CAMILLE AUBRAY’s “How To Make A Real (not Faux) Cocktail, 2 Recipes”
While researching my novel, COOKING FOR PICASSO, I talked to Michelin-starred chefs on the Côte d’Azur, and, at my favorite grand hotel (which was recently awarded the French rating of a palais or "palace" that is reserved for only the finest five-star hotels) the bartender made me the best martini I’ve ever had. He believes that simplicity is the key when mixing cocktails.
And if I had to distill the advice he gave me about cocktail-making into one phrase, it would be this: Stirred, not Shaken. Yes, that’s right—James Bond was not only wrong, he had it utterly backwards (or as his fellow Brits say, balls-up).
Because if you shake a cocktail, the clackety-clack noise is impressive, but you will just end up with slush. The only drinks you should shake are the ones best served in the tropics with a paper parasol stuck in it. A frozen Margarita? Sure, shake all you want. A frozen Daiquiri? Rock on. But these drinks are best quaffed at hot-weather vacations, where you can also indulge in floral shirts and bright sarongs and big hats. I think of them as afternoon ices, not pre-dinner cocktails.
However, with proper cocktails like a martini, if you shake it you are “offending the spirits” and diluting them into snow cones.
So let's begin: Use the finest ingredients you can get.
Vermouth. You want dry vermouth for a martini, versus sweet vermouth for a Manhattan. Vermouth is wine mixed with special herbs, so find a good one, taste and compare.
Fill a glass tumbler with clean ice. Yes, clean ice. Don’t just buy sacks of it. Make it yourself from pure, plain water. Why do we ice drinks? Because the spirits can burn your throat if you drink them warm. Glass tumblers are better than those show-off-y metal ones since, these days, most metal shakers are poorly made, and the metal bits get into the drink.
Here are 2 basic cocktails:
THE CLASSIC MARTINI
2-4 ounces of good-quality gin per drink. NOT vodka. If you don’t like gin, then you have never tasted a good one. The best are usually handmade in small batches, with the purest water. Taste by the teaspoon to find the one you like, before you make a full-fledged drink out of one.
One or two drops of dry vermouth. You measure a drop with a clean plastic teaspoon, into which you pour the vermouth and then control the drops as you add them to the actual drink.
Place both ingredients into a glass pitcher filled with ice. Stir with glass or plastic, not metal. Do NOT move away from that drink until you are sure it’s chilled enough. Feel the outside of the glass to see if it’s cold, then remove the ice. This is a crucial moment that separates the good bartender from the boys. Nobody wants a martini filled with melted ice, even though 99% of bartenders give you this because they are too busy and get distracted. You should not taste the ice-water.
Serve in a modest-sized martini (cocktail) glass. Use cocktail glasses that areelegantly nimble. Monster-big glasses are arriviste because they are greedy and because the drink gets warm before you’ve finished it. Better to have a second small martini than to gulp a huge one.
A word about olives. Yes, you definitely should eat olives when you drink, so that you don’t shock an empty stomach. However, I prefer to have plain green olives eaten on the side, in a little dish. They shouldn’t even be pitted, because pitted ones get waterlogged with their brine and will change the taste of the drink. For this reason as well, never, ever drop a pimento-stuffed olive (or any other kind of stuffed olive) into a martini.
If you really feel you must add something to your martini, a twist of delicate lemon peel is nice done over the drink; these days I don’t drop the peel into the drink because most citrus is waxed.
THE CLASSIC MANHATTAN
2-3 ounces of good-quality whiskey. Regarding whiskey, a good bourbon or rye is best here (I am not a fan of scotch for this drink.) Again, taste different ones and see what appeals to you.
The same matching amount (2-3 ounces) of sweet vermouth. (I prefer red sweet vermouth in winter, versus a white or blanc vermouth in summer)
A squeeze of fresh orange juice (from an actual orange, folks, not bottled) or a twist of orange peel.
A dried cherry (never use maraschino!)
Ice these ingredients together, remove the cubes and serve in a cocktail glass or an Old-Fashioned glass.
