Cloud Cake

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I made this Martha Stewart recipe for one of our two Mother’s Day celebrations earlier this month, and it was easy to prepare all the pieces the day before and then assemble it with a flourish on the day of. The original recipe is not gluten-free but we had Fussellette staying with us and made one simple adjustment to make it that way – you can do it whichever way you would like.

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Start with the meringue: preheat your oven to 275°F and grab three 8″ round cake pans. I happened to have 2 8″ round cake pans and one 9″, so that’s what I used.

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Butter the pans and then line the bottom and sides with parchment. This is easier said than done as the pans are round and parchment is straight. Get creative with the folding. It’ll just add to the allure of the finished product, I promise. Now butter the parchment as well to make sure it sticks.

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Crack open 6 large eggs and separate the whites from the yolks. Put the yolks in the fridge for now and leave the whites to come to room temperature.

In the bowl of a food processor, pulse together 1 1/2 cups sugar, 3 tablespoons cornstarch, and 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt until smooth and powdery and when you open the lid it kind of wafts out like smoke. Don’t inhale that. You will cough.

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Now grab your 6 egg whites and beat them with a pinch of cream of tartar until soft peaks form.

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Slowly, a little bit at a time, tip in the sugar mixture and keep beating until you get lovely stiff peaks.

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Smooth the meringue amid your three pans and bake for 1 hour.

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Then turn off the oven and wedge the oven door open with a wooden spoon for another hour. Then move the pans to a wire rack to cool completely. If you’re going to assemble the cake the next day, slip each layer of cooled meringue into a separate sealed bag and suck the air out of it.

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Next, let’s work on the custard cream. In a bowl, whisk together 1/3 cup sugar, 1/4 cup flour, and a pinch of coarse salt. We made a gluten-free version of the flour by combining coconut flour, xanthan gum, and corn starch.

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In a small saucepan, combine your leftover 6 egg yolks (original recipe calls for 3 but why waste them?) with 1 1/2 cups buttermilk and a split vanilla bean pod with the seeds scraped out. Stir that over medium heat and slowly add in the flour mixture.

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With ours, because of the nontraditional ingredients, I found the buttermilk reacted with either the cornstarch or the xanthan gum and I pretty much had instant custard. So I stirred it until I was sure the yolks had a chance to cook and then took it off the heat. If you’re using regular flour you may have to work harder at it, so stir until it just comes to a boil and then strain through a fine meshed sieve.

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Pour the custard cream into a bowl, lay a piece of plastic wrap over the surface so it’s completely sealed, and chuck it in the fridge for at least an hour or overnight.

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Now there’s caramel to make too. In the original, Martha used the microwave but we moved ours into the basement and that was too far away. I did this in a small saucepan on the stove. First, spray a baking sheet with cooking spray or line it with parchment.

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Then over medium heat, stir together 1/3 cup sugar and 2 tablespoons corn syrup.

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Cook, stirring often, until the mixture is bubbling and turns a light brown.

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Remove that from the heat and drizzle it over the baking sheet.

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Leave that to cool then chop it up with a knife into little tiny jagged pieces. If you’re assembling the next day, shove the pieces into a resealable bag and squeeze the air out.

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To assemble, start by whipping up some heavy cream to your taste and amount (this is going on the top as garnish so use as much as you like – I think we whipped up about a cup of it). Cream whips better if your bowl and mixers are cold, so chuck them in the freezer for a while if you can.

Plop one of the meringues on a nice plate and smother it with about half the custard cream.

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Sprinkle that with about 1/3 of your caramel pieces.

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Let some fall off artistically to the side. It’s decorative.

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Plop another meringue on and smear with the rest of the custard cream and another 1/3 of the caramel bits. Add the final layer and top that with your whipped cream and the last of the caramel. Serve immediately!

