Tag Archives: whisky

Hot Ginger

From time to time, I get a request in my inbox suggesting I have a go at something, and from time to time, that suggestion is really rather tempting. This was an invitation from the folk at Johnnie Walker Red Label whisky to have a go at making my own ginger mixer.

The brief was pretty broad: A big, bold whisky such as Johnnie Walker Red Label demands a mixer to match. So I was to go forth, and make a ginger beer (the real stuff, brewed with a little yeast for lots of natural fizz) and try to craft the flavour to work with a bottle of Johnnie. So…how on earth was this going to work?

ginger_beer

First off, I need to fess up that I’ve never made ginger beer before. All I knew before starting was that you need a lot of fresh ginger to get a robust flavour, and there is the ever-present danger that the brewing mixture can get a little too frisky and cause glass bottles to explode, so it is essential to start your brew in plastic bottles, and then only store in glass when everything has settled down. Even then, you need to open the top from time to time to let all that gas escape, which is usually accompanied by what looks like a wisp of white smoke.

So, imagine me, in the kitchen, going mano a mano with a ginger beer kit. It was pretty cool actually – a bottle of Johnnie plus a selection of different types of fresh ginger. Sweet picked ginger, familiar Chinese ginger, fiery galangal and…eh…one that I forget the name of, but I didn’t like it. The idea was to major on the ginger, then use whatever additional flavours I wanted to round out the mixer.

Now, I’m all for the throw-a-bit-of-everything-into-something-and-hope-for-the-best approach when it comes to deploying spices, but I felt the need to adopt a more sophisticated approach. I was a little concerned that if I threw too many spices in there, the result would be more like a loaf of gingerbread laced with whisky. Pretty nice, but probably not what you might think of as a “bold mixer”. Then I had a flash of inspiration – something Caribbean, with notions of juicy limes, hot ginger and fiery pepper. This seemed like a good place to start.

All well and good, but I felt that I had to think a little about the ultimate pairing. No point in making a mixer that didn’t go with that all-important measure of Johnnie Red. Off I went into the living room to retrieve a Glencairn glass, and I poured myself a tot of whisky. I mulled over the flavours that I was getting, then added a tiny dash of water to open up the flavour (not loads, and definitely not on ice – I know on the rocks is a classic, but I prefer to sip my whisky in a way that allows me to taste it properly). There was a clear mellow sweetness coupled with a slight hint of pepper. I had been thinking of using black pepper to provide a bit of zing to my mixer, but it wasn’t quite right. As you can imagine, I was sitting on the sofa, glass in front of me, and then comparing it to an array of spices. Cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, mace, nigella and saffron were all rejected as just not being right. Tonka beans smelled delicious (think tobacco, marzipan and vanilla) but they would have been the flavour equivalent of driving a truck through the whisky, all impact and no subtlety. Then came the red pepper. Almost overlooked, but that warm, aromatic heat seemed to complement the whisky perfectly. Plus, Johnnie Red and red pepper, surely a bit of a good luck sign?

ginger_beer_pepper

The actual brewing process was great fun – shred loads of ginger, mix it up with lime juice and watch it turn from pale yellow to soft pink. Then I added a good amount of crushed red pepper, and mixed in a bottle with sugar, water and a little yeast. And…that was it. Now a case of watching and waiting. I got quite a thrill when I could watch my little creation fizzing away as the yeast got jiggy in the bottle.

whiskyginger1

As I had enough time to do this, I let the mixture ferment for 48 hours. By that stage, it was fizzy, but still sweet enough to make for a pleasant drink when chilled. The pepper was there, not slap-in-the-face obvious, but more a deeper warmth when you drank it. When mixed up on ice with a generous shot of Johnnie Red and a slice of lime, I was pretty pleased with how it tasted. More complexity than pure ginger, but not with so many different flavours that it was confused as to what it was trying to be – this was ginger and red pepper, pure and simple, with a twist of lime.

So what happens next? Well, my little bottle of magic was last seen cocooned in bubble wrap as it was whisked off by a courier to be judged by Bompas and Parr (the jellymongers – whatever you’ve dreamed of in jelly form, those men can do it) as well as Ross Purnell, London Brand Ambassador of Johnnie Walker Red Label. Fingers crossed that red pepper will do the trick…

whiskyginger2

Overall, I’m pretty pleased with how this turned out, and I tested it on a few willing victims to check that I had actually done a decent job. However, there were two characters who had major objections. Those objections came from our cats, Tommy and Persy, who initially scarpered every time I opened the brew to let the gas escape. The loud hisssssssss  was not to their liking! By the end of the second day, they had gotten used to this, and instead just cast over a series of withering looks whenever I did this. Here you can see typical “before” and “after” looks, with faces ranging from disdain to indifference…

persy tommy

Now, the big question…will I make this again? Well, the flavour was great when the drink was at its peak, and it was fun to make, but given the random nature of the British weather, I’m not sure I’ll be brewing ginger beer on the off-chance that it might be a nice weekend. I also found this was a fickle drink. A few days later, I found the flavour had gone really flat – clearly the yeast was still fermenting away, and the amount of sugar had dropped.

