Friday, August 31, 2012

Monthly Moonshine: Red Passion

As it turns out, I'm a bit old fashioned when it comes to my taste in alcohol. I should have realized this when I started drinking gin in university and several people asked if I was secretly an eighty-year-old man. This was usually followed by a remark about drinking pine trees (which, okay, fair, juniper has a distinctly pine-y scent to it). On the plus side, no one ever wanted to drink my alcohol at a party.

The next time I should have realized it was my discovery of the sidecar, the classic cocktail invented c. 1920. But no. I didn't even realize it when I fell hard for Pimm's on a hot summer day. It took a taste of Campari for me to really see it.

I was out with some members of my food writing class at Acadia restaurant in Toronto. We were there for the cocktails because the bar tender there is superb and very knowledgeable in what seem to be the forgotten arts of the cocktail (bitters, flavour complexity, syrups, etc.). I had a drink whose name I can't recall but whose flavour was strong with Camapri. I didn't know what the flavour was at first. Just that it had a sharp bitterness and a bit of spiciness smoothed out by subtle, underlying sweetness. 

I fell in love with Campari then and there. I also realized that Campari is a bit of an older drink: a lot of friends didn't even know what it was, and if they did it was only due to one the iconic vintage posters such as this one.

Campari has a distinct, vibrant red colour and is a staple in such classic cocktails as the Negroni and the Americano. It falls into the category of bitters, like angostura bitters, but unlike angostura bitters, which are used only in dashes, Campari is a potable bitter. Most people just call it an aperatif. 

Campari was invented in 1860 in Novara, Italy by Gaspare Campari and is made of an infusion of herbs, aromatic plants, fruit, alcohol and water. The recipe, like that of Pimm's and so many other herbal-based liqueurs, is top secret and apparently only known by very few people. 

I'll be honest, if you don't like bitter, you probably won't like Campari. I have an affinity for all things herbal and floral (lavender and rose are a couple of my favourite flavours), so I don't mind that it has a flavour some might liken to that of perfume. It's almost astringent in its bitterness, like biting into orange peel or the lingering tang of over-steeped black tea. It's just about my favourite thing right now.

This love of bitterness may also be why I prefer more classic cocktails. Older recipes tend to include a bitter element, whether in the form of cocktail bitters, like angostura; potable bitters, like Campari; or bitter alcohol, like gin. Today's cocktails slide much closer to the cloyingly sweet and syrupy, the headache-in-a-glass variety.

But that's okay. Now I not only have gin and Pimm's, but Campari. Cheers.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Don't Panic

So over the weekend I made 4 1/2 dozen cupcakes for a bridal shower. 1 1/2 dozen each of vanilla, lemon, and red velvet. I was so proud of myself for being hyper-organized. Normally I'm such a mess with these things and leave everything to the last minute and I'd wanted to avoid that this time. 

I had all my dry ingredients pre-measured in ziploc bags (labelled according to recipe) the day before I was baking them so I wouldn't have to contend with a mess of flour. I made the icing a couple days ahead and put it in the fridge so that it was ready to go for decorating. 

The cupcakes came out beautifully: all of equal shape and size (honestly ice cream scoops are the greatest way to fill cupcakes pans). And then I put the icing in my mixer to smooth it out and restore it to a spreadable consistency. 

It's possible I should have let it come up to room temperature a bit more before throwing it on the mixer because the unthinkable happened. It broke. It broke and I found myself staring at a curdled soupy mess in my mixing bowl.

My first reaction was full blown panic. My second was an impulse to sit on the floor and cry. Because I had exactly and hour and a half to decorate the cupcakes before they were being picked up. (In my defense, this had more to do with my desire to maintain the integrity of the icing in my too-warm apartment than with my leaving things to the last minute.)

So I'm here to tell you how to save your buttercream if it breaks on you.

1. Set a pot of water on the stove to use as a double boiler. Put the broken buttercream in a metal bowl and set it on top of the simmering water. Keep some unbroken buttercream that you haven't tried re-whipping yet to add after.

2. Heat slowly, stirring constantly. Don't leave it over the water for more than a minute at a time. You'll be pulling it off and putting it back on repeatedly, but you don't want the butter to melt completely or it will never come back.

3. Once you have something that resembles creamy soup with minimal lumps, throw it back on the mixer with a whisk attachment (or use a hand mixer) and whip it on high. Just whip the hell out of it.

4. At first it will do nothing. DON'T PANIC! (or, you know, panic a little, but don't lose faith) Eventually it will start to come together and form peaks as it thickens. It's going to be looser than when you first made the icing. 

5. Take some of the still-together, just-out-of-the-fridge buttercream you haven't tried to smooth out yet and add it slowly to your mixer. It should work in smoothly without breaking. Just don't add too much at once and make sure all the lumps are gone after each addition before adding more. 

Voila! Ready-to-use, good-as-new buttercream! Aren't you glad you didn't panic?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Tragedy of the Fallen Ice Cream

Oh dear. It's the middle of August already. Apologies. Time seems to be getting away from me this month. It's been busy and shows no sign of letting up. 

In any case I decided to treat myself to an ice cream cone today. Unfortunately, as I was walking the rest of the way home, the scoop toppled from the cone mid-lick and landed on the sidewalk. I stared at it for a moment, had a bit of a resigned chuckle with a man standing in his driveway who saw the whole thing, and then continued on my way. It's just been that kind of day.

Up until the Tragedy of The Fallen Ice Cream (to which the incident will now be referred), I was enjoying it immensely. I have the good fortune of living down the street from Xococava (Cava's confectionery counterpart), which not only boasts some of the best chocolate in the city, but also serves a mean scoop of homemade ice cream.

Today's treat was peach and sour cream, smooth and tangy with bits of real peach scattered throughout. It was perfect for a hot day, especially during a month that so readily calls to mind the fresh flavour of peaches. 

Now I'm lamenting that fallen scoop all over again.

Anyway, I've been wanting to talk about Xococava's ice cream for a while now and, tragic mishaps aside, this seemed like a good opportunity. 

They have a substantial variety of both ice cream and sorbet that changes on a seasonal basis. The flavours are written on a chalk board behind the counter on the far right. If you have trouble choosing (and I almost guarantee you will), you can ask to sample some. And you'll likely want to make sure you're going to enjoy it at $4.20 for a small cone. So it's a little on the pricier side, but I promise it's worth it. And as you can see from the above picture, small is still pretty sizeable.

If peaches aren't your thing I'd also recommend the hazelnut caramel. It tastes like a higher quality Fererro Rocher smoothed into ice cream. My god it's good. There's also a chocolate Guinness cashew ice cream that has a lot going for it. If you're hanging around midtown on a hot day (or even a cold one), it's definitely worth a stop.

1560 Yonge St (corner of Yonge and Heath, just north of St. Clair)
Mon to Sat 10 am to 10 pm
Sun 10 am to 9 pm