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Last-Minute Gifts: Home Made Coffee Liqueur

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Okay so it’s not THAT last minute, because it takes a week to percolate, but if you do it NOW it will be ready for Christmas. Plus it’s SOOOO easy you can finish it in minutes and then spend the rest of your time procrastinating about your other gift ideas. And for me I could make it with stuff I had on hand, which was nice.

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First, you need 700 ml vodka. It doesn’t have to be super fancy vodka. I have three open bottles here. For the record, none of these were originally mine. I just keep finding new booze in my cupboard. I swear.

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Next, you need 200g whole coffee beans (I doubled the recipe so this is 400g, don’t freak out).

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And some SPICES: 1 vanilla bean, 3 cinnamon sticks, and 15 whole cloves. That’s it.

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Split the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds, and chuck it and the rest of your ingredients into a large sealable container. I didn’t have anything that would fit anything over a litre so I used my camping water container (which holds like 20 litres). It’s a bit of overkill, I know. But you want to be able to give the liquid a good shaking, and then store it in a dark place for a whole week. I figured with the dark sides of the container I could leave it somewhere accessible and that would remind me to shake it every day. Because that’s the other thing you need to do: make sure to shake the container at least once a day.

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After the week is up, find yourself some appropriate bottles or jars. Since I used bottles for the Krupnikas I decided on jars for this, for variety’s sake. Wash them carefully (use Star San or other sanitizer if you can). This recipe makes about 1 litre of liquid, so plan accordingly.

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Strain the vodka through a sieve into a bowl for now (I used my trusty produce bag as a strainer to get all the wee bits that may have come loose in the shaking process). Do what you will with the boozy spices.

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In a large saucepan (that will hold the final amount of your liquid), dump 2 cups granulated sugar and 2 cups water.

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Stir over high heat to dissolve the sugar and bring to a boil.

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Add in your coffee/vodka and give it a good stirring before removing from the heat. And now your liqueur is ready to go!

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Pour the liquid into pretty containers, seal, and store in a cool, dark place for up to a year.  Aside from just drinking it straight or mixing it into the Pie’s favourite White Russians (or Trav’s White North), you could drizzle it on top of cake and ice cream and it would be amazeballs.

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Homemade Sugar Cubes

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This quick DIY comes from nifty thrifty things and would make a great last-minute gift for someone who likes a little bit of sweet in their tea. It’s simple, it’s easy, it’s something you can customize with your own flair, and, my favourite: it’s as cheap as you want it to be.

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The basic ingredients you need for this are crystallized sugar and water, though you can dress the sugar and water up as much as you want. Here I have an organic coconut sugar, which adds a bit of flavour to things you sweeten.

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Grab your sugar, a small bowl of water, another small bowl for mixing, and a pretty ice cube tray or candy mold. And some wee tea spoons.

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Pour about 1/2 cup of the sugar into the mixing bowl, and use one of the tea spoons to dribble a little bit of water onto the sugar. Like, very little. Mix it in with the other spoon. Keep adding a little bit more at a time, a few drops here and there, until you kind of have a sugar paste, but the sugar has not yet dissolved. If you get that far, then you’ve gone too far.

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Spoon the sugar paste into the ice cube tray or candy mold and press it down with your fingers to compact it. Then do the whole thing again until you’ve filled up the entire tray.

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I spritzed a bit of water on the top of this tray to tamp things down a bit.

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Leave that to dry overnight, then pop the cubes out and enjoy! Make sure they’re totally dry before you remove them, or they will crumble …

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Other options: if you’ve ever made vanilla sugar before, by whazzing a dried vanilla bean with granulated sugar in a food processor and leaving it to “steep” for a week or so, then I’m sure you’d love the option of making vanilla sugar into cubes.

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Another idea would be lavender sugar, which you make the same way as vanilla sugar (but with lavender flowers, silly, not vanilla beans). I added 2 drops pink and 2 drops blue food colouring to make it purply.

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You could also do this with brown sugar, as opposed to white sugar, though the darker the sugar is the less water I would use, as it’s already pretty sticky with molasses.

