I’ve become somewhat of a ginger ale connoisseur in the recent months; after having decided that alcohol just makes me feel icky and tired of being the lame-o who only orders water. Now, it’s ginger ale. And you’d be surprised at the varying qualities of ginger ale available today. Many restaurants are, to my delight, serving up homemade ginger ales or artisan ales in place of the watered down, you-can-barely-taste-the-ginger stuff. From now on, I’m totally going to judge a restaurant by the quality of the ginger ale.
My absolute favorite so far? The house-made ginger ale from Locanda in San Francisco. So. Dang. Spicy. I loved it and haven’t stopped thinking about it since.
The memory of that cool glass of goodness is perhaps one of the reasons why I’ve decided that this month we’ll be tackling homemade ginger ale! And I’m not talking about machine-carbonated here, so put away the SodaStream and club soda. Nope, we’re going to get our bubbles the old fashioned way: with yeast.
Well, technically (as per Serious Eats) REAL ginger beer is fermented with something called a ginger beer plant (say what?!) but similar results are achievable with yeast. Do note that one by-product of this process IS alcohol, but depending on the method the actual amount varies from negligible to maybe a few %. Not that your kids would WANT to drink something this spicy, but, still, something to consider.
I won’t try to argue the differences between ginger ale and ginger beer, because, honestly, I don’t really know the true definition. Some say ginger beer is spicier and more gingery, but I’ve had some diabolically spicy ginger ales. Others say ginger ale is carbonated with C02 like soda and ginger beer is fermented with yeast.
You could say this month’s challenge is a wee bit easier than April’s macaron challenge that gave us all so much grief. Although rest assured, the explosive potential of this challenge (literally) keeps this recipe well within the ‘challenge’ classification.
- No explosions, please. FOLLOW YOUR RECIPE to know exactly how long you need to let the beer ferment. I might also use plastic bottles instead of glass, just in case. Otherwise, you may end up with a kitchen covered in sticky ginger juice and shattered glass. No good. Also, if you have a spare bath tub, use it.
- Yeast. Some recipes I’ve seen call for Champagne yeast instead of your regular old bread yeast. Not sure what the differences are, but Champagne yeast can be found at any beer/wine-making supply store, or online.
- Ginger. If you’ve got a juicer this will be a breeze. Otherwise, I’m guessing the act of grating (use a microplane grater) and straining all that ginger is not going to be quick work. Although I have heard a blender works too.
While I haven’t decided which recipe I am going to follow just yet, the good news is there are plenty of options and they all seem fairly straightforward:
- Serious Eats: Interesting use of Champagne Yeast here instead of usual bread yeast. Lots and lots of ginger, plus lime juice.
- Alton Brown: A simple recipe with ginger, sugar, and lemon juice.
- Jeffrey Mogenthaler: Nice in-depth recipe, with links to ingredients and equipment. Scale the recipe to your heart’s desire.
- Chow: This recipe goes as far as making your own “wild fermented ginger” which is, I think, what the “Ginger Beer Plant” actually is. Interesting, for sure, but takes a lot longer, a total of 14 days for the entire process. Serious bonus points to anyone who attempts this (and let me remind you it IS called Kitchen Challenge after all…)
If you’re up for the challenge, make a batch of homemade ginger ale/ginger beer by Wednesday, May 22nd. Send me a photo of your results. I’ll document my experience and also share the images/links to those who’ve taken the challenge as well. This challenge is simply about getting in the kitchen and challenging yourself to make something new; you aren’t required to have a blog to participate, nor are you required to post about it if you do. However, if you do have a blog and post about the challenge, you are more than welcome to use the above graphic if you’d like to spread the word! (Please upload it to your own server.)
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Ready, set, carbonate!
It sounds like something out of Harry Potter.
And indeed, they could most definitely be described as magical.
You might be more familiar with the name Biscoff. They’re quite the little prom queens of the blogging world right now, these Biscoff cookies, with bloggers using them every which way and elevating them way beyond a boring little biscuit served on airplanes.
