Oct 21, 2014

Homemade Filtered Milk Punch

Milk punch may be the "new" hipster equivalent to home infused vodkas.  It can have all the buzzwords like artisan and handcrafted, has its own history and trivia, and it's a booze that you've probably never heard of.  Out of the two types of milk punch, one is actually not that bizarre to most Americans, at least not during the Christmas season.  Take milk or cream, mix with rum or brandy and serve chilled, perhaps with nutmeg or cinnamon.  Sound familiar yet?  How about if I add egg?  Eggnogs (and flips)  are actually an offshoot of milk punch.

The other type dates back to the 1600's, and focuses more on a longer shelf life.  In fact, one of the more famous recipes comes from Benjamin Franklin himself. While anyone who has been in bad college housing knows, milk will separate given enough time (or poor enough refrigeration).  As the 17th century was not exactly known for their refrigeration technology, they took a hint from cheese makers to extend shelf life.

For those unfamiliar with how cheesemaking works, the very basic process is as follows:
  • Heat milk.
  • Add rennet/acid to separate curds from whey.
  • Remove curds from whey, and process depending on the type of cheese.
Conceptually, very simple, right? Well, on a basic level, the process for making a filtered milk punch is as follows:
  • Heat milk
  • Mix alcohol, sweetener, and acid.
  • Add hot milk to alcohol mixture.
  • Remove the curds and retain the liquid for drinking.
From a food science perspective, milk punch is rather intriguing.  There are multiple ways in which flavors can be absorbed into the solution.  Water soluble, alcohol soluble, and fat soluble flavors can all be utilized.  The first milk punch I ever had, at Backbar, was flavored with Fruit Loops. It was disconcerting because it actually did taste like Fruit Loops, in a completely liquid form.  The first time I attempted making milk punch with a friend, I decided to be a little cheeky, and play off of the idea of milk.  We made a chai milk punch with mulling spices.  The overwhelming success of that led us to experiment a bit more. Other successful flavors that I've tasted (but have not made myself), are passionfruit, and scotch pina colada.

Basic Milk Punch Recipe

750 mL white rum
2 Cups Simple Syrup
1 Cup Lemon Juice
2 Cups Whole Milk

Special equipment needed: cheesecloth

First of all, simple syrup is one of those things that you should never buy.  For 2 cups of simple syrup, combine 2 cups of sugar with 2 cups of water, and heat in a saucepan until all the sugar has dissolved.

Combine the rum, simple syrup, and lemon juice. If your flavoring is alcohol or water soluble, add the flavoring to the mixture.  If your flavoring is fat soluble, add the flavoring to the milk.

Heat the 2 cups of milk in a saucepan over medium heat until bubbles appear at the edges of the pan.

Add the milk to the rum mixture, and let sit for 30 minutes, to allow the milk to fully curdle.

Strain the mixture through cheesecloth, and discard the chunks.  Serve chilled, and store the milk punch in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Some of the Flavors I have personally experimented with (and results):

Milk Punch Flavors steeping in alcohol


Because I had the spice mix handy, I simply used mulling spices.  The label called for 1 Tbsp of spices for one 750 mL bottle of wine, so I stuck with that.  

It worked beautifully, and can be a nice substitute for falernum in cocktails.

Add spices to the milk.


1 cup of frozen raspberries, or any other frozen fruit.  This is one of the few situation when fresh is not necessarily better.  The process of freezing helps to damage the cell walls, so that it will release flavors even easier than fresh berries would.  

It was very tasty, and had a beautiful color.This is a flavor that I will definitely try again. As a variation, I plan to use the raspberry seltzer syrup from Flour, Too.  This recipe includes sugar, lemon juice, and lime juice.  To avoid the punch from becoming overly sweet, I would plan to use the raspberry syrup instead of the simple syrup.

Add the fresh fruit to the alcohol mixture.

Frosted Flakes

This was an idea from my friend/partner in booze.  Because the first milk punch we'd had was Fruit Loops, he was interested in what other breakfast cereals could be milk punch.  Use 1 cup of crushed Frosted Flakes.  

The flavor of Frosted Flakes came through clearly.  Personally I found this disturbing, but I also found the Fruit Loops milk punch disturbing. My friend who initiated this idea approved though.  Considering that I am the one making recommendations here, be prepared for an odd beverage.

Add the crushed flakes to the alcohol mixture.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

We wanted to play with the idea of things that would go well with milk.  One of the obvious food items that works with milk is cookies.  One cup of crushed chocolate chip cookies is used for a batch of milk punch.