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Finally, what about changing up the water options? You can use rose water or orange blossom water instead of regular water to add a lovely aroma to your sugar cubes. I added a drop of food colouring to the rose water to add a tint to the cubes.

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Bees plus Booze: Making Krupnikas

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This recipe popped up on Global Table back in January 2012 and I have been positively itching to make it ever since. The problem is that in order to make lovely, lovely liqueurs, you need grain alcohol. And there are very few provinces in Canada where you can legally purchase such things. Fortunately one of my lovely friends picked some Everclear up for me when he was in Michigan and brought it across the border for me for my birthday.  And this lovely warming sipper will make a fantastic gift. Did I mention it makes your house smell lovely as you’re making it, and also that it’s ridiculously easy? LOVELY.

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First, though, you have to do your due diligence regarding what you’re going to put your finished concoction in. I searched high and low, in second-hand stores and restaurant supply stores, to find appropriate bottles for a reasonable price. Finally I found these 200mL flasks at Terra20 (sorry non-Ottawans, it’s a local store, but they do have online shopping). Now, you can put your bottles through a run in the dishwasher if you like, but I don’t trust my dishwasher fully because I have never cleaned it. I am my father’s daughter and as such he has taught me to properly sterilize things you’re going to put booze in. So first you wash them thoroughly in detergent and hot water.

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Let them drip dry.

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Then grab some Star-San if you can get it from a local home-brew place.

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Follow the instructions carefully, and wear gloves! Let your bottles air dry while you prepare your ingredients.

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I love that this recipe uses whole spices.

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In fact, it uses WHOLE turmeric, which was tricky for me to find after trolling through several health food stores. But it was super cheap. When the cashier asked me how much I wanted to order, I said, “Oh, 200g or so,” not knowing how much that would be. It was a lot. And it cost me about $4. I only need one of those weird little ginger-like knobs.

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You’ll need about 1 1/2lbs of honey (organic and local if possible, naturally). This works out to about 550mL liquid honey.

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Peel 1 orange.

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And peel half a lemon.

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Grab 3 or 4 cinnamon sticks.

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And 5 allspice berries.

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And a nutmeg. (A nutmeg? A meg nut? I dunno.)

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And 8 cloves.

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And 10 cardamom pods.

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And 1 teaspoon fennel seeds.

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And 1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper.

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You will also need 1 vanilla bean, sliced and scraped. Except for some reason I totally forgot to include that in the recipe. It’s still amazing, but I bet a vanilla bean would make it even more amazing.

Grab yourself a 3″ knob of ginger, and slice that into four pieces.

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And grab a 2-3″ knob of turmeric, and slice THAT into four pieces.

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Look at that gorgeous orange. The turmeric will give a nice sort of earthy base to the booze, while at the same time keeping that lovely yellow tint you expect of something made with honey.

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Crack all the spices to let the flavour out. I used a nutcracker on the nutmeg.

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And my pestle for the rest.

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Gather your spices and plop them in a cup for now. Not shown of course is the vanilla bean I forgot.

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In a large saucepan, dump in your honey and 1L water and bring that to a simmer.

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Skim any foam off the top with a slotted spoon.

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Dump all your spices in and let that become an amazing concoction.

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Simmer that sucker, stirring occasionally, for about 35 minutes. At this point the young man who was fixing my ceiling crept up behind me and asked me what I was making that smelled so good. As he was about 16 years old I did not offer him any of it. I’m not sure if he was sad or not. But I’m sure the craftsmanship on my ceiling would have suffered.

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Remove the pot from the heat and pour in 750mL grain alcohol. Watch out, as it will fizz up and the fumes will likely make you cough a bit. While it still smells good I don’t recommend you go around huffing grain alcohol fumes. That might be bad.

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Strain out the spices and use them for something else, like a syrup or ice cream base.

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I plopped them into some applesauce I was making. It made the applesauce taste like CANDY.

