Whoopsie, I disappeared for a little bit there! It seems that a weekend of baking and peddling treats makes me not want to think about food for a good stretch of time. But now that I’m back, I’d like to talk to you about something I started experimenting with a couple months ago. Something that kind of revolutionized my approach to creating simple syrup infusions.
It all started back in July, when I began making this shrub. I’d combined the fruit and sugar, let it sit, then macerated and covered it, as per ushe. As I walked by the plastic wrap–covered bowl a couple hours later, I looked at it and thought, “huh, it looks like a lot of that sugar has dissolved into syrup already.”
That shrub base got me thinking about the possibility of making infused simple syrups the same way. The more I thought about it, the more excited I was about the idea. It seemed the advantages of a method like this could be three-fold. First, the flavor that comes from a cold-process infusion would be much brighter and truer to the original ingredient. See, interesting things happen when you heat fruits and such. Back in March, I talked about the amazingness of creating a roasted raspberry syrup and broiled grapefruit juice for this cocktail. Because sugar caramelizes around 320–350°, a hot oven can draw out deeper, mellower flavors. But at around 212° (the temperature at which water boils) things are kind of meh. It isn’t hot enough to develop the same complexities as the oven, so what it ends up doing is just kind of muddying the flavor a bit. But if you skip the heat and instead rely on sugar and time to extract the juices from your ingredients, you wind up with a much tastier syrup.
The second advantage of the cold-process infusion is that it yields a higher ratio of sugar to water and, in turn, creates a longer lasting syrup. Your average simple syrup is 1 part sugar, 1 part water. Rich syrup (2 parts sugar, 1 part water), on the other hand, lasts far longer. In this method, we combine equal parts sugar and fruit. After you’ve macerated the mix and allowed the sugar to do its thang extracting the juices from the fruit, you filter out the remaining bits, add approximately a half part of water (and then shake the bejesus out of it to dissolve any remaining granules). (NB: It can’t be said exactly how long a cold-process infusion will last across the board, as the natural water and sugar content of the fruit also comes into play. But at a higher ratio than 1:1, it’s longer.)
And the third advantage (which kind of ties into the second): Because your syrup is sweeter and your flavor is brighter and more concentrated, you can use less per drink.
I have since tried this out with a variety of ingredients. Of course, it works splendidly with things like berries, stone fruits, melons, etc. You can also get surprisingly good results out of seemingly difficult things like fennel, lemongrass, and beets. The secret: grating. Fennel and beets grate splendidly. Lemongrass can be a little bit trickier due to its shape, so it does help to put a couple stalks into the feeder of your food processor with the grating blade attachment. Another interesting experiment I tried was with grapefruit. I zested an entire grapefruit with a microplane, combined it with equal parts sugar, then added a little bit of grapefruit juice to it. I took the remainder of the grapefruit juice and combined it with equal parts sugar, and let that sit separately. After the mixtures had sat for a bit and been stirred/macerating a couple times, I combined the juice-sugar mixture with the zest-sugar and shook it up a ton, then filtered out the zest and shook it up a bit more until the sugar appeared to be completely dissolved. The result was a super-duper interesting syrup, both bright and sweet from the juice and sugar, with the bitter complexities of the zest. Freakin money, ya’ll.
If all this waiting and macerating seems like way too much work to go through (even for a superior syrup), look at it this way: A heated syrup takes just as much time from start to finish, as you simmer it, steep it, then wait for it to cool down before you can bottle it up or use it. If you aren’t totally convinced, try making a syrup both ways and see which tastes better. I did this with both fennel and cherries, and the difference in the flavor of the cold-process syrup blew me away.
Cold-Process Infused Simple Syrup
2 parts infusion ingredient (chopped or grated)
2 parts sugar
1 part water*
*Note: When trying out the citrus syrup method mentioned above, you do not need water
Combine infusion ingredient with sugar in a wide, shallow bowl and stir to combine. Cover and let sit for about an hour, then macerate with a fork/potato masher/what have you. Cover and let sit for another half hour, then macerate again.
Run macerate mixture through a sieve to filter out the remaining bits. Add liquid to a large jar along with the water, and shake vigorously for a couple minutes, or until all of the sugar appears to be dissolved. Run through a cheesecloth-lined sieve if you’d like to clarify the mixture further. Store in the fridge.
(As an aside, I’m curious about how this would work if you were to simply juice your infusion ingredient then add the sugar and let it sit for a couple hours, stirring/shaking every so often to dissolve the sugar, then add the water and shake some more. Since I don’t have a juicer, the advantages of this over the above method are a case of six of one and half dozen of the other, since I’d still be filtering the fruit through cheesecloth [and then I'd have to clean my food processor, which annoys me greatly]. If anyone does give this method a try, though, I’d love to hear how it works out.)