark winter night.

The Lamplighter Cocktail

1 1/2 oz. Dewar’s White Label Blended Scotch
1/2 oz. Laird’s Applejack
1/2 oz. Sapling Vermont Maple Liqueur
1/2 oz. Galliano
1/2 oz. Lemon Juice
Lemon twist for garnish

Combine the scotch, applejack, maple liqueur, Galliano, and lemon juice in a mixing glass. Shake with ice and strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Fall Tequila Cocktail: The French Intervention

frenchintervention_top

Crafting original cocktails—for me, at least—is a process that calls for one part imagination and at least five parts experimentation. While Version 1.0 of any given recipe rarely passes muster, it opens doors to any number of paths leading to the final destination. Sometimes the solution is simple, though most often it requires a good bit of refinement. Around here, recently, it’s been more of the latter. In order to dial in the spec for The Cylburn, we hosted a tasting party that featured sundry variations on the theme; while in the case of my Suze-infused White Negroni I almost scrubbed the whole project after exhaustive attempts to tweak it to perfection didn’t seem to get me any closer to my desired result. However, every so often lightning strikes and a first draft is deemed of superior quality, being instantly advanced to final draft status without having to undergo any editing or further scrutinization. Call it the product of accrued mixological experience or call it a fluke, but such was the case with The French Intervention, a cocktail whose name even came easily.

A confluence of two things sparked the idea for this drink. First, there was tequila. In an unfortunate case of guilt by association, tequila often gets a bad rap as a liquor to be consumed in one gulp, in mass quantities, and with a side of salt and lime. Yet, it seemed to me that its earthy flavor profile might make it an excellent, not to mention unexpected, candidate as the base spirit in a fall cocktail. And having just picked up a bottle of El Espolòn, I was eager to test my hypothesis. The second was something I happened upon while wandering the aisles of a local wine and spirits shop—a postcard advertising the Can-Can Classic Cocktail Competition, a challenge to create a new drink using the French St-Germain elderflower liqueur. I accepted the challenge, dreamt up the recipe you see below, and was surprised that my maiden voyage produced such an interesting and balanced result—a cocktail I truly believed coulda been a contender.

The French Intervention: Pour

Well, it turns out the drink actually couldn’t have been a contender, as close inspection of the fine print revealed that submitted cocktails need contain 1 oz. of St-Germain. My scant 1/2 oz. just wasn’t going to cut it. (Queue sad trombone sound.) But, to me, the drink was definitely a winner and rather than mess with success for a chance at a $10,000 cash prize—who needs that anyway, right?—I was content to simply add it to Wonderland Kitchen’s fall cocktail menu.

A word on the name. The French Intervention refers to Napoleon III of France’s invasion of Mexico in 1861—a campaign meant to give President Benito Juárez a collective piece of Britain, Spain, and France’s mind after the former decided to stop sending interest payments to the three nations, who so happened to be Mexico’s major creditors. But it wasn’t just a debt-collecting mission for Napoleon III—Britain and Spain actually backed out when they found out there was an actual invasion planned—there was also a little something about financing his empire with the Mexican silver that was just laying around waiting to be mined, as well as keeping the burgeoning power of the United States in check while it was somewhat preoccupied with its own Civil War. Sneaky guy.

As a coda, while double checking to see that The French Invention had not already been ascribed to an alcoholic concoction, I serendipitously discovered that the drink’s spec tips its hat to Harry Craddock’s Napoleon cocktail. Granted, not the same Napoleon, but close enough for jazz.

The French Intervention

2 oz. El Espolòn Tequila Blanco
1/2 oz. Cynar
1/2 oz. St-Germain Elderflower Liqueur
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
Wide lemon twist for garnish

Combine the tequila, Cynar, St-Germain, and bitters in a mixing glass. Stir with ice and strain into a chilled coupe. Twist the lemon peel over the drink to express the oils and garnish.

White Negroni: Anger That Forgot Where it Came From

White Negroni

I was originally planning to title this post “A White Negroni and the Trouble with Suze” as a way of venting the frustration I had accumulated while playing around with the bitter French aperitif to largely lackluster results. My struggle came not necessarily from the liqueur itself, but rather from how it seemingly refused to play well with others. I found that the very qualities that make Suze such a singular spirit when enjoyed on its own—a quick splash of sweetness followed by an intense and long, lingering bitterness—also make it somewhat difficult to tame in the context of a mixed drink. Definitely not an impossible task, but perhaps one of the reasons you don’t see a heck of a lot of cocktails with Suze in them.

White Negroni

Now, I like my bitter aperitifs as much as the next guy, but when it comes to cocktails I prefer balance. And that proved to be the main challenge in constructing this drink since despite many efforts to reign in Suze’s persistent bitterness in various ways, it continually bullied its way to the front of the palate. Eventually, thankfully, finally, and much to my pleasure, lest I feel as though I’d wasted a few weeks time not to mention half a bottle of a perfectly wonderful bitter liqueur, I arrived at a combination of gin, Suze, and vermouth that, to me, felt balanced. (And that, coming from a Libra, should carry some weight.) However, the perfectionist in me wasn’t quite content.

After tasting a version mixed with Old Tom and another with a London Dry—each lending their own unique and interesting flavor profiles—I decided to split the difference and go with equal parts Hayman’s Old Tom and Plymouth, which makes for a nice combination and also appeases the Negroni purist in me by keeping the drink in equal parts. The coup de grâce is a trio of lemon peels twisted over the drink. Of course, as always, you are free to play with the gins to satisfy your own taste, but the following is how the drink is served at our house.