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Line up your bottles ready for filling. I put them all in a dish and wedged them with a dish towel to keep them steady while I filled them.

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I filled all 8 200mL bottles exactly, just like I’d planned.

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Seal the bottles and let them cool. The mixture will be cloudy at first.

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But still gloriously cheerfully yellow.

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The cloudiness is a sediment that will settle over the next couple of days. You can drink this stuff right away and it will be unbelievably good, but the longer you let it sit the mellower and more amazing it will get. Try to wait at least two weeks.

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Even after just 24 hours most of the sediment has settled. You can stir the sediment back in if you like, or filter it out and serve it on cake or whatever.

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My true sadness is that I was hoping for a little extra krupnikas to try myself, but I didn’t get any. I am going to give all of this away. So I hope that my friends share.

Fun with Gelatin: Coconut Vanilla Bean

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How much more gelatin do I have, you ask?  Plenty.  And I found a picture of this dessert on Google Images when I was looking for gelatin desserts and then I never found it again, so I’m making this up as I go along.

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Let’s infuse some stuff first, shall we?

Take yourself 4 cups coconut water (not to be confused with coconut milk or cream) and pour that in a smallish pot.  Mmm, electrolytes …

Grab a vanilla bean (I also have plenty of those, so I used a big one and then a half piece) and slice it open to reveal all the goodness. Scrape the seeds into the coconut water and chuck the bean pods in after it.  Depending on whether or not your coconut water is sweetened, you might want to add some sweetener, but not too much, maybe 1/2 cup granulated sugar at most.

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Bring the coconut water to a simmer, stirring until all the sugar is dissolved and it’s starting to bubble at the edges.  Turn off the heat, put a lid on it, and leave it to cool.

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Take about 1 cup of the cooled stuff and put it in the fridge until it’s cold.  Then take 2 envelopes unflavoured gelatin (that’s 2 1/2 teaspoons each) and sprinkle that over top the chilled coconut water.  Let that sit for 5 minutes or so.

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Return the rest of the coconut water to the heat and let it just come to a boil.  Pour the boiling coconut water over your gelatin (keep the vanilla bean pieces from falling in, though) and stir like crazy until the gelatin is entirely dissolved.

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Pour the resulting mixture into a wide shallow dish and chill until set, at least 4 hours. Try to agitate the vanilla bean seeds so they’re not all sitting in one spot.

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Unmould your set gelatin by setting your dish in warm water for a few seconds and then inverting it onto a cutting surface.  Cut that sucker up with cookie cutters or something.

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I would do that if I hadn’t packed mine.  I can only cut it with a knife.  So I will live vicariously through you instead.  DO IT.

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Then serve. We found ours was best with a little sweetened whipped cream. Yum!

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Vanilla Bean Custard

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Believe it or not, I still have some egg yolks to deal with.  And I love pudding.  And hopefully this won’t turn out like it did last time.  But this recipe looks pretty simple and I’m sure I can handle it.  Fingers crossed.

First we’re going to infuse our milk.  In a small saucepan, combine 1 cup milk and 1 cup heavy cream.

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Take a vanilla bean and split it in half lengthwise with a sharp knife.

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Use the back of the knife to scrape the little seeds into your milk pan.  Dump the empty bean pod in there as well.

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Cook your milk on medium heat for about 5 minutes until hot and steamy.  Make sure to stir often, and do not allow it to boil.  Remove it from the heat when it’s ready to go and carefully remove the vanilla bean pod.

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In a heatproof bowl, whisk together 4 egg yolks, 1 tablespoon corn starch, and 1/3 cup superfine (caster) sugar (you can make caster sugar from granulated sugar by whazzing it in a grinder or food processor for a few seconds).

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Whisking the whole time, drizzle the hot milk over the egg mixture.  You want to add it a little bit at a time so the yolks are heated up gradually and don’t have an opportunity to curdle.