CAMILLE AUBRAY'S HOLIDAY CAKES
During the winter holidays, in all the mad rush, it's easy to forget that, no matter which tradition you celebrate, the world's wintry festivals have one thing in common--they all revolve around making light where there is darkness. The Winter Solstice on December 21 is, after all, about the shortest, darkest day of the year. After that, things can only get better and brighter, right?
If you're looking for a new way to light a path into a bright New Year, and to lighten up our attitudes with good cheer and good food, take heart from the French Riviera, where every artist I can think of--from Hans Christian Anderson to Picasso to Louisa May Alcott and even Nietzsche--were all inspired to new heights by the incredible light of the Côte d'Azur and by the Provençal joie de vivre.
On the French Riviera, holy processions often involve following a path of light down to sea, with candles set in seashells filled with sand, which are an absolutely beautiful sight to see.
As you may recall from my novel, COOKING FOR PICASSO, there is a wonderful Christmas tradition in Provence called Les Treize Desserts de Noel or the "Thirteen Desserts". Don't worry, I'm not going to suggest that you make 13 treats at home! Specialty stores abound with them, so I always buy a variety (or get my guests to each bring a sweet) and that leaves me free to concentrate my efforts, each year, on one favorite homemade dessert.
Here's my recipe for a favorite Christmas treat. It's a quick and easy special cake made of sugar and spice and dried fruits and nuts, and buttermilk, which makes it the most moist, mouth-watering fruit-cake you'll ever eat--sensuous, satisfying yet healthy! And, the black pepper and the freshly ground nutmeg give it a grown-up kick. You can bake it as a loaf or layer cake, but this time I've made it in cupcake moulds, because they're fun that way and they bake faster, thus freeing up the oven for other cooking.
Note: When I bake, all of these ingredients are organic. I find that organic dried fruits, nuts, flour and sugar are all naturally more sweet, with the result being that you can use much less sugar than you would in ordinary recipes.
Also, if you can get ahold of a real nutmeg (which looks like an acorn) go for it! Nutmeg is just wonderful when you grate it yourself just before baking.
The Dry Ingredients:
2 cups flour
1/3 cup sugar in the raw
1/3 cup light brown sugar, not packed down
1 teaspoon baking soda
7 shakes of cinnamon
7 twists of cracked pepper from a mill, (fine ground)
nutmeg freshly ground (about 1/4 teaspoon, to taste)
a pinch of sea salt
The Wet Ingredients:
I egg, beaten
1/2 cup canola oil
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 tablespoon of real vanilla, preferably homemade (more to come on this!)
The Fruit and Nuts:
1 handful each of your two favorite nuts (you can use walnuts, almonds, whatever you like). Here I have used:
pistachios shelled (get the natural shelled ones, not the reds!)
1 handful each of your three favorite dried fruits (e.g. raisins, figs, dried cherries, apricots, dates, dried blueberries, etc.) Here I have used:
dried sour cherries
dried unsulphured apricots, sliced thinly
Make the Cake:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
1. Combine all the DRY ingredients in a bowl.
2. Then, add all the WET ones quickly and then mix until smooth and creamy.
3. Then turn the batter in the pans of your choice. I use paper-lined cupcake tins here (but if you use a loaf or cake pan, just make sure that you butter and then flour the pans so you can unmold your cake).
4. Bake the cakes for 25-40 minutes, depending on the size of your pan. (Cake is done when browned golden on top, and when you insert a cake tester and it comes out dry.)
5. When your cakes are done, let them sit for a few moments to firm up. Then let cakes dry on a rack (remove the cupcakes still in their paper wrappers, or invert your cake from its pan).
6. When your cakes are completely cooled, dust with powdered sugar. The best way to do this is to simply put the sugar in a small strainer and use a spoon to stir it through the strainer and direct the "snow" where you want it to go.
Serve with a good sauterne, port, cognac or favorite drink. Enjoy!
I'll be posting more recipes--as well as contests and giveaways. Tune in!
All my best wishes,
All Text and Pictures here are under copyright ©CamilleAubrayLLC