Anger That Forgot Where it Came From

3/4 oz. Plymouth Gin
3/4 oz. Hayman’s Old Tom Gin
3/4 oz. Suze
3/4 oz. Dolin Blanc Vermouth
3 wide lemon twists

Combine the gin, Suze, and vermouth in a mixing glass. Add ice and stir until well chilled. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass, twist the three lemon peels over the drink, and drop one in for garnish.

A Cocktail for the Giro d’Italia: Maglia Rosa

MagliaRosa

There aren’t many places you will find some of the world’s toughest dudes battling for the honor to wear a pink shirt, but that’s exactly what happens for three weeks in May each year at the Giro d’Italia, one of professional cycling’s three Grand Tours. Known for its legendary champions, mythical feats of heroism, epic climbs, and frenzied fans, the Giro exhibits a distinctive flavor of unpredictability and passion with many riders fueling themselves and their efforts with raw emotion, in stark contrast to the calculated tactics that have come to typify the Tour de France over the past decade or so. Cyclists like Fausto Coppi, Mario Cippolini, and Marco Pantani run the gamut from legendary to flamboyant to tragic, each of their stories lending more color to an already colorful event. And, of course, the color that every rider in the Giro d’Italia dreams of is pink, the color of the race leader’s jersey, the Maglia Rosa.

If we were to talk about the inspiration for the Maglia Rosa cocktail in terms of the chicken and the egg–the chicken being the Giro d’Italia and the egg being the color pink–the egg unquestionably came first. After cooking up a batch of housemade raspberry syrup, I started searching for recipes that would allow me to make use of my new ingredient. As usual, when working with something new, I settled on a classic: the Clover Club. Having never mixed one before, I was struck, as I’m sure many are, by its vivid pinkish hue. But rather than disregard it as something for the girls, as Esquire once did, I thought, “Hey, that’s the same color as the Giro d’Italia leader’s jersey. I wonder if it’s possible to give it more Italian flavor.” I figured I had a 50/50 chance: it could either be tasty, or it could end up down the drain. Pretty good odds, in my opinion, and worth giving it a shot.

The goal, of course, was to retain the color, and after considering my options with regard to which Italian spirits I could substitute for the gin, I decided on grappa. Tweaking the spec slightly, but remaining somewhat close to the Clover Club, yielded an interesting but, by and large, unmemorable variation. The key, as it turned out, was to rinse the glass with sambuca. Doing so added a delicate nose to the ungarnished cocktail with the anise providing just the right amount of subtle complexity to the drink’s taste. Prelibato.

Maglia Rosa

1 1/2 oz. Lorenza Inga Grappa di Moscato
1/2 oz. Dolin Dry Vermouth
1/2 oz. lemon juice
1/2 oz. Housemade Raspberry Syrup
1/4 oz. Romana Sambuca
1 egg white

Combine the grappa, vermouth, lemon juice, raspberry syrup, and egg white in a mixing glass. Dry shake for 7-10 seconds to allow the egg white to emulsify. Add ice, shake well, and fine strain into a chilled coupe rinsed with sambuca.

Thanks to Twenty20 Cycling Co. for letting us turn their workbench into a bar.

Pancakes with a Heart of Gold

pancake_top

There’s a restaurant here in Baltimore that Brian and I pretty much regard as an annex of our own home: Golden West Cafe. Considering the frequency with which we dine there, you’d think I’d have tried everything on their rather extensive menu, but I am a child of habit and pretty much restrict myself to two (super awesomely satisfying) dishes.

There used to be a third.

At some point, however, my beloved lemony pancakes, the ones flecked with zucchini and onion and stuffed miraculously with a slice of brie cheese in the middle, disappeared from the menu. I don’t know where they went or why they left; they didn’t leave a note.

They did make enough of an impression on me, however, to set my hands to some recipe forensics. After just a few tries and tweaks, I had my own version of those flapjacks back on my plate.

Lemon Zucchini Pancakes with a Heart of Brie

1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 egg
1T olive oil
1 small zucchini
2 scallions, finely sliced
1 tsp. lemon zest

6 thin slices of brie

In a medium-sized bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, salt, and sugar. Set aside.

Shred zucchini and blot well with paper towels to remove as much excess moisture as possible.

Beat egg into the buttermilk and add this mixture, the oil, zucchini, scallions, and lemon zest to the dry ingredients. Whisk together until just incorporated. Allow to rest while bringing your skillet or griddle up to medium heat.

When hot, grease lightly with a little butter (I keep a paper towel nearby to spread the grease around and keep it from getting excessive). Drop batter by the scant 1/3 cup onto your cooking surface of choice; it’s somewhat thick, so you may need to spread it just a bit with your ladle, but don’t thin it out too much. You want some fluff.

The delicious, cheesy heart of the pancake.

When dry around the edges and ready to flip, place a slice of the cheese on top of the uncooked side and turn in over in the pan. If you have a problem with the cheese melting to the skillet instead of browning and crisping, lightly re-grease the pan before you set the uncooked side down on it again.

Continue in this manner until all pancakes are made. I got six 5-inch cakes.

Serve hot topped with a pat of butter and a drizzle of honey.