Inspired by conversations on the Food52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun.
Today: Learn how to take your drinks to the next level -- it's as simple as syrup.
To make simple syrup is to be a real, adult person. To make simple syrup is to proclaim to the world, "I have it together! I have life sort of figured out!" To make simple syrup is to up your cocktail game exponentially, and to perfect your lemonades and sweet teas. To make simple syrup is to do Arnold Palmer proud.
Alright, so perhaps it's not as dramatic as all of that, but in all seriousness simple syrup is something that everyone can, and should, have sitting in their fridge, quietly awaiting the chance to be shine in a Classic Daiquiri or a New York Sour. At the very least, it's something you should be able to whip up 20 minutes before your guests arrive, so you can have fancy ginger-infused cocktails waiting upon arrival. What, this old thing?
In short, you can make simple syrup -- and memorize the formula -- in less time than it took you to read that opening paragraph. It might not dramatically upgrade your social life, but it will definitely improve your drinking life.
Okay, you've sold me. What exactly is simple syrup?
Simple syrup is a sweet, thick liquid composed of two ingredients: sugar and water. What sets it apart from its humble components is simple syrup's ability to dissolve completely in cold drinks, therefore avoiding the gritty texture you may have experienced in the lemonade from your kid neighbor's roadside stand. It's also a must-have for any budding mixologist.
True to its name, simple syrup is made by dissolving sugar in water. Now here's where the customization options begin:
Depending on the intended use of your syrup, you can opt for different ratios. Simple syrup for cocktails is typically 1:1, and it results in a product that's quite sweet but not too thick. If you prefer thicker or thinner, feel free to experiment.
You also have the option to customize your sweetener. We went with white sugar for simplicity's sake (ha), but if you choose natural, raw sugar such as turbinado, demerara, or muscovado the result will be reminiscent of molasses. If you're planning on combining your syrup with a brown spirit -- such as dark rum or whiskey -- consider going this route.
Combine your sugar and water in a small saucepan. Heat, stirring frequently, until the sugar dissolves (this shouldn't take long. Just long enough for you to decide what you're going to wear to your impending cocktail party, or remember you need to write a thank-you note to your aunt).
Once you can't see any sugar in the solution, take the saucepan off the heat. Then put on your creativity caps -- now comes the fun part.
Use it, Infuse it
Simple syrup on its own is a wonderful staple to have around for last-minute sweetening needs, but here's the real benefit of DIY-ing it: infusion potential.
Feeling spicy? Throw in some peppercorns or chili peppers. Feeling zesty? Citrus peel is too. Feeling...gingery? You know what to do.
Waste Not, Want Not:
Now that you've decided on a flavor, make sure to get the most out of it. For vanilla beans, scrape out the seeds and toss in the pod itself, for good measure. Give herbs (such as curry leaves, pictured) and citrus zest a good twist before adding them to the hot syrup to release their essential oils. Smash peppercorns and chilis, and slice up ginger into small pieces.
Proportion is also important in infusion; the more you add, the stronger the flavor will be. Start with a little, then adjust as you see fit. Remember that you won't be putting much of the syrup in a drink, so you don't want the flavor to be too diluted. Don't let your hard work be for naught!
Strike when your newly-minted simple syrup is still warm, receptive, and ready to get jiggy with it. Let your hot simple syrup mingle with your chosen flavor enhancer for about twenty minutes -- enough time for them to really get to know each other. Then pour the syrup through a fine strainer, and store it in an airtight container.
Side note: If you don't want to worry about spilling hot sugary liquid on your kitchen counter, you can bundle your flavor infusers in a cheesecloth, tie the end, and toss it in after you take the syrup off the heat. Fish the bundle out with forks before bottling.
So when does the booze come in?
All right, so you made your kumquat-chili pepper-cilantro syrup (disclaimer; we do not recommend this. But if you choose to try let us know how it turns out!). Now what do you do with it?
Sweet tea, lemonade, and cocktails -- the sky's the limit. But keep in mind, when it comes to booze, certain flavors play better with certain liquors. Here's a very basic guide:
Spices (such as cloves, cinnamon sticks, peppercorns, vanilla beans): pair well with darker liquors, such as dark rum, bourbon, or whiskey.
Herbs (such as mint, curry leaves, or rosemary): pair well with lighter, brighter liquors, such as vodka or gin, and light rum.
Citrus (everything from grapefruit to key lime): pairs well with vodka and gin, as well as tequila.
You can also use simple syrup to amp up your pound cakes. While the cake is still slightly warm, poke its surface all over with a toothpick and drizzle simple syrup over the top. The syrup will soak into the crumb, resulting in an addictive, delightfully moist cake. This is also a handy trick to have in your back pocket if your cake starts to go a little stale before company comes over. Pour on a little simple syrup, and it's brand new again.
What's your favorite way to use simple syrup? Tell us in the comments!