This was a complicated flavor, because cookies are a complex food.  There are aspects that are alcohol soluble flavors, and some that are fat soluble flavors.  With the experiment that we tried, we put the cookies in the alcohol mixture.  I think that it may be possible to get a better flavor by splitting the cookie crumbs between the alcohol and the milk; in effect getting the best of both worlds.

The jury is still out as to whether the crumbs should be added to the alcohol or the milk.


This is the flavor that I was the most skeptical of. My friend wanted to play on the breakfast theme, taking a step away from the cereals. Originally he thought of toast and jam, but we decided that if the toast came out well, we could always add some of the raspberry milk punch as jam.  This would be about 6 slices of crushed toasted bread for 1 batch of milk punch.

I found the juxtaposition of flavor and texture of the toast milk punch a little too much of a hurdle.  The texture of toast is a very important part.  Thus, the fact that I'm drinking a nice cool liquid tasting of toast was a little too disconcerting.  My friend combined a bit of the toast milk punch with some of the raspberry, and quite liked it though.

The toast crumbs were added to the alcohol mixture.

Final Analysis

Financial Outlay: The most expensive part of this project is the rum, possibly followed by the cheesecloth. If you want to make a swanky punch for a party, this can be a very economical answer.

Time: It is probably about an hour total to make, plus chilling time.  If the plan is to make punch for a party, this means that you can make it ahead of time, and keep it in the fridge until it is time to serve. But it is best when cold, so this is not an instant drink.

Quality: This definitely depends on the flavor chosen.  In my opinion, the chai and the raspberry flavors worked very well.  In those cases, the quality was well worth it.

Fun: It is possible to get very creative with flavors.  The experimental run I did used 4 different flavors for 1 batch of punch.  All the flavors were put into the alcohol solution.  Not every test flavor may come out tasty, but that doesn't mean that you shouldn't try.

Jul 23, 2014

Ramos Fizz Cheesecake- Light, Fluffy, Delicious!

Light, delicate, healthy cheesecake from Puritan Therapy
Ramos Fizz Cheesecake. Light, fluffy, and delicious!
There are very few foods that I am obsessive about.  I shrug at the Chicago vs. New York pizza debates, I stay neutral on Kansas City vs North Carolina for barbecue, and I think lots of places have great hot dogs.  One of the few things that I am adamant about is cheesecake.  When I was a kid, my sister and I weren't allowed to have sugar.  Part of the thinking at the time was that prohibiting sugar in a kid's diet would prevent diabetes later in life.  In actuality it tends to just promote secretive binging, but that's another story.  Thus, to have a low sugar option for a birthday cake, we would get cheesecake.  It was light and fluffy and we would usually have it with some fresh fruit and a little homemade whipped cream.

The first time I had a cheesecake that was not the one my mom made was when I was in college.  I don't remember where it was, but I do remember being excited for cheesecake.  What I got was a super dense brick on a crumbly graham cracker crust. This was more like eating a cold, over-sweetened paste than what I was expecting.  Even worse, everyone else seemed to think that it was great!  I later learned about New York style cheesecake, and that what I had was actually a good version of it.  I just can't approve.  In my opinion, cheesecake should be light and fluffy.  It should almost be like eating a cheesy cloud.

So, if you are the type of person who prefers their cheesecake more akin to a brick, I may think you're wrong, but I won't judge.  But if this is the case, this is not the recipe that you would want.  The cocktail will still be good, but it will not be your style of cheesecake.

Ramos Gin Fizz

Puritan Therapy- Ramos Fizz Cheesecake
The handle of the spoon is a straw!
As I've mentioned before, I have great respect for a good bartender, especially for their palate.  Which is why I will use my bartender friends as taste testers and flavor advisers whenever I can.  The first time I ever had a Ramos fizz was around the same time that I started really experimenting with chocolates.  I had brought a variety of things to work for a potluck, and then brought all the extras to the bar with me after work.  When Will asked me what I wanted to drink, I handed him a s'more chocolate (small piece of graham cracker with a toasted marshmallow on it dipped in milk chocolate) and told him to make me something to go with that.  He ate it, thought for a moment, and then spent the next 10 minutes crafting this absolutely beautiful drink.  When he put it down, he said that he was playing off of the ideas of milk and cookies.  When I tried it, I was amazed.  It was light, fizzy, creamy, with citrus and a touch of orange.  And it came in a tall glass with a straw spoon, kind of like what you'd get with a slurpee, but fancy and metal.

