Friday, June 22, 2012

Shrub #19 & #20: Dale and Diabolique


Fruit: None
Sugar: Brown Sugar
Vinegar: Balsamic
Additions: Zoka Tangletown Blend Coffee Beans(coarse grind)


Fruit: None
Sugar: Brown Sugar
Vinegar: Balsamic
Additions: Zoka Tangletown Blend Coffee Beans(coarse grind), orange and lemon peel, cloves, cinnamon stick

"Wow, have you run out of things to make shrub with yet? What's next, coffee?" - my friend Tony.

Those of you who have been frequenting the site with any regularity are fully aware that I have made some drinking vinegars that might be generously described as...unorthodox. [We're looking at you East by Midwest!-Ed.] Strange or intriguing as some of these concoctions might have been, so far they have all at least been relatively based in some kind of tradition, utilizing fruits or vegetables as the base. My friend Tony joked about me making a shrub out of just about anything I could get my hands on, and where I would draw the line. He suggested that line may be at coffee. We had a brief chuckle until I realized that this was not as much a laughing matter as it first appeared. Given the current trend of cold brewing coffee, was steeping a shrub really that much different?

I quickly decided the answer was no, and then began planning out not only how to make it happen, but how to make it something people would find drinkable and enjoy.  At this point I knew I would be cold brewing the grounds, but the more pressing question was, how do I get it to taste good? 

First of all, there was choosing a coffee. This was a task in and of itself, since the first thing one might say in a word association game where Seattle is thrown out would be coffee. As with the other ingredients I use in my shrubs, I really wanted to go for something local if possible. Granted, Starbucks is technically a local option, but I tend to find their beans a touch on the bitter side to begin with, and besides, I thought it would be nice to go with someone smaller who deserved some time in the spotlight. For this particular batch, I decided to go with Zoka and their Tangletown Blend. I was really hoping to find a blend that was describing itself as having some caramel notes. There are clearly a lot of other amazing choices around here, and I may alternate between roasters to see if they have any distinctive differences.

Obviously, in addition to the coffee, I was going to need vinegar and sugar to make a shrub. I immediately went to balsamic for a couple of reasons. First, it has the sort of heavier, syrupy consistency that would match what people kind of expect in coffee. Secondly, it has a nice, sharp bittersweet tang that would nicely round out any of the bitter notes of the coffee as well as the sugar component.

Which brings me to the sugar component. Really, I am pretty confident that any sugar from granulated white to turbinado to brown would have worked just fine, but I felt that the darker, earthier molasses aspects of dark brown sugar would really anchor the rest of the flavors and maybe bring out those caramel notes that the Tangletown Blend claimed to possess.

 As it turns out, making shrubs without fruit is a pretty interesting and unusual process. There are probably a couple of ways to go about it. One, if you were making a purely spice based drinking vinegar, it might work best to simmer the spices in the vinegar, since that vinegar is going to be liquid component of your final product anyway, why not just get the flavor in it directly, rather than cutting it with flavored water? Vinegar seems to do an ace job of extracting flavors from herbs and spices compared to water anyway. However, in this particular instance, I want a smoother, less cooked taste if you will from the coffee, which is why I decided to go with a cold steep method.

As I just mentioned, I took a page from the book of Toddy. For those of you who aren't really coffee people, let me explain: Toddy refers to a cold brew system for coffee that was patented by a Cornell engineering student back in 1964. The idea behind it being that one uses cold water rather than very hot water to extract flavor from their ground coffee beans. As with any beverage or food niche, there are plenty of ongoing nerdfights about whether or not this actually produces a better cup of coffee than traditional methods, but one thing cold brew (supposedly)does do is to cut the amount of astringent acids in the coffee because it is the heat which contributes to extracting the more bitter compounds from your grounds. In theory, this means a smoother brew and less stomach eviscerating acid to boot. Technically speaking the Toddy is a patented system, which means more equipment to buy and mess around with. Well, to hell with that, I say. Who needs a Toddy when you've got giant, lockable jars?

Using a bit of foresight, I concluded that it would be best for future me who has to actually strain the shrub later that day to do a fairly coarse grind on the beans. I usually triple strain my shrubs anyway so that they're as free of debris as I can make them, but if materials are too fine, they can slip through even the most tightly woven strainers. Not only does it look pretty bad, if the material is strongly flavored, such as ground Vietnamese cinnamon, it will continue to steep in your final product, which could make it unpleasant at best, and undrinkable at worst. I poured the appropriate amount of balsamic vinegar in the jar and poured the ground beans in, finally fastening the lid and shaking the holy hell out of it. Into the fridge it went.

One thing to note about the cold brew method is this: due to the lack of heat, the amount of time it takes to extract the flavors from those grounds will seem eternal in comparison. Well, maybe not eternal, but it will take several hours. If I recall correctly, I left mine in somewhere between six and eight hours, though when it gets to that point, you may want to check on it hourly, or maybe even every half hour depending on how paranoid you are about oversteeping it. Chances are, you likely won't, but you are the capitan of your's your call.

Normally, I leave additions in for the entire duration of the shrub's first week. If you're following along at home with this coffee shrub, DO NOT DO IT WITH THIS ONE!