Speculoos (also called speculaas or Dutch windmill cookies) are crisp spiced cookies, originating from Belgium and the Netherlands. While they are often thought of as a holiday cookie (think a crunchy gingerbread with more spice and less molasses), I’d argue that any time of year is appropriate to enjoy them.
The inspiration behind the sandwiching-of-the-speculoos came to me during a late night craving. For when one has a late night sugar craving, one is bound to uncover forgotten things in the back of the fridge, such as a container of leftover chocolate buttercream (that, as it turns out, is quite excellent when sandwiched between two cookies).
The homemade version of the cookie is definitely more crisp than the commercial kind (note to self: figure out how to replicate that texture), with a peppery, spicy kick that lingers on the tongue. Some versions of this recipe contain only cinnamon, others have a combination of ginger, cinnamon, and cloves or nutmeg. This version includes a hearty dose of black pepper as well for just the perfect amount of spice.
Oh, and speculoos! Just say it. How could you not love a cookie with that name?
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Am I the only one that’s disappointed by the serious lack of beautiful burger buns available at grocery stores these days? It’s aisle after aisle of plastic wrapped buns; deflated, limp little things with as much flavor and texture as a cotton ball.
They are not cover worthy, that’s for sure.
Last summer Taylor and I found ourselves in need of some stunning buns for our book cover. And don’t give me any of that true beauty is on the inside nonsense, we’re talking about burger buns here. And sorry, but ugly buns just wouldn’t do. We searched high and low, bakeries and groceries, and every bun was uglier (and bigger) than the next.
Apparently I have very high standards when it comes to buns.
Making our own seemed to be the only viable option.
The recipe we ended up using for our burger hero shot (and many times since, including yesterday’s lamb burgers) comes from King Arthur Flour, although it took me a few tries to really get the results I was looking for. While they suggest you brush the buns with butter before and after baking, I found that an egg-white wash worked better with the poppyseed topping (butter just isn’t sticky enough), and it gave the buns a shinier overall appearance.
When making these buns, you can choose to make larger, standard-sized burger buns, or smaller, slider-sized buns. I have a thing for slightly smaller burgers and loved being able to custom-size my buns to my exact liking.
I can’t help it, I like little buns (and I cannot lie).
But beauty is only skin deep, so enough about looks, how do they taste?
So good, you’ll never buy store-bought again.
With a thin, chewy outer crust, and a soft and pillowy inside with just enough structure and density to handle a big, juicy burger. These buns won’t fall apart in your hands like a store-bought bun might. Buttery and flavorful, with a delightful crunch from the poppy seeds, they are most definitely worth the extra effort.
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As this year’s canning season draws near, I figured now would be a good time to start using up what’s left of last year’s preserves. It was, in essence, that objective that led us to create these extraordinary burgers. Rather than building from the ground (meat) up, and instead from the top(ping) down, starting with a rather unconventional topping incorporating the last jar of pickled cherries I had been hoarding since last summer.
We chose lamb out of necessity (we had a package in the freezer that needed to be used), and seeing as we both are somewhat averse to the gamey flavor that often comes with lamb, we did our best to incorporate other strong flavors that might help to mask this. Hence the addition of gorgonzola, but feta or goat cheese would work just as well. And same with the lamb, I think beef or turkey would work equally as well with the unique flavors in this recipe.
You know, if you’re so inclined.
I knew I wanted a pickled cherry “something” to top these burgers from the get-go, and I envisioned a rough chopped concoction, sweet and tart with chopped nuts and herbs. But what to call it? It wasn’t cooked, so not a compote. Too fine to be a salsa. It wasn’t quite a pesto. Relish seemed like the most fitting descriptor.
Just in case you don’t happen to have a jar of last year’s pickled cherries lying around, you could do a quick pickle, letting the cherries soak in the brine mixture overnight. Or use fresh cherries, which would make for a great fruity condiment, albeit sweeter and less savory than the original.
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