I have since learned that this is one of those drinks where:
  1. Never order it on a busy night.  It takes a long time and a lot of effort to make.  This can be fine, as long as you understand this and will tip accordingly.
  2. Once you do order it, and the bartender puts it down, multiple people will all ooh and ah, and then they will all want one because it's pretty.  This is the nail in the coffin for the bartender cursing your name under their breath.
Considering that I was just talking about cheesecake, skipping to a cocktail may seem like a nonsequitor.  but look at the recipe, and think about the ingredients for a moment.

    Ramos Gin Fizz

    2 ounces gin (I recommend a french gin that is more subtle and floral than one that has a strong juniper flavor)
    1 ounce heavy cream
    1 egg white
    1/2 ounce lemon juice
    1/2 ounce lime juice
    2 teaspoons superfine sugar
    2 to 3 drops orange flower water
    Soda water
    optional: Orange peel for garnish
Combine gin, cream, the white of the egg, lemon juice, lime juice, sugar, and ice in a cocktail shaker.  Shake for 1 minute, or until the mixture starts to foam (as a note, this is a long time to shake a cocktail, and the minute timer is a minimum).  Strain into a highball glass, and top off with soda water.  The oil from the orange peel adds an extra little pop of orange.

So where is the connection with cheesecake?  The Ramos fizz has dairy, eggs, sugar, and flavorings.  A cheesecake is made with dairy, eggs, sugar, cornstarch, and flavorings.  When I considered the way to make this cocktail into a form of candy, the parallel seemed obvious.


There are several things I love about this recipe.  To be honest, it's actually a very healthy cheesecake.  It's high in protein, and low in sugar, and all of the perishable ingredients can be pre-measured for you.  In the US, a standard block of cream cheese is 8 ounces.  A small container of cottage cheese is 2 cups.  I never need to worry about using up that little extra bit of, well, anything.   With the idea of low sugar, and high protein, some people (including me on occasion) want to take it a step further and get the trifecta of low fat as well, by using low or nonfat cream cheese and cottage cheese.  IF you choose to make a basic cheesecake instead of the Ramos Fizz cheesecake, substitute away.  The end result will be a firmer cake, but still definitely tasty.  If you are making the Ramos Fizz cake, I recommend against it, and this is why.

*Science Warning*
It is a matter of acid.  If you remember pH from high school chemistry class, there is a range from acid to base.  Cakes (flour or flourless) need an acidic batter to set up or they will end up just being a pudding.  The more acidic the cake, the faster it will set up (but the drier it will be).  If you use low or non fat cheese in your cheesecake, you are making the batter more acidic.  Thus, if you decide that the cake seems too mushy, this is an easy way to adjust it to your liking.  The Ramos Fizz cheesecake is actively adding more acid and drying agents.  Lemon juice, lime juice, and gin all have a drying effect on the cake.  If you make that even more acidic, by removing more of the fat, the result will be an almost chewy cheesecake, which is not what we want at all.
*Science End*

A quick word about equipment. For a long time, equipment tended to be the barrier for me trying to make this.  My mom always used the blender, the hand mixer, and a springform pan.  These days I will usually still use a springform pan, but instead of using multiple appliances, I will just use two attachments on my stick blender.  It takes up less space, and there's less to wash at the end.  Other than that, the only potential challenge is cleanly separating eggs to create a foam.

Ramos Fizz Cheesecake

    6-8 large eggs
    8 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
    2 cups cottage cheese
    1/2 cup sugar
    3 Tbsp cornstarch

    1 tsp gin
    1/2 tsp lime juice
    1/2 tsp lemon juice
    1/4 tsp orange flower water