So I will be making more spiced ginger mixers in the future, but I’ll go for a different method. In fact, I’ve already got a recipe up my sleeve. How will I make it? Well…you’ll have to wait for my next post, but at least it is cat-friendly. Happy guessing!

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Scottish food: Cranachan

You know that Scotland is famous for whisky (spelled without the “e”), tablet, shortbread and smoked salmon. What you might not know is that it is also a very prolific producer of soft fruit. And in my view, the jewel in the crown among them is the raspberry. Let’s just pause for a moment to admire one of the little fellows:

If you are from certain parts of Scotland and of a certain age, there is a pretty good chance that you spent many a summer “at the berries” (i.e. being given little choice in the matter of going to a farm to pick raspberries). There is perhaps a certain romanticism attached to spending long, warm summer days in fields of fruit….

That’s more or less how I remember it, but that’s probably the rose-tinted view. I suspect the reality was more like standing at the muddy farm gates at 7am, and then spending most of the day rummaging around in bushes that are covered in lots and lots of little spikes, encountering lots of creepy-crawlies. At the end of the day, your hands would be stained red and, thanks to those tiny barbs, could be really quite itchy. But when you’re young, it seems that you have hit on a way of earning more money than you could possibly ever imagine. And that’s how I earned my first £100! I can still remember the sense of achievement that I had earned a three-figure sum! To this day, it serves as a reference point for the value of money – it was hours of physical work to earn it, and it made me a little more selective about how I spent it.

Anyway, moving past the misty-eyed recollections of summers past, with this abundance of lovely raspberries in Scotland, there are two tasty things you could make. Most obviously, you could make raspberry jam, which is peerless when enjoyed on fresh scones. If you want to make it, just put equal weights of raspberries and white sugar in a pot with a squeeze of lemon juice – bring to the boil, then simmer until set.

The less obvious thing to make is….to make a classic Scottish dessert called cranachan (complete with that harsh “ch” sound in the middle). If you’re looking for a reference point, you could call this a Scottish trifle, made with cream, oats and raspberries. Yes, oats. Trust me on this.

I’ve actually been hoping to post a cranachan recipe for a while, but I felt I should wait until I actually got my hands on some Scottish rasps. Not that there is anything wrong with the berries that come from Kent or Hampshire, but I just prefer the Scottish ones! However, my timing is less than perfect. I missed the main season what with moving house and the 2012 Games, and we’ve now slipped out of raspberry season here in the UK. However, I realise that there are parts of the world where these little fellows are just coming into season, so I reasoned that there would always be a good time to do this recipe. That, and by pure chance, I finally managed to get my hands on what must be the last punnets of fruit that came out of Scotland this year. It was a sign, clearly, that I had to feature cranachan!

This dessert is very simple – a combination of crushed raspberries, toasted oats, lightly whipped cream, heather honey and a dash of whisky. If you’ve made sure that the cream comes from happy cows that have been enjoying the lush green pastures of Aberdeenshire (or similar) then you’ve got a 100% Scottish dessert. It combines the sweet tartness of raspberries, nutty toasted oats that have a little bit of crunch to them, and lightly whipped cream that is flavoured with whisky and honey. Even with the oats, it’s a very luxurious dessert.

There are many different ways to make cranachan, and as I am not really in a position to say which is the authentic version, I’ll give you a few options and you can pick which you prefer. Some people throw everything in a bowl and mix,  others like to have distinct layers of cream, fruit, honey and oats. I prefer the “layers” approach and like to put it together at the last minute – the different textures make this a more interesting dessert. Also think about how long you will let the dessert sit – the longer you leave it to sit, the softer the oats will get and the stiffer the cream gets. I would assemble the dessert just before serving, so you can still appreciate the different textures.

And finally, I will deal with the obvious question – can you use yoghurt in place of the cream? I think you could, and while it won’t be the same, it will still be tasty. Just don’t try to play too fast and loose with the recipe by getting rid of the oats. Now that would be sacrilege!

To make Cranachan (serves 4):

• 60g oats (pinhead or jumbo rolled)(*)
• 300g fresh raspberries, plus more to decorate

• 300ml double cream
• 6 tablespoons honey, melted and cooled
• 6 tablespoons whisky

1. Dry-toast the oats in a frying pan over a medium heat. They are ready when the flakes are just browned and smell toasted, but should not be dark. Leave to cool.

