January 25, 2011

The Scheherazade! (The Bartender is in!)

Dear wonderful readers, you are in for such a treat! My marvelous husband, who is a truly exceptional bartender, is gracing us with a guest post! Without further ado...

I recently obtained some cardamom bitters. The Duchessa is quite fond of cardamom and asked me to make her a drink using them. I also had some rose syrup which I had used, mostly without success, in prior attempts at creating new cocktails. The cardamom and rose seemed like a natural combination. Now, what else should we add?

Gin is my go-to spirit for mixing. I don’t drink gin straight, I don’t care for martinis and I seldom drink gin-and-tonics, but gin really works in cocktails. The botanical flavors of gin add interesting complexity to a drink while letting the other ingredients remain center stage. Often when I tell someone I am going to make them a drink with gin, they say “I don’t like gin.” The Duchessa used to be one of them. The Duchessa has been relieved of her hatred of gin as are most people who taste it in a well-constructed cocktail.

For the last primary ingredient for this new cocktail, I chose lime juice. In creating this drink, I relied on the formula for sours: base liquor, lemon or lime juice, and a sweetening agent. The sweetening agent can take many forms – sugar, a liqueur, grenadine or a sweet fruit juice, among others. A lot of classic cocktails rely on this formula:
Margarita - tequila, lime juice and Cointreau
Sidecar - brandy, lemon juice and Cointreau
Daiquiri - rum, lime juice, sugar
Whiskey Sour - whiskey, lemon juice, sugar
One of the most famous cocktails of more recent creation, the Cosmopolitan, is also a sour; citrus vodka, lime juice and triple sec comprise the three main components with a little cranberry juice added primarily for color.

After tinkering with the proportions, I found something to the Duchessa’s liking, and she christened it the Scheherazade given its Middle Eastern flavor profile. Although cardamom is of Indian origin, it is used heavily in the Middle East, particularly in tea. Our cocktail's namesake, Scheherazade, relates the tales of the Arabian Nights to her husband the king. The king, after catching one of his wives cheating on him and developing a distrust of all women, begins a routine of taking a new wife every day and having her executed the next morning in order to avoid being deceived again. Scheherazade, having devised a plan of her own, volunteers to be the king’s next wife in order to prevent the same fate befalling more women. She tells the king a story but is unable to finish by morning, so he must keep her alive one more day. After finishing that story, she begins another and again leaves the king in suspense forcing him to spare her one more day. She repeats this for 1,001 nights. By this time, the king has fallen in love with Scheherazade and makes her his queen.

Given the name I wondered if I could find any mentions of rose and cardamom directly in the Arabian Nights. I found the following in Husain Haddawy’s translation of the Story of the Two Viziers:

“He had prepared a pomegranate-seed dish, preserved in almonds and sweet julep and flavored with cardamom and rosewater…”

Now for the recipe:
2 oz gin
1 oz fresh-squeezed lime juice
½ oz Monin rose syrup
¼ oz simple syrup (2:1, see below)
8 drops cardamom bitters
1 oz club soda

Mix all ingredients except the club soda in a shaker with ice and shake vigorously. Add club soda and strain into ice-filled collins glass. Alternatively, the drink could be served in a cocktail glass. If so, I would express the oils from a lime twist on the surface of the drink. For a more elegant look, the drink could be garnished with rose petals. If served in the collins glass, I would mix a few in with the ice. In the cocktail glass, floating a single petal on top would be a nice presentation.

Simple Syrup:
Bring one cup of water to a boil. As soon as it begins to boil, turn off the heat and add 2 cups of sugar, stirring until the sugar is fully dissolved. If you add an ounce of 80-proof vodka, it will keep in the refrigerator for several weeks. Simple syrup is an absolute necessity for cocktails. I use it in margaritas, sidecars, mojitos and many others as well as in my espresso in the morning. It is so much easier to use than undissolved sugar, particularly when dealing with cold ingredients. I make my simple syrup with twice as much sugar as water (2:1). Many people use equal amounts of sugar and water, and most recipes you see calling for simple syrup will probably use 1:1. If you use 1:1 in this recipe, you will probably need a little more than ¼ ounce.

Other Tips:
The gin I use most often for mixing is Plymouth but any good quality gin will work. Hendrick’s is infused with rose petals and so is a natural for the Scheherazade but will make for a more assertive flavor profile.
Fresh-squeezed juice is an absolute necessity for good cocktails. A citrus press makes quick work of juicing lemons and limes. The fruit will yield more juice at room temperature than if it is refrigerated, so microwave it for 20-30 seconds if taken straight from the fridge. Rolling the fruit on a counter top while pressing down with the palm of your hand will also increase the amount of juice you get.
Monin syrups are available from their website. If you find another brand it may work just as well, although you may need to alter the amounts of rose syrup and simple syrup. As an alternative you could experiment with using a small amount of rose water and upping the simple syrup. Rose water can be found at Middle Eastern grocery stores and some supermarkets.
The cardamom bitters I have used are made by Scrappy’s. They are available on the Internet. I use droppers to measure my bitters, but two dashes would be a good approximation for this recipe.
For a virgin Scheherazade, replace the gin and club soda with three ounces of tonic water.

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