Summer’s Golden Ratios

Copper & Silver

So if a Moscow Mule & Mint Julep spill into each other, do they become a Mintcow Mulep?

Happy Mule by George Guy

Ahem. Anyway.  I’ve been writing copy about the Moscow Mule’s traditional receptacle, the copper mug, and the Mint Julep’s silver tumbler, both created decades ago in the name of marketing, then abandoned after enthusiastic imbibers began stealing the mugs and tumblers. Now they are making a comeback, as the craft cocktail movement continues to pick up speed.


The Moscow Mule’s origin story isn’t all that interesting, your basic successful marketing plan, but it’s one of the best vodka cocktails I know, mainly because the ginger beer gives a nice spiciness to counteract the lime. Can’t wait to make these further into the summer, when it’s hotter.

Which happens to be how I feel about the Mint Julep as well, and its back story is fascinating. Mint leaves muddled into bourbon and chilled with crushed ice and garnished with mint. It’s that simple–one of those things so perfectly balanced that I considered purchasing a Sno-Cone machine to make liquorish mid-summer treats.

The word “julep” is traced as far back to the Middle East, and a rose-flavored water called Julab. When the drink made its way to the Mediterranean, the rose petals were replaced by mint leaves. Americans eventually mispronounced the drink and switched out the water for liquor, and a classic infusion was born. The Derby’s marketing tool of silver tumblers made a great julep even better, the frosted edges of the stainless steel tumbler rim embellish the drink with teeth-chattering cold, then you taste the smooth burn of bourbon and the brisk herbal note of mint. Delicious.

Relish: Ratio

I just finished reading Relish, by Lucy Knisley. It’s delightful.

Relish Cover

And now I’m reading Ratio, by Michael Ruhlman, after receiving a copy in a class offered by Sur La Table of a similar name, Ratios Not Recipes. I’ve taken about 5 classes at Sur La Table now, and this one was my favorite. We made crème brûlée, pie crust, shortbread cookies topped with crystalized lemon and dark chocolate drops, and a pâte à choux, which I mixed with goat cheese and chopped basil and dropped in big globs that puffed to the size of hamburger buns. Really good. The cookies were tasty too (I never miss a chance to mix lemon with chocolate) but the pie crust inspired me. I went home and straightaway made a Rhubarb Crostata.

ratio cover

It was delicious.



Speaking of crostata, there’s one on the cover of this month’s Sur La Table catalog. I’ll bet you’ll easily guess which pages I worked on. :) You should request a copy.

June 2013 Sur La Table catalog

Best thing I saw today was Portion Control by Christopher Boffoli, these wonderful mixtures of miniature people among huge blow-ups of food:


Rock Candy Icefall


….including this awesome photo of Fran’s Grey Salt Caramels, attended to by the Salt Harvesters

M and I are off to San Francisco for a week. So I need to finish up this blog and get back to my research.  I’ll leave you with a shot of what I think just might be my first completely successful loaf of bread. I created a sourdough starter over the Memorial Day weekend and made this gorgeous loaf. Perfectly browned crust, soft and tender center: San Francisco Sourdough loaf. I will never forget it.


20 comments to Summer’s Golden Ratios

  • Muzhik

    LUV the photos! (esp. the little people on the caramels) The sourdough looks yummy, but I’m just not that fond of making sourdough. I might feel differently if I actually had to make a fresh loaf every other day. For now, though, I like experimenting with different flours, etc.

  • War Pig

    I agree; as always, excellent photography which makes my mouth water. Sourdough of all kinds is my favorite type of bread, even more than chocolate pumpernickel (using cocoa powder in the recipe). On the other hand, my GF doesn’t care for sourdough at all. However, she loves my sourdough pancakes and I have not told her they are sourdough (with all syrup or honey she uses maybe the taste changes enough so she cannot tell).

    Have you ever tried candied or crystal ginger with the chocolate on cookies, etc? For me, lemon and chocolate is good, but I prefer ginger or orange with chocolate, but I may be in the minority.

    OBTW, I tried a little Grand Marnier in the orange syrup on the cake and it was wonderful. Thanks for that recipe, Matthew. Instead of a single cake I made it into cupcakes using foil cupcake liners and served them at a picnic. I used a turkey injector to inject a bit of the syrup inside to soak in and them poured the rest on top. People raved. I also made the Texas Fudge Cake and people tried the orange syrup cupcakes alongside the fudge cake and declared them to be a match made in heaven. I am thinking of adding some Godiva Dark Chocolate liqueur to the fudge cake syrup/icing for adults.

