So I’ve made this recipe belonging to a buddy of mine about five times without any anomalies and consistent flavour. It’s a simple method using an immersion blender, comes up a creamy golden brown, with a little separation continuing after a cloth-straining (no big deal as it’s blitzed into a creamy drink). It’s walnuts, honey, vanilla, water.
Out of nowhere this week, and originally to my absolute horror, as I began blending the walnuts into the honey it began to turn purple… and then black. What the hell had I done? What new element had I introduced? It was practically inky and the foam on top was cement grey-purple.
Turns out this is one the coolest accidents to come my way. It was an acid that is commonly found in the skins of walnuts, called gallic acid. After a bit of google searching I ended up on baking and beekeeping forums, and the wikipedia page of an ink used between the 15th-19th centuries, and this is what I’ve got:
A problem for bakers is having their walnut breads turn purple because of gallic acids found in the skin.
A highly sought after and quite rare type of honey that occurs naturally is dark purple. Many apiarists believe this is because of high acidity in the soil in the vicinity of hives.
Iron gall ink was prepared using iron salts and tannic acids from oak gall nuts (where the name for gallic acid is derived.) A well prepared iron gall ink would gradually darken on the paper to a dark purple colour.
I totally triggered a chemical reaction accidentally. Perhaps the honey contained something that interacted with the walnuts? Maybe I didn’t bring the water entirely to the boil?
Now where do I find this actually purple honey, though?
One of the things I enjoy most at work is the act of translating a small scale experimental recipe into something that makes sense on a high volume menu. Often when someone brings a syrup or infusion recipe to me it’s something they have made in small batches to workshop the recipe until they can achieve desired proportions. Sometimes that means that the methods originally used are a little unwieldy, and it’s quite interesting to figure out how to adjust it into something that makes sense in terms of time and money, while still retaining the right flavours and the intentions of the person who created it. If something takes hours of work and multiple pieces of equipment to produce, then it’s unlikely to sit well amongst a large cocktail menu, no matter how delicious it is. It also means that it may be hard to reproduce the same flavour consistently when there are so many variables at play.
Some inconsistencies are truly beautiful things. The way a fruit changes throughout its season, and the different flavours you can find between hard to distinguish species is so interesting, but unless you’re willing to make that difference a staple on your menu, then sometimes it’s just not going to work for you. I recently developed a recipe that required fresh peaches, and I know that this may be a problem in the long term. I’ve done my best to specify between species as I know that white peaches show a more consistent, although less rich, flavour profile through their season and ripening stages than yellow peaches, but what happens when their season ends? I’m going to need to develop an alternative method to keep that drink on the menu. If I can find a high quality peach nectar to mix then I may be on the right track, (a puree probably won’t work in this circumstance), and then I will also cut down on techniques and save on production time. I just have to force myself to let go of the fresh fruit, trust that someone else out there knows what they’re doing, and let them handle a small part of my recipe for me. I’ll call it outsourcing.
Soy lecithin has proven to be an overwhelming success for my purposes, although now I would like to experiment with how the starting texture, density and acidity of the liquid impacts the size of the bubbles and the ratio of lecithin required.
The drink I am working on is the first of a five course degustation. The foam is a very strong, sweetened hibiscus tea, or tisane really, that will be layered extravagantly over the top of a punch bowl. The punch itself, (peach & fenugreek syrup, white wine vinegar, Star of Bombay Gin, and still water), is a very pale yellow-pink, so the bright pink foam will slowly seep into the drink and colour it. The levels of sweetness need a little tweaking, and a more solid concept of how much foam I would need to produce per serve is required too.
Out of curiosity, I first made a foam with a whole egg white (approx 40mL) and 200mL of the tea, although the foam held excellently, it was far too dense for my purposes. I then made the foam with soy lecithin powder, using 1g to 200mL of tea (a proportion of 0.5%). Pictured below are the foams at least 30 minutes after making. Egg white is on the left and lecithin on the right. At the bottom the two punch glasses show the look of the foam after it’s been in a drinkers hands for a while, again egg white on the left and lecithin on the right. The soy lecithin foam is so much prettier, while the egg white foam has grown clumpy and dry.