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Return the whole mixture to the saucepan and heat it up once again to medium.  Stir constantly for about 15 to 20 minutes, until the custard is thick enough to coat the back of your spoon.  Don’t allow the mixture to boil or it will curdle and that will be a mess.

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Remove from the heat.  You can serve this warm as a sauce on top of stuff, or cold as a pudding.  Your choice!

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The Un-Cola

The Un-Cola

I saw this recipe on Freshly Pressed this past summer and was inspired by Krista and Jess to make this recipe from the New York Times (thanks ladies!).

My brother Ando has always been a fan of carbonated beverages.  Specifically the cola variety.  The more caffeine the better (he used to be a bit of a night owl).  Sodas aren’t that great for the teeth, of course,  as they contain a lot of sugar.  The colas especially so.  Ando’s tip for strong dentition: drink sodas only in conjunction with food, and use a straw.  When I saw this recipe, I thought he’d like it.  It’s made of all natural ingredients and contains significantly less sugar than your average can of Coke (which has 39g of sugar in it, the same as 10 sugar cubes).

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These sorts of natural syrups are a sign that we are trying to return to simpler times, and the creators of this recipe, Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain, are doing just that (so you can go visit them Ando and tell me how the recipes compare — it’s just over the bridge after all).

So this is his DIY Christmas gift from his little sister (SURPRISE!), which, together with all the other presents for the Manhattan Crew, I am trying to get completed and mailed out before the end of the month — how’s that for organization?

The recipe itself is pretty straightforward, but does require a certain attention to detail.  I also had to do some serious sleuthing around St. John’s to find all the appropriate ingredients, though if that means puttering around Food for Thought and Fat Nanny’s for an hour or two then I really don’t mind.

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You’ll need to grate the zest from 2 medium oranges, 1 large lime, and 1 large lemon.  I doubled my batch so that the Pie and I would have some to try, and then made up an extra set of dry ingredients so that Ando can cook himself up a refill.  Each batch makes about 3 cups syrup.

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So I grated a lot of citrus.  I’m going to save it and make a fabulous beverage soon.

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For the extra dry ingredients, I used a zester, which gets the peel without the bitter pith.

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Then I heated my oven to 150°F and spread the peel on a baking sheet to dry.

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It probably cooked for about an hour while I was doing all that other stuff.

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Take some whole nutmeg and a fine rasp and grate yourself about 1/8 teaspoon of that stuff.  Mmm, smells so good.

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Crush one section of one star anise pod with a spoon.

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Cut a vanilla pod so you have a 1 1/2″ section (that’s almost 4cm for you metric folk).  Use a knife to split that section in half lengthwise.

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You’ll also need 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon dried lavender flowers, 2 teaspoons minced ginger, and 1/4 teaspoon citric acid.  You can get citric acid at stores that sell canning supplies, or try specialty or health food stores.

In a heavy pot over medium heat, bring all those ingredients to a simmer in 2 cups water.  Reduce the heat to low and let it simmer for about 20 minutes.

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In a large bowl, mix together 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar and 1 tablespoon packed brown sugar.

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Plop a colander or strainer on top of that and line it with a double layer of cheesecloth.

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Pour the contents of the hot pot over the cheesecloth and gather the ends of the cloth together so that all the solids are in a nice little package.  Use a spoon to squeeze out all the liquid from the package against the side of the pot.

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Stir the syrup occasionally until the sugar dissolves, about 10 minutes.  Transfer to a container and keep it in the refrigerator.

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In order for this to last the trip over the sea and land and a river to Manhattan (from one island to another) I decided to can it.  You can see my tips on canning with a stove top canner here.

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To drink, pour 1 part syrup over ice and mix with 4 parts seltzer or soda water.  It tastes FANTASTIC.  Not like a commercial soda, but one where you can taste all the flavours that went into it.  AMAZING.

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And here is the little container with the dried peel and all the other dried ingredients (minus the sugar) that Ando will need to make his own batch.

The Un-Cola