    The crostada looks delicious. Was it?

    As for the pâte à choux, have you ever fried the batter instead of baking it to make Pets de Nonnes (nun’s farts)? I make those just so people will ask me what they are. Yeah, I’m a goof at heart. When I make the actual pâte à choux I add a little amaretto or bourbon and some very sharp grated cheddar.

  • Daniel

    I’d like to hear more about your sourdough starter recipe. Mine is okay, but okay is not good enough with sourdough. Have a great time in SF!

  • WP: I don’t think you’re in the minority. I think orange and chocolate is classic at this point, and I see ginger and chocolate more and more. Fran’s offers both, and they’re both delicious. I never thought to mix lemon and chocolate until cookrookery’s Chris was sampling some of my homemade ice creams and mixed some of my lemon ice cream with a bittersweet chocolate gelato on one spoon. He insisted I try it and I was completely won over.

    And wow . . . glad the cake turned out so well for you . . . that’s a great update to the recipe, making them as cupcakes. I still daydream about the crostata, so it was definitely a success; the crust was so good, I might just make pie crust cookies with it some time. I forgot to give attribution to Lottie & Doof. Here’s the recipe:

    Daniel . . . since I was lame and didn’t feed my starter before vacationing, I suspect I will have to re-do it. Seems like an opportunity to do a post all about sourdoughing.

  • War Pig

    I use far more liquor in cooking than I do for drinking. How did Americans make anything tasty during Prohibition?

    I love pie crust cookies, too. My dad would eat them like an addict taking crack. He stopped eating in hospital after he lost his leg, and the Dr thought he might die, so I made a huge batch and he began eating again. Dr had to take them away from him and dole them out at the end of his regular meals or he would have tried living on pie crust cookies and milk or coffee. One needs protein to heal.

    I love a light lemon gelato or Italian ice or ice cream (or frozen custard). Most people make the lemon too strong and have to add a ton of sugar as a result. I prefer mine lightly sweet and lightly lemon.

    Bittersweet chocolate gelato is amazing, I heartily agree.

    Cubans (actually in Cuba) love ice cream and make all sorts of wonderful flavors. Lemon and orange are favorites as is yam. Peruvians make (or did, 25 years ago) a wonderfully apple-flavored ice cream/ gelato/ frozen custard/ call-it-what-you-will. I once had pilsener flavored ice cream in (then) West Germany.

  • Muzhik

    Matthew, Daniel, and Christopher, Greetings and Salutations! I would LUV to hear what any or all of you have to say on the subject of ladyfingers. Ever since I quoted that Stephen King last line over at Spacetrawler (”Lady fingers; they taste just like lady fingers”, from “Survivor Type”, included in his short story collection “Skeleton Crew”) I’ve had the urge to make (wait for it) ladyfingers. This urge reached a critical point when I learned that my middle daughter is bringing her boyfriend over to my cookout at the 4th of July. (Independence Day, national holiday, for those living outside the USA.)

    My cookouts tend to be very extendable (doesn’t take that much to throw on another couple of burgers and brats) but now I need to really MAKE something for desert. I COULD make an American Flag Jello Cake (white sheet cake with red and blue jello poured over it, topped with Cool Whip and decorated with blueberries and strawberries) but hey, it’s been done.

    So I suddenly remembered your blog entries about cakes and syrups; I thought of dipping slices of cake into strawberry syrup, vanilla syrup, or blueberry syrup (for red, white, and blue), and I knew: the dipping cakes have to be ladyfingers.

    So while I could scrounge up a recipe for ladyfingers from or from, I want to hear your thoughts on the subject.

  • Sorry, Muzhik, but here my knowledge falls short. I have never tried to make them – or pretty much any other kind of biscuit/cookie either. I’ll have to leave you in the capable hands of Chris and Matt.

    Oh yes, I remember that story. You might be the first person who ever felt hungry after reading it, though.

  • Muzhik

    Haven’t read anything by King lately. Last thing I read was “Pet Semetary” which freaked me out a little too much. I’ll have to see what he’s written lately.