I get the idea that perhaps the more acidic a liquid is, the less lecithin is required? The chef tells me he uses just 1g of lecithin to 1000mL liquid to make a foam using vinegar, and he creates large bubbles in that air, so perhaps in my sweetened, low acidity liquid, I can push the proportion of lecithin much higher to achieve the same results. I have more to research, I guess.
I’ve basically been asking as many people as possible this question for the past few months, and am slowly gaining some progress. Distillers, chefs, and experienced colleagues have given me answers that have pushed me slowly in the right direction as I continue the search. I have a solution, and it seems to be a more than adequate fix for the problem, but it’s my curiosity that is driving this question now. I want to know why.
This was first pointed out to me while I was cooking a rhubarb syrup that contains juniper berries. I had tripled my recipe, because I needed to make a huge batch that week. The sous chef was alongside me prepping for the evening service, and he noted that the syrup smelled different to usual. (We make this syrup weekly, so he’d become used to it on the stove for a few hours every Wednesday.) The aromatics of the juniper were much heavier than normal so as we chatted about it he suggested an idea that was wholly new to me: There was no need to multiply the amount of juniper in the recipe in proportion to the other ingredients, because it would continue to extract flavour at an exponential rate in a bigger recipe.
This was pretty confusing to me. I’m a pretty logical person, so this was a kind of frustrating wild card. How could I change the flavour when everything is the same, just bigger. But it’s not the same. Today, I finally considered that there is actually one variable. The recipe is being cooked for longer. The larger volume of water and rhubarb takes longer to heat, and longer for the rhubarb to break down, so the spice element is being infused for longer.
Special thanks to r/AskCulinary, where a user suggested to me that large volumes take longer to cool, so would continue infusing for longer. At first, I thought it wasn’t relevant because I strain the syrup as soon as possible while still hot, but actually it was just what I needed to take the tiny leap of considering the reverse of this.
And also to Mitch Keane, who distills for The West Winds Gin, for allowing me to pick his brains about the balancing act of capturing those strong spice flavours.
There are other ways that you could accidentally over infuse a recipe, which I’m still wrapping my head around, but I’m so pleased to have figured this one out.
A lot of the experimenting or reading I do is based in finding out why we do things a certain way so I can set myself hard and fast rules for new ingredients or methods. Something that has haunted me for the 8 years that I’ve been making 1:1 sugar syrup, is how to measure the equal parts. Way, way back when I was a baby bartender I was taught a pretty basic method, measuring by eye into 700mL bottles. I figured out pretty quickly that something was going wrong. I’d fill the bottle up halfway (to the 350mL mark) with the caster sugar and then add 350mL water. Once the two were totally combined the bottle was no longer full. I was losing volume because of the tiny air spaces between the tiny pebbles of sugar, like how you can still add water to a full bucket of sand. I estimated that on average I was losing 10% of the volume every time. 1g of caster sugar is equal to 1.05ml. That doesn’t seem like much, but when you’re making litres at a time it blows out the numbers. So I was making something like a 9:10 syrup, which really, for many drinks, is probably close enough and not too hard to balance. I want 1:1 to actually mean 1:1 though, so you gotta measure by weight, not by volume, with sugar and water.
I then started working at a place that made a honey water for service, and this kind of stumped me again. Honey is a bitch to measure by volume coz it just sticks to everything, but its super dense particles are so much closer together and there’s no room for trapped air. Honey weighs quite a lot more than it measures in millilitres. 1kg of honey is approximately 735mL. I make a 2:1 honey water by volume because I don’t want to sacrifice too much flavour or the rich consistency, just for the sake of pour-ability.
I really want to batch my pistachio syrup in with my more stable ingredients without the oil separating out. The bottle looks so gross as it settles, and then if the batch is left too long the fats start to solidify around the neck. The syrup does the same on its own, and the clear syrup left after the milky solids have risen looks beautiful and tastes amazing, but I don’t want to lose up to half of my volume skimming the top off to get to that. I can accept that my syrup will probably be milky and opaque.
