Tag Archives: Syrup

Chocolate syrup

As a home cook, I often fall into the trap of “fancy is better.” Since I’m mostly self-taught–fairly competent, but decidedly amateur–I still have some lingering insecurities about how much more impressive my cooking could be. So I’m always looking for ways to amaze people, to introduce them to new foods, to show off. And somehow, I keep getting it into my head that the more elaborate and complex a recipe is, the more impressive it’ll turn out.

It’s true that sometimes the most elaborate projects are the ones that wow people. I’ll happily make layer cakes and from-scratch burger buns and quiche and paella, even if they take me all day and leave me sweaty and stained. There is enormous satisfaction in tackling some multi-hour, multi-step cooking process and coming out the other end with something ferociously tasty. But it’s shockingly easy to forget that sometimes the most amazing and appealing dishes are also the simplest. Like Irish soda bread. Refrigerator pickles. Eggs, cooked really well. A pot of lentil soup.

So, when I felt a strong urge to do something flashy recently, I decided to go ultra-simple and make a batch of chocolate syrup. It sounds fancy, and tastes incredible–satiny and bittersweet and dark, dark chocolatey, like a fudgy brownie in syrup form. This stuff is seductive and showy, miles away from the little-kiddishness of the stuff in the squeeze bottle. But it’s also one of the quickest kitchen things I’ve ever done–from start to finish, from dry ingredients to gooey sauce, took under 5 minutes. It’s made entirely of pantry staples and water, so it can happen any darn time. There’s no corn syrup, of any variety, so it’s almost virtuous. And did I mention it tastes like a brownie?

In fact, this stuff is so utterly delicious that I have no idea what the shelf life is, because we blew through the entire first batch in less than 24 hours. Acting on a tip I picked up in the blogosphere, I added a touch of baking soda to the syrup, which supposedly keeps the syrup from going gloppy over time. (It also reacted with the cocoa powder and turned the sauce a deeper, sexier shade of brown, which was a plus.) My guess is that this will keep in the fridge for a couple weeks, and at some point I will test that–if my friends and I can keep our hands off it.

chocolate syrup

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Cherry tarragon shrub syrup

Once again, it looks like I spoke too soon. No sooner did I finish wailing about the end of summer than we were hit with a heavy heat wave. This weekend was dry and blue and deeply, deceptively hot. So I drank all the icy drinks I could find.

Lately Sam and I have been into shrubs. (Not shrubberies. Shrubs.) A shrub is an an alcohol-free cocktail of sorts, built on an old-school mode of preservation: fruit vinegar. We first stumbled across this at the Oregon Berry Festival, where there was a stand selling deeply colored syrups and mixing tiny sample drinks for passers-by. A cheerful, motherly woman poured a few drops into a paper cup from a bottle labeled “drinking vinegar,” added some sparkling water and a tiny ice cube, and handed it over. We tasted, and we believed.

I know this sounds strange–every time I say the words “drinking vinegar,” people wrinkle their noses and hunch up their shoulders. So don’t think of it as vinegar, exactly. Think of it as “shrub syrup,” a tangy-sweet potion of fruit and vinegar and sugar, to be drizzled into a glass of cold fizzy water and enjoyed over ice. A good shrub is tart but not biting, with a solid hum of fruit and just enough sweetness to cut the acid from the bubbles. You can easily vary the sourness of the drink by adding more or less syrup, as you see fit.

This particular syrup came about more or less by accident. It started out as a straightforward infused vinegar, and a leftover use-up: I had the pits and dregs from a bag of cherries, and the remnants of a bunch of tarragon. So I combined them in a bowl, poured over some hot vinegar, and let them steep for a couple hours. The resulting vinegar was lovely and fragrant, but extremely subtle; I tried using it in salad dressings, but none of the cherry flavor came through. So I decided to mix in some sugar and turn it into a shrub syrup. It was a wonderful decision.

A tablespoon of this syrup, stirred into a glass of iced fizzy water, makes a shrub that is light, sweet and aromatic. There’s a whisper of cherry and a hint of licorice, and the whole glass is tinted a very pale pink. There’s a touch of vinegar-tang, but really, it just tastes like a slightly upscale Italian soda. It was the perfect thing to sip under an open window with a fan on full blast.

cherry tarragon shrub syrup

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