    As for feeling hungry after reading the story? Nonsense! I may have felt a little peckish, but that’s all.

    I’ll let you know tomorrow how the ladyfingers and syrups turned out. My daughter promised to give me some vanilla bean pods to boil in simple syrup to make a vanilla syrup, but she may have forgotten and I might just have to use bottled vanilla. (Making my own vanilla extract is my next project, esp. since I learned you don’t HAVE to use bourbon to make it. Vodka will work just fine.)

  • Muzhik

    Oh, and if you want a story to make you hungry, check out “Psychic Ability” over on the “Scary For Kids” website ( Remember:


  • Muzhik

    The ladyfingers were a hit. I used the recipe I found at The Cupcake Project ( I found that my daughter probably still has my piping stuff, and I was too lazy to try cutting off the corner of a ziplock bag (I hate trying something new when I’m on a deadline), so I just spread the dough on a parchment sheet, baked for 8 minutes, then cut it into rectangles. I got 15 fingers.

    I cheated and used bottled Cherry and Blueberry ice cream syrups. I used a chunk of maltose that I have in the cupboard to make the vanilla simple syrup. I say “a chunk of maltose” because that stuff is the thickest, stickiest stuff I’ve ever run across. It is edible superglue. I had to guess at the amount I had scooped out because I couldn’t get it to lay flat in the measuring cup, and since I was using metal utensils I couldn’t stick it in the microwave to soften. It still came out fine, though. Now all I have to do is make a sheet cake I can use to pour the leftover simple syrup on.

  • War Pig

    Try using pound cake. You can make it a sheet cake, or else try pouring the leftover syrup on cupcakes. Or, make a regular pound cake, cut it into slices and then pour the syrup over the slices to soak in a little before you serve it. If the syrup is warm it will soak in better. Pound cake is pretty neutral and will take up any flavor you care to put upon it. So will angel food cake.

  • Muzhik

    Actually, I used the simple syrup to sweeten my coffee. No more sheet cakes or ladyfingers for me. I’m moving on with the calendar: it’s pie time!

    Yesterday I saw Georgia peaches in the store and it suddenly hit me, that it was this time last year that I started on a pie-making binge. I’ve got vacation time coming up, and I’m planning on spending the week making soap and baking pie. If the local Fareway starts selling the boxes of bacon ends and pieces, I might even try making the infamous pork pie again (Daniel Wolff, Food Detective).

    My daughter asked me if I wanted Boston Creme Pie or French Silk Pie for my birthday, and I said, “Yes!”

    If anyone asks, I’ll post the French Silk recipe. Just think of it as a chocolate-filled foodgasm. (I’ll let your imaginations provide the sound effects.)

  • War Pig

    Please post it. I always like trying new pie, although I prefer peach cobbler to peach pie. Same for apricots. The pork pie is surprisingly good.

    I use simple syrup for a lot of things, but I drink my coffee black with no sugar or sweetener.

    My brother’s favorites for his birthday (we prefer pies to cakes, with the exception of the Texas Fudge Cake) are butterscotch and old fashioned cream pies, with custard pie a close third. I prefer pumpkin at any time of the year, followed by chocolate and then strawberry/rhubarb (in season).

  • Muzhik

    Ask, and you shall receive. I adapted this recipe from Kitchen Trial and Error; she adapted it from Cook’s Illustrated Entertaining, Spring 2011. I adapted it by using my second-favorite pie crust recipe, and I’ve added notes.

    1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
    1 Tablespoon sugar
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    4 Tablespoons vegetable shortening, cut into 1/2 inch squares and frozen
    4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch squares and frozen
    1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
    2-3 Tablespoons chilled vodka (kept in freezer)

    1 cup heavy cream
    3 large eggs
    3/4 cup sugar
    2 Tablespoons water
    8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
    (Substitute semi-sweet chocolate chips, if desired.)
    1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
    8 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and room temperature

    BEFORE YOU START: stick the bowl to use for making the whipped cream in the fridge to make sure it’s cold when you whip the cream.

    1. Make the crust. She uses a food processor, but I’m old school. Combine the flour, sugar, and salt. Cut in the chilled shortening until small pieces remain. Add the butter and continue cutting until the mixture is a coarse meal. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and sprinkle two Tablespoons of the iced vodka over the mixture. (The vodka adds moisture without adding water, making the dough easier to handle.) Use a rubber spatula and mix until dough forms; add up to 1 Tablespoon extra vodka if necessary. Form the dough into a disc, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for an hour.