If I could be bothered straining the seemingly never ending tiny particles of nut then I might have something a little prettier, but I also don’t want to spend hours on the clarification of one syrup, and it’s kind of important to me that I keep that oily texture to some extent. When you’re eating or drinking something you can tell if it’s creamy, but potentially that’s a different thing to actually tasting the fats that make it creamy. Researchers at Deakin University in Victoria, Australia, have suggested that fat could be the sixth flavour that we can perceive, alongside salty, sweet, sour, bitter and umami. (foodnavigator)(flavourjournal).
I can batch commercially produced orgeat without separation being a problem, so the solution has got to be in the emulsifier. I’m still figuring out the practical applications of xanthan gum but I know I have a one major potential problem to avoid… If I add too much xanthan then the syrup will be incredibly thick, maybe even jelly-like, which will alter the texture of the drink it’s used in. I’m really happy with the flavour profile already, so I don’t want to drop my sugar content to make room for more viscosity. Looking ahead, what if I can stabilize the syrup, but then it won’t bond in the batch. Well, then I guess it’s not really stable, and it’ll be back to the start.
So for now, I have set aside 200mL of my already prepared pistachio syrup mixed with 0.1g of xanthan, (I know I should have weighed that pistachio syrup. I always do this to myself, mixing my units of measurement), so I’m using between 0.05% and 0.1% of total ingredients. The swelling of the xanthan had already added 30mL to my total volume when I left it to refrigerate though. I’ve left it for 24 hrs to allow time for it to separate if it’s going to.
Inspired by Dave Arnold’s Butter Syrup (cookingissues) and the potential for the use of xanthan gum in nut syrups like orgeat and common emulsions such has hollandaise sauce and mayonnaise, I took a stab at bonding oil and water. Aided by a little google searching I came up with a trial run method using some clarified unsalted butter left over from a butter bourbon fatwash and a 1:1 (by weight) sugar syrup.
Most information I could find recommended that you only use 0.1% xanthan gum to the total amount of ingredients, as the more you add, the more viscous your final product will be. Xanthan swells very quickly in water so it can be a slow process blending it through evenly. Alternate methods I came across suggest either mixing the xanthan into the liquid oil as it would disperse evenly without swelling, or mixing it through your dry sugar before adding water.
To keep things simple and fast for the first trial run, I kept to basic equal parts recipe of melted butter and 1:1 sugar syrup, and chose to mix the xanthan into the melted butter before mixing with the syrup. I also warmed the sugar syrup to 50˚C before I whisked it into the butter/xanthan mixture, so that I could monitor the behaviour of the resulting emulsion as the temperature dropped. Once the temperature dropped below 26˚C the butter and sugar syrup began to separate, so I strained the sugar syrup off.
Both the butter and sugar syrup were far more viscous than they had been originally. The sugar syrup retained a fair amount of butter flavour, and I had accidentally achieved particle suspension (something that xanthan gum can be used for in making sauces and drinks that contain small particles of herbs etc)…. so I think I need to fine strain the sugar syrup again after chilling to remove those small pieces of butter left behind. It almost has the texture and behaviour of egg white.
The final goal of the emulsion recipe is an oil syrup in a “hot buttered” style drink, so I trialled the butter syrup, replacing a liqueur in a blazer recipe my workmate was messing around with and heated the combined ingredients quickly without letting the mixture ignite. We left the drink for up to 20 minutes without it separating dramatically. It definitely had an oily sheen and left traces of oil on the glass, but it retained the flavour and viscosity to the last sip.
So this recipe is half failure/half success. It’s not the result I was looking for, but the result tasted good and was an interesting and fairly stable ingredient in a warm to room temperature cocktail. I would definitely like to try this with an oil or fat that is liquid at room temperature, and it would be worth using sugar and water instead of the 1:1 syrup. The mixture was nowhere near sweet enough before it separated.