2. In a bowl, lightly crush half the raspberries. Fold in the remaining whole raspberries and crush lightly – there should still be large whole pieces.

3. In another bowl, mix 3 tablespoons of honey with 3 tablespoons of whisky.

4. In another bowl, mix the cream and the rest of the honey and whisky. Whip until the cream thickens but is still soft. It should still be floppy, not stiff.

5. To assemble the dessert(**), add some of the raspberry mixture, then a sprinkling of oats and then some of the cream mixture. Add two more layers in the same order (raspberries, oats, cream, raspberries, oats, cream). Top with a few whole raspberries, and drizzle with the honey-whisky mixture. Serve immediately.

(*) Use as little or as much of the toasted oats as you prefer – you might want to go easy on the oats unless you’re a hardcore porridge fan.

(**) If you’re making this for a dinner, I recommend toasting the oats, making the whisky/honey mixture and toasting the oats ahead of time, but assemble everything at the very last moment. It’s also best not to keep the raspberries in the fridge, as they have a better flavour at room temperature.

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Diamond Jubilee: Edinburgh Tart

For most of us, the Queen has always been the Queen. Always there, changing only very slowly. Stability. Certainty. Continuity.

However, while it may at times seem hard to believe, the Queen has not always been the Queen. Back in 1947, she was newly-married and know as HRH The Duchess of Edinburgh. So today’s Jubilee-related foodie frolic honours this earlier part of the Queen’s life. This is a sweet treat called the Edinburgh Tart.

The obvious question is what is an Edinburgh tart? I’ll admit that it’s not one of the most famous pieces of Scottish baking (that title clearly belongs to our national biscuit shortbread). This tart has a puff pastry shell and is filled with a custard-like filling made with butter and sugar, candied peel, sultanas and eggs. It’s similar to certain other Scottish tarts like Border Tart or the Ecclefechan Tart, but with more of a citrus, sunny demeanor (of which more later).

I was thinking for a while how I would be able to make a foodie link to Edinburgh, and it came down to this tart and the less refined Edinburgh rock. Edinburgh rock is like “normal” seaside rock, but made with cream of tartar, so that it becomes very soft and crumbly…which is rather odd, when you consider that Edinburgh is built on the very hard stone of an extinct volcano…anyway, I though that the tart looked simpler and would be a lot more sophisticated.

This tart has two links to Edinburgh. The most obvious is that it shares its name with Scotland’s royal capital. The second is via one of the Queen’s royal ancestors. The story goes that this tart was first baked in honour of Mary, Queen of Scots, upon her arrival in Scotland for the first time. Given that she was arriving from warm France to freezing Scotland in the 1500s, I suspect that she was in need of as much cheering up as she could get. The luxury of the ingredients would probably have tasted incredibly decadent to the middle ages palate. Faced with bowls of lukewarm porridge, I’m sure the Edinburgh tart would really have looked rather appealing.

My own verdict? I think this is a lovely tart, with a rich, citrus flavour, and it’s a shame it’s not more widely known. It reminded me a little of Portuguese custard tarts (the flaky pastry, I think). It makes a nice large tart, but I think it would also work well if you were making individual tarts.

To make an Edinburgh Tart:

• 75g sugar
• 75g butter
• 1 tablespoon marmalade
• 75g chopped candied peel

• 50g sultanas
• 2 eggs, beaten
• 1 tablespoon whisky
• pinch of salt
• 1 sheet rolled puff pastry (yes – I’m lazy!)

Preheat the oven to 230°C. Lightly butter a loose-bottomed flan dish (23cm diameter).

Put the butter and sugar into a saucepan. Heat gently until the butter melts. Add a generous tablespoon of marmalade, the candied peel and sultanas, and stir until well-combined. Allow to cool until just warm, then add a tablespoon of whisky, the eggs and salt. Stir well.

Roll out the pastry and use to line the flan dish. Prick the base with a fork. Add the filling, spread it out, and bake for around 15-20 minutes until the pastry is puffed and the filling is golden. Watch the tart while it is baking – the base might start to puff up with steam – if this happens, quickly open the door, pierce with a skewer, and the pastry should sink back down.

Once cooked, remove from the oven, allow to cool complete and serve with cream or ice cream.

Worth making? Simple, quick and very tasty! This tart is straightforward (if, like me, you just buy the pastry and don’t make it) and looks spectacular, has lots of flavour but is not too sweet.

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Atholl Brose for a Happy Hogmanay!

That’s it! 2011 is coming to a close, measured now not in weeks or days, but hours and minutes.

The excesses of Christmas are over, now replaced with plans for more excess on New Year’s Eve. This year I have the good fortune to have been invited to friends, so no need for me to do much other than pitch up on time and with a few drinks.