  1. Preaheat oven to 300 degrees F.  
  2. Separate enough eggs to make 1/2 cup of egg yolks.  
  3. Combine the egg yolks and cottage cheese, blending until smooth.  
  4. Add the cream cheese, corn starch, and sugar.  Continue to blend until smooth.  
  5. Mix in the flavorings.  
  6. Whip the egg whites to stiff peaks.
  7. Fold the egg whites into the yolk mixture gently.
  8. Pour the batter into an ungreased springform pan, and bake in the center of the oven for 1 hour.  When one hour has passed, turn off the oven without opening the oven door and allow to cool in the oven for 1 hour.
  9. Allow to cool to room temperature, and then chill in the refrigerator.
Tips and Recommendations
  • Use a 3 bowl method of separating the eggs.  One for the egg whites, one for the yolks, and one for the egg that you are currently separating.  That way, if a yolk breaks, you only lose one egg, instead of the whole batch.
  • For easier separating, use eggs that are as fresh as possible.  As eggs age, the whites get thicker, and the yolk gets more delicate.  The most recent time I made cheesecake I used some of my farm fresh eggs, and was amazed at how easy it was to separate them.
  • All of the leavening in this recipe comes from the foam created by the egg whites.  That is the most important step.  If you overwhip the egg whites, the foam will collapse, and you will have a puddle in the bottom of the bowl.  This will affect the texture of your final cake.  Beat the egg whites just until the point of stiff peaks.  This means that, if you remove the beater from the egg whites and turn it upside down, the egg foam will stay pointy.
  • Ensure that the bowl that you use for the egg whites is completely clean of fat.  Even if there is a tiny residual drop of dish soap, the egg whites will not create a foam.
  • If using 4 smaller pans instead of a 10 inch pan, cooking time is reduced to 15 minutes, and then the cakes can rest in the oven for 30 minutes.  I have not found an ideal cooking time for cupcake sized cheesecakes at this point.
  • For a basic flavor for cheesecake, you can use 1 tsp vanilla extract and 1 tsp almond extract instead of the Ramos Fizz flavorings
  • If you do not have a springform pan: It is still possible to have a successful cake with a normal 10 inch round cake pan.  However, as the cake pan needs to be ungreased, line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper (the cake needs to be able to cling to the sides of the pan to help rise).  When taking the cake out of the pan, insert a knife at the edge of the cake and run it all around the edge to separate it from the wall of the pan, and then gently turn out onto a plate.  It's trickier, but can still work. Just remember that it is a very delicate cake, and while it would still taste the same when broken, it would still be sad.

Final Analysis

Financial Outlay: The ingredients aren't very expensive.  It is even possible to make this without special equipment, although I personally would not choose to foam egg whites by hand.  It is much easier with a springform pan, but I've made it work in the past without one.  It is just trickier.

Time: For a full sized cheesecake, it will be in the oven for 2 hours.  So it does take longer than a normal "floured" cake.  The prep, however, doesn't take much more time than making a cake out of a box.  It's not a last minute cake, but it's also a cheesecake, so there is no time spent frosting it either.

Quality: The quality is amazing.  Of course, I may be biased.  People will be amazed if you tell them there is only 1/2 cup of sugar in the entire cake.  The quote from a bartender friend of mine after I gave her a mini cheesecake was "Wow, it's like you make pot brownies, but with cocktails!"  As a note, with only a teaspoon of gin in an entire 10 inch cake, there is no way for anyone to get drunk off the cake.

Fun: I find a certain satisfaction in properly dealing with the egg whites.  From getting the eggs separated without breaking yolks, to the brief moment of fear (every single time) that the egg whites won't foam, to getting the whites whipped to just the right consistency.  Then, of course, is the best part.  Eating a cheesecake that doesn't make you feel like you ate a brick, plus is less than half the calories of a Cheesecake Factory cheesecake.

May 20, 2014

Cultured Butter: Better Butter with Bacteria

Puritan Therapy: Better Your Butter with Bacteria

Can we talk about butter for a moment?  No, not margarine. Margarine is a sad attempt at butter, which may be fine for certain applications (or for the lactose intolerant), but it is still always lacking.  There is a certain richness and depth in good butter that I have never seen in any margarine.  While these days the science seems to indicate that margarine is slightly healthier, it is nowhere near enough to convince me to switch from the things that I use butter for. Why?  Because when I choose to use butter, the flavor of that butter is usually the reason.  Croissants, brioche, mashed potatoes.  It's all about the flavor, not just the fat.  I never realized the importance of good butter (or the variation between butters) until I started making croissants.  It was shocking how much of a difference there was between the basic cheap butter and the European Plugra butter.  With Plugra, "the flavor and aroma of cultured butter are added with lactic starter distillate, a natural flavoring derived from cultured milk", and there is a much higher fat content than normal American butter.