    2. Remove the dough disc from the refrigerator and place between two sheets of parchment (or waxed) paper. Use a rolling pin to roll out to a 12 inch circle. Transfer to a pie plate and trim, fold, and crimp the edges.

    3. Cover the pie shell in plastic wrap, refrigerate about 40 minutes, and freeze an additional 20. Preheat your oven to 375F. Line the pie shell with parchment paper, top with pie weights, and bake until set, about 20 to 25 minutes. (I’m cheap — I use dried beans for weights.) Remove the pie weights and parchment and bake an additional 10 minutes, or until lightly brown. Set aside while you make the filling.

    4. Whip the cream into stiff peaks in a medium bowl with a mixer. Refrigerate.

    5. Combine the eggs, sugar, and water in a large metal bowl set over a saucepan with an inch or so of simmering water. (I just use my Mom’s double boiler that I inherited.) Use an electric mixer to beat the mixture until thick and registers 160F, about 10 minutes. Remove the bowl from the pan of simmering water and continue to beat until fluffy and room temperature, about 10 minutes more. Using this method makes the eggs cooked and safe to eat, without making them hard.

    6. Add the chocolate and vanilla to the egg mixture. Beat in the butter, a few pieces at a time, until it is well combined. Use a spatula to fold in the whipped cream until evenly combined. Spoon the chocolate filling into the pie shell and refrigerate until set, about three hours. Fight your daughter (who didn’t lift a finger to help) for the spoon, while you use the spatula to clean out the bowl.

  • Muzhik

    Crud. I updated my email and lost my avatar.

  • War Pig

    Tanks, I’ll try this after I move and get settled in.

  • Muzhik

    Switched the email again; let’s see if the avatar comes back.

    I decided to figure out how long it takes to make this bad boy. Here it is by the steps (not counting the time taken to cut and freeze the shortening and the butter, which you should do the night before):

    1. 2 hours, maybe less. Cutting the shortening in by hand takes some time.

    2. 1 hour.

    3. 1 hour to freeze; 45 minutes to prep and bake.

    4. 15 minutes to whip the cream.

    5. 30 minutes to prep and cook

    6. 30 minutes to beat and blend and spoon.

    So we’re talking 6 hours from start to finish, not counting the 3 hours in the fridge to let it firm up. You can cut some time by doing steps 4 and 5 while the pie shell is baking and cooling. You have to be careful, though, to whip the cream as far from the oven as possible, so the heat doesn’t interfere.

    Bon Appétit.

  • War Pig

    Yeah, but a lot of that time is down time while things are cooling in the fridge/freezer. And the whipping will be done with the Kitchen Aid and the dough put together in the food processor (I sometimes do it by hand but prefer machines for the dull, boring parts). Doing it by machine is also faster and ensures the butter doesn’t melt while you’re doing the dough – plus I’m lazy.

    OBTW, do you put a pinch of cream of tartar in your whipped cream to make sure it holds stiff peaks while you’d piddling with other things? HINT: if your whipped cream loses its gloss buy sitting too long, you can add a bit of crème fraîche and give it a whip or two by hand and it will recover nicely. Got that tip from watching “Cooking With Julia (Child)”.

  • Another way to stabilize whipped cream is with a bit of powdered sugar and some cream cheese. The cream won’t hold stiff peaks, but it becomes the rich, pourable cream that’s to die for when dropped in large spoonfuls over grilled peaches or blueberries.

  • Muzhik

    I don’t have a food processor, so I do all my pie crusts by hand. The technique I use I picked up from the Joe Pastry web site, where he calls it “the Perfect Pie Crust”. In this technique, you put the butter, lard, and flour in a gallon zip-lock bag. You squeeze out all the air, then start using the rolling pin. By rolling the fat and flour together in this way, you create long flakes of pastry, almost like a laminated dough. (Think croissants.) In my mind, it also is easier than using a pastry blender.

    I don’t bother with the cream of tartar with this recipe. For one thing, once the cream is whipped it goes into the fridge so it doesn’t get a chance to loose the stiff peaks; for another, this isn’t going to be used to decorate the top of the pie. It’s getting folded into the custard, so “peak-y” whipped cream isn’t so important.