Ahem...sorry about the outburst, but believe me, unless you like the idea of syrupy, bittered jet fuel coursing through your lovely veins, I would strain it as soon as the balsamic tastes like a really strong cup of coffee. If you followed my lead and did a fairly coarse grind, you will be patting yourself on the back for your amazing forethought as the straining will be so much easier and less time consuming. If not, well don't beat yourself up too much, and be prepared to messily strain through multiple layers of cheesecloth or something to get all those nasty grounds out.

At this point, it's time to add the sugar. My advice here is to sweeten this mixture in the same manner you would prefer to drink your coffee. For me, I usually take it black with one sugar, just to take a little edge off of the bitterness, but not so much that I feel like I'm drinking a coffee flavored confection. We're all different, so make it as sweet as you personally enjoy it. Give it a stir and leave it in the fridge for a week. When that week is up, you can skip straight to the bottling since you've done all the straining early. Give that shrub another week to mellow out, and you're ready for the most unusual shrubs I have ever made.

Well, it would have been the most unusual shrub I had ever made, if I hadn't decided to use it as the base for another wild idea I had.

In some of the finest restaurants of New Orleans, there is an after-dinner drink I have heard about consisting of coffee and brandy flamed in a chafing dish with the addition of citrus peels and warm spices such as clove and cinnamon.

Sounds delicious, no?

Well, I thought so too, which is why I took some of the finished coffee shrub and poured a small amount into a pan. In the meantime, I used a channel knife to peel some strips of citrus from some oranges and lemons. I dropped a few whole cloves and a small cinnamon stick in the pot with the citrus zest and simmered for about ten minutes on medium-low heat, after which I allowed the mixture to cool before straining and bottling it.

This leads us to the most important question which is how did they taste?

Let's begin with the Dale. While I was initially unsure of how this was going to come out, I have to say that the bitter notes of the coffee work really well with sharp acidity of the balsamic vinegar and the slight earthy sweetness of the brown sugar. The coffee flavor is still unmistakeable, and has all of the smoothness you could hope for from a regular batch of the cold brewed stuff. Rich, roasty, and slightly bittersweet, this was a really fun and tasty experiment.

In the case of the Diabolique, some really interesting things happened. I think due to the slightly higher level of heat that the shrub was subjected to, it actually reduced a bit, so the yield was decreased somewhat, and the consistency got a little thicker and syrupy, more gastrique like, really. While there was less of it to enjoy, it definitely concentrated those citrus flavors into the shrub. Taking a sip without water, was an intense experience to say the very least.When a bit of water was introduced, it certainly really opened things up and smoothed them out considerably. The depth of coffee flavor was still there, but was bolstered by the lurking addition of the warm spices and brightened by the lemon and orange peel. In my next batch of this, I might actually reduce the amount of peel, as I think it was really close to upstaging the rest of the flavors. If this is anything like what the after dinner drink is like, I really look forward to having the real thing one day.

So how should one enjoy these two strange shrubs? In this case, I like to put this stuff on vanilla ice cream. When I debuted these at a party last summer, many of our guests did just that, and they seemed very happy with the results. As a beverage, I would likely enjoy it with still water, or if you are looking for something a bit more high octane, I might consider mixing this in some kind of cocktail, perhaps something Black Russian-esque cocktail subbing the Dale or Diabolique in for Kahlua or some other coffee liqueur.

As usual, I learned a valuable lesson from this experience. Inspiration for shrubs can happen anywhere, even in what may seem like the most outrageous places. While the origin of these shrubs was a simple joke, as it turns out, the results were anything but.

Dale was inspired by black coffee drinking FBI agent Dale Cooper from the cult show Twin Peaks. the title of Diabolique, while named for the drink, was also kind of inspired by the title of the fantastic suspense film from French director  H.G Clouzot.


Laura said...

Hi Alexander,
Right after I decided to really give the Shrub experiment a go I found your blog. Love your shrub ideas and the movie/TV tie ins. Twin peaks rocks! Cold brew coffee-yeah!
I'm making my way through my own experiences and recipes in making Shrub and I have one question for you... I've found the fruit I'm using still tastes quite good after sitting in the vinegar for 10 days. I hate to throw it away so have been saving it in the freezer. I've tried dehydrating it into fruit leather. Do you do anything with the fruit leftover after shrub making?

Thanks for the great work!
Oh and by the way,I'm linking your blog in one of my posts on mine.

Alexander Kern said...

Laura, first welcome to the site, and thank you so much for reading.

I was thinking about your question, and I have to say it would largely depend on the type of fruit you have used in a given batch. My experience is that soft berries often become so mushy and have given up so much juice, there isn't a lot that can be done with them.

That being said, strawberries from a balsamic shrub keep shape well, and might make a very tasty compote for shortcake or ice cream. I also just completed a batch of fennel bulb shrub in which the slices of fennel were almost pickled by the sugar and vinegar, and might be useful like other pickled vegetables, though these were sweeter.

Thank you for the link, and if you have any other questions or comments, I would love to hear from you again. I love reader participation!

Jeff S. said...

Alexander & Laura,

I just finished my first 2 Batches of blueberry and peach shrub. After letting style fruit sit in coconut vinegar for 4 days, the mixture was vitamixed, heated added sugar and filtered. filtering at that point is very time consuming so looking for alternatives. In either case end product is awesome! Laura, I too have this pulp almost applesauce consistency. It taste great but not sure what to do with it. Fruit leather was a great idea and I will try, but other than that maybe in a bread or cookie.