Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Mixology Monday, August 2014: Coconuts!

*bong... bong...* It must be Mixology Monday midnight!

Welcome back, everybody, to the greatest cocktail party on the planet, or at least the blogosphere. We're rockin', we're rollin', and celebrating as the MxMo summer of Pina Colada gets its fitting bookend. In June we had Pineapple, so now we have Coconut. Let our host, JFL of Rated R Cocktails, keeping us Tiki-fied 24/7/365 give us the deets:
Ah the Coconut, so round, so firm, so fully packed…with flavor. You know back in March I seem to remember going on a regular madcap romance with this tropical icon. Infact I think I used coconut in just about every form I could. After all that you’d think I’d have had enough, and you’d be dead wrong. Coconut is versatile, coconut is magical, not only is it edible but it can be made into scores of products. However this month you need only concern yourself with the liquid variety as I unveil MxMo Coconut.

Yes friends it is my sincere belief the coconut does not get the love, nay the respect it so richly deserves. Because this easy going tropical seed had it’s heyday in the Tiki era it’s happily associated with the same fun loving drinks. Infact this ingredient is well within the Tiki wheelhouse yours truly occupies. Despite all the great Tiki drinks coconut appear in most people are down on the humble seed because of the Pina Colada. Friends this need not be so, I say we take this delicious ingredient and show it can yield a tasty, well balanced cocktail. It doesn’t have to be tropical necessarily. I’d really love to see some of my friends more classically minded come up with a cocktail more befitting a pre-prohibition mindset.
Check back in: when this link is active you can see what everyone did with our lovely bunch of coconuts.

Sometimes puns hit you with all the force of an unladen swallow at maximum airspeed velocity.

But then for some reason there can be a serious turn. Back in June I had been looking for some precedents to latch a recipe onto (there's MxMo Maestro Fred's Bikini Atoll, for instance) and then began delving into the history of the Marshall Islands. Maybe I misremembered from history class, or it was post-WW2 material that got rushed, but I had been under the impression that the site of nuclear testing was deserted -- and not that the inhabitants had been relocated. Or that the site remains radioactive and not very inhabitable, though environmental rehabilitation efforts have been and are still under way.

Beyond-words downer, I know. So, instead of a cheeky angle on this recipe, despite the cheeky name, that bit of knowledge made me want to create an atole riff reflective and respectful of Marshall Islands culture and the general region.

For those who haven't heard of atole (ah-TOE-lay) before, it's a popular Mexican hot beverage combining milk and sugar, thickened with masa harina into a creamy custard-like sipper. Basic atole can be flavored with vanilla and cinnamon, though the sky's the limit with a broad range of fruit flavors and of course chocolate. Even on hot summer nights this virgin beverage soothes down deep.

So then, off to the islands of the South Pacific and thereabouts - keep an eye out for Java, Ceylon, Tahiti, and of course, the Marshall Islands, where copra, aka our theme ingredient, Coconut, is a staple and important source of income for the islanders.

Bikini Atole*
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1/2 cup milk
1 strip lime zest (length of lime, 1" wide)
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 T coconut palm sugar
4 t masa harina flour (fine-milled)
1/4 oz passionfruit syrup
1 1/2 oz Batavia Arrack
1/2 oz vanilla-infused cognac liqueur**
toasted coconut and cinnamon dust for garnish

Add Batavia Arrack to your serving mug in preparation.

Add the regular milk, zest, cinnamon stick, and sugar to a small pot on the stove and gently bring to a simmer while stirring, helping the accents infuse, about 10 minutes.

Add the coconut milk and masa harina, bringing to a boil and whisking briskly throughout (boiling brings out masa's thickening magic).

Reduce to a simmer and keep stirring until desired thickness is reached, then whisk in passionfruit syrup and vanilla cognac liqueur.

Strain your atole into your serving mug, whisking to incorporate the arrack (bottom-up incorporates better than top-down).

Garnish with toasted coconut flakes and fresh grated cinnamon.

*no relation to Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini Punch, albeit my apricot brandy and vanilla cognac liqueur are Remy half-bottle brethren.

**vanilla cognac liqueur: 2 vanilla beans in a half-bottle of cognac for 3 days. To this, add 1/2 part 2:1 rich simple syrup.

Nose: coconut, cinnamon, corn.

Sip: a house party. Lime dances with vanilla then switches to brandy. Cinnamon and corn chat cattily from the sidelines. Coconut and arrack swirl underneath it all tilting the cocktail in exotic directions with some additional chocolate notes. But, it remains warm, creamy, comforting atole.

The coconut milk in this recipe made the balance a little difficult to pin down. I had a great version at first, but it was too sweet. When I removed some ingredients, though, it wound up collapsing into indistinct mildness. Adding the passionfruit syrup back in, with its equally sweet and sour nature, similar to orange and pineapple juice, was the key: just a bit of acidity to delineate flavors, without inspiring the milks to curdle. The lime zest, normally too strong and bitter when used as a garnish or otherwise in spirit-forward cocktails, likewise brightens what the dairy would otherwise dampen.

Cheers to JFL for a fab theme and challenge. I'd never worked with coconut milk before and it was a great learning experience. If you're interested in everything you can do with coconut, folks, go check out his site: he's done a full month-long series on all the applications of coconut in cocktails, in addition to other theme months. Thanks also to Fred for keepin' them crazy cats reciting poetry in cafes.

'Night everybody!