A Better Method: Cold-Process Infused Simple Syrups

A Better Method: Cold-Process Infused Simple Syrups

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.”

A Better Method: Cold-Process Infused Simple Syrups

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.

A Better Method: Cold-Process Infused Simple Syrups

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.

A Better Method: Cold-Process Infused Simple Syrups

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.

A Better Method: Cold-Process Infused Simple Syrups

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.)

A Better Method: Cold-Process Infused Simple Syrups

Comments

    • says

      Your comment makes me so happy! Making a syrup this way feels rather old fashioned (in a good way), and I enjoy it a lot more than throwing a bunch of stuff into a pot of hot water. :)

    • says

      I totally thought of you and our email conversation about getting fennel flavor into a cocktail when I was experimenting with different ingredients! :)

  1. says

    What a great idea + super fun experiment! This is how I always prepare berries when making jam and sorbets and I find even if the syrup is heated after the initial juice extraction, the flavours are still always much brighter (and the colour too!) than if you had just cooked them to being with. Very interesting stuff and as always, stunning pics! xx

  2. Lucy says

    This is a great idea. I can’t wait to try this, especially with mint. It would be a fantastic way to preserve the tastes of summer!

  3. says

    Everything about this is just…beautiful. The concept, the process, the gorgeous colors of the finished product, heck, even the name! Cold-process. I love how that sounds. This is such a genius idea!

    • says

      Thanks, Brianne! I was super excited about it, and experimenting with all different stuff was lots of fun. The finished syrups are such a pretty, natural color too. They make me happy. :)

  4. says

    Woo hoo!!! I’ve been checking your site regularly to see when you’d be back. So excited about this new post. I almost always prefer a cold method for my fruit syrups, unless I’m specifically seeking that jammy, cooked flavor. I must admit, I rarely have the patience for the maceration process. Usually I cheat by cooking a simple syrup, letting it cool, then crushing the fruit and straining. This obviously works well for fruit that’s easily crushed, but not for others – similar to what you mentioned above. Either way, you’re right on (as always). I seriously wish we could create some recipes together sometime. And btw, speaking of syrups, we’re on the same page yet again.. I have something special coming for ya week :)

    • says

      Here I am! Being absent for too long starts to give me separation anxiety. :)

      Oooo, I really dig that method of making simple syrup then crushing the fruit and mixing them. (Especially because I sometimes like to make caramelized simple syrups — combining that with fruit could be awesome!)

      And oh man, I can’t wait to see what you’ve got in store for next week! :D

  5. says

    So happy to see this post!! I have been waiting for it excitedly since you told me about your experiments in syrup-making, I am definitely going to give this method a try, and that grapefruit one sounds awesome! The only problem I usually have with simple syrups is that simple syrup recipes make a cup or two of syrup, and I usually only use like a tablespoon in a cocktail, and it goes bad before I can use it all. So I was thinking about that the other day when my eyes rested on the awesome ice cube tray you got us, and I had an idea for the next time I make simple syrup (i.e. immediately after reading this post), and that is that I would freeze the syrup in ice cube trays, then once they’re frozen I would pop them all in a mason jar and put it in the freezer so that I’d have individual frozen servings of flavored simple syrups, and they’d last for almost forever! I haven’t tried this yet and know I’d have to let the cube sit out a bit to make the syrup melt, but it would be better than dumping tasty syrup down the drain. I’ll let you know if this idea actually pans out! :D

    • says

      Yes! I have always had the same problem with simple syrups — most of them wind up going down the drain after I forget about them for a couple weeks. I actually tried freezing a couple of these syrups in regular plastic ice cube trays, and then realized that was a mistake when I tried to get them out. :P Since they have such a high sugar content, they don’t freeze totally solid, and getting them out of that tray was suuuuch a pain. It’d definitely be much easier in a flexibe silicone tray! The fact that they aren’t completely frozen solid is kind of helpful, though, since you can easily chop them up and get them to melt faster. :)

      • Maryellen says

        Hello! I found your amazing post via pinterest and wondered if you’d comment for me on whether or not you think these might be something that would can well–using a hot water bath and perhaps petit jars. Not sure if the hot water bath would negate the benefits of the cold process. Thanks so much!

        • says

          I think these would likely can very well. Other readers have mentioned that the heat from canning doesn’t seem to compromise the flavor of other fruit-based things very much, so I think it would probably be ok. :)

  6. Adam says

    I have also been using the cold process for a while at my bars. We let ours rest for a day or two covered and refrigerated to extract more syrup from the sugar and fruit mash before straining. Some of our best so far – Pineapple, Lemon-Basil, Strawberry-Ginger, and Cherry-Vanilla. The last three we also make into shrubs for soda. Keep up the great work!