I’ve got champagne for sure, but I’ve also got a few fun things to take along. The sloe gin is ready, and I have discovered that it lends itself very well to what has been christened the Sloe Gin Fizz Royale – a dash of sloe gin in the bottom of the glass, and top up with quality sparkling wine (forgive me for being a snob…but I prefer champagne straight up!). It works perfectly as a apéritif.

The other trick up the sleeve is a nod to the very Scottish nature of New Year’s Eve. Try calling it that in Edinburgh’s Royal Mile of Glasgow’s George Square. You might just be met with icy stares, but chances are a local will put their arm around you and explain that “we dinnae call it that here – it’s Hogmanay, laddie!”.

Hogmanay is a big thing in Scotland. There are lots of fireworks, lots of drinking, lots of singing Auld Lang Syne. And the festivities go on to such an extent that the delicate Scottish people need not just one holiday – 2 January is also a public holiday north of the Border, and to this day, I still find the idea of going back to work on 2 January to be something of a liberty.

So, in honour of this very Scottish night, the mystery drink I am making is…Atholl Brose!

Just a wee word of warning – don’t dare call this a cocktail. It has an ancient pedigree (stories claim it originates back in the late 1400s) so those 1920s gin joint pretenders are but mere latecomers to the party.

It you like this, you’ll be in royal company – it is said to have been a favourite tipple of Queen Victoria when she encountered it on one her visits to Scotland. It’s a mixture of oat milk, whisky, cream and honey. Now really…could a drink actually use any more typically Scottish ingredients?

The process for making Atholl Brose is quite easy, and the great thing is that it can be made ahead of time – indeed, many sources recommend making it several days ahead of time and allowing it to sit. However, I’ve come up with a version that can be made a few hours before, and so still have enough time to whip up a batch before the magic hour.

You start with soaking oats in water, then mashing and straining them to make an oat “brose” or broth – something like an oat milk. You could just cheat and buy oat milk if you’re in a hurry, but many Scottish matrons would be aghast at this idea…

Now…the whisky. Note the spelling, and more specifically, lack of an “e” in there. Scots don’t use the “e” and everyone else does. Yes, there are battles about who came up with it, who produces the best whisky/whiskey and how it should be spelled, but let’s just call a truce and say different people produce different drinks, and everyone has their own preferences. But regardless of whether you are using whisky, whiskey or bourbon, I would recommend a decent-ish drink, but not the fine rare malt that someone else was given as a Christmas present. The delicate flavours and aromas can get lost in the cream, oats and honey – the fine drinks should be enjoyed just as they are.

The honey, in my view, should be heather honey. It is a rich, thick honey with lots of flavour rather than just providing sweetness. However, I leave the choice completely up to you as the mixologist, but just be careful not to use something that has an overly-strong flavour (such as chestnut or thyme). These types of honey are lovely, but can overpower everything else.

The traditional ratios when making Atholl Brose are 7-7-5-1 (oat milk, whisky, cream, honey), and then these should be stirred with a silver spoon (if such a things is available). However, I’ve found that using a cocktail shaker or large jar gets a good result, but it’s still nice to pour out and stir each with a small silver teaspoon, more for drama than necessity. But it’s Hogmanay, and it’s all about show!

Once you’d added all this, plus single cream, you get a drink that is a little like Bailey’s, but in my view with more interesting flavours, one which is stronger and also lighter. It’s unusual and rather more-ish.

So, that’s it! I hope you’ve enjoyed the posts of 2011 – the quince, the Ecclefechan Butter Tart, the Chelsea Buns, the Royal Wedding special, the Mallorcan Pomada drink, the rockin’ Rock Buns, the luscious Summer Pudding, the visit to the Royal Gardens at Clarence House, the trip to Helsinki, the Scottish Macaroon Bars, the sloe gin and the sheer madness of Twelve Days of Christmas Baking!

Wishing you a Happy Hogmanay and all the very best for 2012!

To make Atholl Brose (serves 8):

Step 1: the oat milk

• 1 cup oats (rolled, pinhead…your choice!)
• 2 cups lukewarm water

Mix the oats and the water. Leave to sit for at least 30 minutes (longer doesn’t hurt). Put into a blender, pulverise, then pass through a cheesecloth. Towards the end, squeeze to get a much liquid from the mixture as possible.

Step 2: making the Atholl Brose

• 7 parts oat milk
• 7 parts whisky
• 5 parts good single cream
• 1 part honey

Mix the honey with the oat milk. Put everything into a cocktail shaker or large jar. Shake until mixed. Taste the Brose, then adjust according to taste (more honey, more cream, more whisky…). Serve chilled or over ice.

Worth making? For sure! It’s a nice traditional Scottish drink and very well-suited as a post dinner drink on Hogmanay. It’s very easy, and it’s pretty much guaranteed that your guests have never had a drink made from raw oats before!

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