Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Sugar Plum Dances

Sugar Plum Dances
1 1/2 oz ginger-infused añejo tequila
3/4 oz lemon juice
1/2 oz sugar plum liqueur
1/4 oz orgeat
nutmeg sugar rim

Sidecar style: shake the first four ingredients on ice, double-strain into a chilled cocktail glass whose outer edge has been rubbed with lemon juice and rimmed with nutmeg sugar. Nutmeg sugar should be 5:1 sugar:fresh grated nutmeg or thereabouts: a little fresh nutmeg goes a long way.

Not to be mistaken for the Sugar Plum Dreams cocktail.

So during the summer I was on a cordial-making spree: blackberry, blueberry, and these nifty tart mini-plums I found at the farmers' market. Given the amount of time cordials generally need to rest, I looked ahead down the calendar and realized something sugar-plummy for the holidays would fit. Naturally, a cocktail to showcase the liqueur was in order.

Now, when doing a little research to get into the Sugar Plum Fairy character, I came across something absolutely fascinating in reading up on the Nutcracker ballet/score/libretto: there's the well-known Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, but also a Pas de Deux with the fairy (La Fée Dragée) and her cavalier, Prince Orgeat. [cue mixologists' heads exploding] It didn't take too much more work for the recipe to come together. Since the sugar plum liqueur and orgeat are both sweeteners, that required some balance. Bitter wouldn't be an appropriate direction so Sour stepped in and offered the courtly Sidecar structure: like a lady in her ballgown, the spirit is the woman herself, with the right of her voluminous skirt decorated in Sweet balanced by the left of her skirt decorated in Sour.

Sugar Plums not only feature in The Nutcracker but in the classic "Twas the Night Before Christmas" by Clement Moore: The children were nestled all snug in their beds/While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads. The remaining ingredients in the cocktail needed to invoke dreams and flights of fancy. Ginger-infused anejo tequila (yes, I know the infusion on a good well-aged tequila is a sacrilege) would bring tequila's, shall we say, mind-altering qualities to the mix with an accordant spice note to further liven things up; the more vanillin wood notes introduced via barrel-aging, the dreamier the drink. I wanted to use Meyer lemon here for the added ethereal quality of the zest, but it made the cocktail limp: regular lemon juice brought much-needed backbone and strength, much as you would find with the lime in a Margarita. The (soporific) nutmeg-sugar rim itself is a delicate tutu invoking the prima ballerina's role.

Overall, the plum is forward on the nose and sip, washing past leaving a swirling coterie of exotic almond, vanilla, agave and spice dancing in her wake.

I put the recipe for Sugar Plum Liqueur in this post* instead of its own because there are problems with its reproducibility. I can't determine the exact variety of plums I bought, and I'm not sure if they were identified correctly at the farmer's market -- they were either labelled Mirabelle or Santa Rosa, but didn't quite match the characteristics of either. They were small, perhaps an inch and a half in diameter, deep claret skin, blood red flesh and juice, and juicy-tart to eat (perhaps immature?). Given that they were all so tart and poor eating in that way I figured I'd make a liqueur out of them, where the acidity could be more interesting.

The resulting liqueur retains that acidity well and is very much comparable to Plymouth sloe gin, with a flavor not quite as bold as sloe, but less soft than damson plum. A mixture of sloe gin and damson plum gin would give you a good approximation, or you could substitute just one or the other in the drink (if just sloe gin, perhaps diminish the lemon juice slightly). Also, potentially, the other night I noticed Aphonik on Tumblr mixing with Etter Christmas Plum liqueur - this may work very well indeed if it's available near you.

*[ed.: or, I will, once I get back home to my notebook on the 26th (the things one forgets when rushing around at the last minute to drive up to family for Xmas). Suffice it: fresh miniature plums in Remy V for less than a week, strained and infused with nutmeg, clove, vanilla, and sweetened with vanilla sugar]

Sugar Plum Liqueur
11 miniature tart red plums, halved and stoned
5 oz Remy Martin V

Infuse for 3 days [dark cool cabinet, shake twice daily], strain.

Add 1 inch halved vanilla bean, 1/2 uncrushed nutmeg, 3 crushed allspice berries, 2-3 granules crushed cardamom, 2 crushed cloves. Infuse 2 days. Coffee filter strain. Add 1/3 cup vanilla sugar and shake to dissolve. Bottle and let rest til Christmas.