    • says

      I was thinking about messing around with an extended extraction time too. (Especially since I believe that’s how pineapple syrup is traditionally made, if I remember correctly.) I love the idea of turning all three of those into shrubs — they would all be delicious! :)

  7. says

    You’re absolutely right about the cold! I’ve spoken to a few people about this in the past – putting herbs/things into simple syrup into the fridge overnight works wonders.

    However, being a creature of habit I just pull out the pot and throw it all in the heat. Weird mind habit things that linger…

  8. says

    I am so intrigued by this! I have been slowly building up my bar, so these would be perfect to play around with now. I love the straining and shaking and straining. Something about the whole process is rather pretty to me, as is the end result! I love it.

  9. says

    Carey,

    I was actually just thinking about this. You’re totally right that using a cold process saves some of the lighter flavors in herbs and citrus. It’s the method I always use.

    Two thoughts:

    1. When you mix sugar with, fruit, the sugar draws the liquid out of the cells through osmotic pressure, kind of like how salt draws liquid out of a steak. That should mean (I haven’t tested it) that a 2:1 syrup would be better at extracting flavor than a 1:1 syrup.

    2. The one benefit of heating a syrup is that the heat will reduce the microbe count both in the syrup and in the container you’re using. For long storage, either use Eva’s technique (above), or consider adding a little vodka to the syrup as a an antimicrobial agent. You can also boil some water in your storage container before adding the syrup to it.

    Keep up the inspiration :-)

    Kevin

    • says

      Hey Kevin! Good point re: the heating of the syrup. I am quite curious about heating the whole thing after the fact, especially if it won’t mess with the flavor. The vodka is also a great idea.

      And I’m curious what increasing the sugar would do for extraction now that you mention it. More cause for experimentation. :)

  10. Lori says

    Have you tried cold extraction for flowers — rose petals, elderflower, etc.? I make syrups and shrubs with them but some the color diminishes with heat, along with the flavor.

    • says

      I have not, but I think it could work quite well! They’re so delicate that I think the sugar could do a good job of extracting flavor, even if they’re rather small (like elderflowers). And I think it would be a wonderful way to preserve the flavor — much more so than heat. If you try it, definitely know how it works out!

  11. Tessa Huff- Style Sweet CA says

    I loved reading this article! Great ideas and information. I am excited to try out some of my fave flavors using your techniques.

  12. says

    This is so great! Simple syrups have been on my need-to-do list for too many years now, and I should get to it. I love your method – makes so much sense. And the photos! Gorgeous.

  13. says

    You, my friend, are a genius. I never would have thought to make a simple syrup without the heat, but it makes so much sense to do it that way — the heat totally muddies the flavors! I will definitely be trying this out the next time I need to infuse something.

    Also, I love how informative this post is — very FAK, haha!

  14. Trip says

    Great article. I found it as I was researching several infusion methods. I was especially looking for information about extracting with a Juicer as opposed to cooking syrups to get as much of the natural flavor as possible.

    I have experimented with Shrubs using the cold process compared to cooking, but I have yet to use a juicer. I can vouch for the merits of using cold infusion of subtle herbs over night in simple syrup. I’ve made a blend of Mint/Rosemary/Basil syrup and Jalapeno Syrup. Both were amazing!

    What are your thoughts on the benefits and drawbacks of juicing?

    • says

      Thanks! I have been very curious about how this would work if the sugar was simply combined with the juice from the infusion ingredient, rather than relying on it to draw out the liquid through maceration. Juicing certainly seems effective for extracting as much liquid as possible. You might need to shake it a bit more to get the sugar to dissolve, so it could also help to use a superfine sugar (or just pulse the granulated stuff in a food processor before adding it). If you give it a try, let me know how it goes!

  15. pam says

    If I want to make a syrup using pineapple, but my pineapple isn’t very “pineapple-ey” (my local store sort of sucks, it’s usually hit or miss with the pineapple–this time it was a miss), what do you suggest?

    Will this method alone (with the sugar/macerating) draw out enough pineapple flavor, or should I roast it in the oven for a bit first to concentrate the flavor BEFORE using this method?

    • says

      Hmmmm, that’s a good question. If it’s an under-ripe pineapple, it might benefit from a bit of roasting to improve the flavor. It won’t be quite as bright as it would be if you were to use the raw fruit. But if it isn’t very pineapple-y anyway, it sounds like it couldn’t hurt!

      • pam says

        Thank you,

        It was actually ripe, just not a very good pineapple.

        I really wanted to try your fresh syrup recipe so I skipped the roasting, and I’m glad I did :)

        Still came out tasting great. Can’t imagine what a good pineapple might turn out like!

        Thanks

  16. says

    Excellent article! My latest endeavors are extracts and oil infusions along with pickling. I am really excited about the prcesses, and also of the end products. They are all so much more flavorful than anything I can buy in stores, and wow what a difference in price!!! Thanks for all the great new ideas!!! Off to recreate a few experiments! ;)

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