Friday, 24 January 2014

Cocktail Basics: Simple Syrup

I've been banging on about homemade cocktails for a while now over on gastronomicgirls. For my first cocktail post on the new blog I thought it would make sense to go back to basics. Something fundamental for the amateur cocktail maker: simple syrup. It's just a solution of sugar in water, depending on the recipe either a 1:1 or 2:1 ratio of sugar to water. But it is important stuff and having it prepped and ready to go will change your cocktail making life.

lemon verbena simple syrup

Sweetness is often needed in cocktails to balance sour or bitter flavours. The sweet can come from liqueurs or a sweetener can be added. If solid sugar is added to the cocktails as they are made, it can take a lot of work to get the sugar into solution and we can end up with unpleasant grains of sugar in the drink. Making the syrup in advance means the sugar is completely in solution as we can use gently heat if necessary. This leaves us ready to bash out cocktails quickly as the need arises which, if you are anything like me, is regularly.

"a vision of Spring": a cocktail dependent on simple syrup

Another advantage of making your own simple syrups is that you can flavour them. This is a great way to get additional tastes and flavours into cocktails, without waiting weeks for spirits to infuse. As well as instructions on making a basic simple syrup I have also included a recipe for my lemon verbena simple syrup that I use in this week's cocktail. This can be adapted to for most herbs, just follow the same principle.

simple syrup
500g sugar
500mL water
1 tablespoon of vodka

Place the sugar and water in a saucepan together. Stir and heat very gently until all the sugar has dissolved. Using a funnel, pour into a sterilised bottle and add the vodka (helps it keep for longer). Once cool store in the fridge until needed.

lemon verbena simple syrup
bowlful of fresh lemon verbena leaves
freshly boiled water
1 tablespoon of vodka

Cover the bowl of lemon verbena leaves with freshly boiled water. Allow to infuse for an hour. Strain out the leaves. Strain again through muslin to remove any small bits of leaf or random stuff. Measure (by volume or mass) the amount of liquid you now have. Add an equal amount of sugar. E.g. if you have 500mL of liquid, add 500g sugar. If you have 400g of liquid, add 400g of sugar. Stir until the sugar is dissolved (you may need to heat it gently). Once dissolved, transfer to a sterilized bottle and add a tablespoon of vodka. Store in the fridge.

Today's cocktail came about as I rooted around in the fridge trying to find something to take the edge off the January blues. I also didn't want to go out and buy anything so this is my frugal cocktail from my leftovers. It's fragrant, aromatic, sweet and sour. A vision of the Spring that will come to us soon.

a vision of Spring
30mL elderflower liqueur (homemade or St-Germain is an excellent commercial brand)
30mL vodka or gin (depending how saucy you are feeling)
30mL freshly squeezed lemon juice
15mL simple syrup (I used my lemon verbena syrup)
3 drops of Spanish bitters

Combine all the ingredients in a shaker or large glass. Add plenty of ice. Stir for approximately 30 seconds. Strain into a prepared cocktail glass. Garnish with a twist of lemon. 

I'll be talking cocktails on Flavour this Saturday at 12. Do tune in or listen online.

Cocktails from leftovers: near empty bottles of St Germain and lemon verbena syrup

Monday, 20 January 2014

Cambridge Favourites: Afternoon Tease

I can't believe that Afternoon Tease has only been open twelve weeks, it's already one of my favourite spots in Cambridge. If you are ever looking for me at 10am on a Sunday morning (I'm not sure why you would be but just in case) it's quite likely you will find me at this cosy spot on King St enjoying a tasty brunch. First things first, the coffee is outstanding. They use beans from local favourite Hot Numbers as well as London based Caravan. I didn't even know what a cortado was until I started coming here. In fact I'm still a bit hazy on the difference between a cortado and an espresso macchiato. Whatever they are, I am addicted to them now, particularly in the fabulous vintage cups they serve them in at Afternoon Tease. I like coffee in a small cup. I'm not sure why, I just do.

The fabulous cortado at Afternoon Tease

I don't work in Cambridge so weekend brunch is about the only chance I get to pop in. The brunch menu changes every week, though thankfully the fantastic crumpets with homemade jam are usually a regular item. Who could resist offerings such as griddled cornbread with perfectly ripe avocado, scrambled eggs & chorizo on sourdough or corn fritters with bacon and avocado? Not me that's for sure.

Brunch heaven

I haven't even mentioned the wonderful cake yet. I don't seem to have any pictures of cake, I obviously don't even pause for a photo when it comes out. Jo's cake was the cornerstone of the success of my Christmas drinks party. Step 1: purchase entire chocolate Guinness cake from Afternoon Tease, step 2: decorate with plastic doodahs. Party happiness guaranteed.

Christmas chocolate Guinness Cake

For you strange folks who don't like coffee, they carry a delightful range of local Kandula tea. Even I occasionally forsake the cortados, mainly to get a go of these teapots (I have to find myself one of these cow teapots).

Tea. In a teapot with a cow on it.
I have given this friendly cafe a thorough try out over the last couple of months and I can wholeheartedly recommend it. Coffee, cake, lunch, brunch and evening shenanigans - they have it all covered. 

Afternoon Tease, 13 King St, Cambridge CB1 1LH
Tue - Fri: 08:00 - 18:00
Sat: 09:00 - 17:00
Sun: 10:00 - 16:00

Friday, 17 January 2014

Getting Started

A new job, a new outlook and a new blog. 2014 is already looking different for me. I've created this blog to make space for my writing on what interests me most. There will be cocktails of course, similar to my gastronomicgirls offerings, but also more on Cambridge life, gardening and travel. I hope it will be an interesting journey for me and whoever stops by. Sláinte!