So Plugra is not actually cultured butter, but it has some of the indications of such. But what makes butter "cultured"?  My 12 year old sense of humor makes me want to make some reference to taking it to the opera, but actually, it all has to do with bacteria.  Before churning it into butter, the cream is given mesophilic culture, which is comprised of good bacteria.  Given time, the bacteria will eat the lactose in the milk, reproduce, eat more lactose, etc.  This makes the cream more acidic, which produces a tang and gives a different and more complex flavor, but it also creates an environment so that bad bacteria can't get a foothold.  If you left warmed cream out on a counter for several hours without adding any additional bacteria, it would be a race between the good and the bad, and it would not be a good idea to drink it afterwards.  But since we've fixed the race, the good bacteria has a huge advantage.  It's a similar process to that of making yogurt or cheese. Once the cream has been cultured, which can take anywhere from six to twenty four hours, depending on who you ask, it is ready to be churned into butter.

Churning butter.  That phrase may conjure images of an old timey bucket with a stick coming out of it, or, in my case, my second grade classroom.  We were broken up into pairs, and given a sealed mason jar of cream to shake.  Either way, it's the same general idea.  Agitate the cream until it magically turns into butter.  If you've never done this by hand, it is a lot of work.  To a six year old, it felt like an eternity.  Not to mention it led to really tired arms.  But as we all know, food processes are not magic, they are science!  So what is the science behind churning butter?

To understand how churning works, we have to take a closer look at cream.  Cream is basically fat and protein (along with vitamins, minerals, antibodies, etc.) suspended in water.  The fat is contained in a coat of protein, so it's nice and balanced.  As the milk ages, this protein coat will start wearing away, allowing the fats to clump together.  If you leave a container of milk out long enough, it will sour, fall out of suspension, and you can actually see these 3 distinct layers.  The protein and other elements, being heavier than water, will sink to the bottom.  The fats will float on the surface, and the "water" level will be in the middle. The smell of this rotten milk is amazingly bad, so I don't recommend it.  Conveniently there is an easier (and tastier) way to get the fat to clump together, i.e. form butter.  By agitating the cream, these little bubbles of fat coated in protein will start bumping together.  As they bump together, the protein coat starts chipping away, so that the fat globules are exposed.  Once that happens, the fat will start coming together faster than popular kids in high school.  Thus, you are left with all the fat in one clump (butter), and everything else (butter milk).

While I may be guilty of owning several unusual tools (like my drop spindle), I do not, in fact, own a butter churn.  I also remember the pain of trying to shake that mason jar, so that method was out.  I do, however, have a stand mixer, which is very good at agitation.  All the instructions I read about churning butter in a stand mixer said that the transformation from cream to butter happens suddenly, and to use the bowl shields, plastic wrap, or anything else to guard against the buttermilk splashing all over the place.  Unfortunately, I am also occasionally guilty of not being very bright.  I assumed that if kept my stand mixer going at its lowest speed, then it shouldn't be a problem, because I'd be able to hear the beginnings of sloshing and turn it off.  This is not the case.  The transition between a thick whipped cream and butter/buttermilk happens very suddenly, and there is a large amount of splashing once it does.  I may have had to do a fair amount of cleaning of  my floor, wall, counter, etc.  Don't be me.  The second time I made cultured butter, not only did I use the shields, but also plastic wrapped any open spaces.  I can occasionally be taught.

After the butter comes together, all that is left to do is to rinse out any spare buttermilk to help keep the butter from going rancid using very cold water, shape it into a ball (easy if you are rinsing it in cheesecloth), and add salt if desired.  Store the butter in the fridge tightly wrapped.  With all the effort you went into making this amazing thing, it would be exceptionally sad for the butter to pick up "refrigerator smell".  Also, don't forget to save your buttermilk, you can use it to make fried chicken, biscuits, or all sorts of other things.

One last note about salting or not salting butter.  Unless there is a recipe that specifically calls for salted butter (like these salted butter caramels from David Lebovitz), always use unsalted.  Not only does it give you more control over the amount of salt, the salted butter will produce a sort of sour taste in the final product.  Just like with many things, you can always add more, but you can't take any out.  Unless the plan for the cultured butter is for use on toast or bread, I recommend just leaving out the salt.

What to do with the finished cultured butter?  I'm going to test out mine by baking croissants.

Final Analysis

Financial Outlay: Cultured butter requires two basic ingredients, cream, and mesophilic culture.  The cost of cream can vary depending on where you live.  I got my culture for $5.00 from Standing Stone Farms, which is enough for over a dozen batches of cultured butter (or a variety of other types of cheese!).  So the cost is definitely higher than your run of the mill butter, but if you're comparing to something like Plugra, it becomes much more economical.  Especially if you are also using the buttermilk produced.

Time: The active processing time, if you're not churning the butter using a mason jar, is less than an hour.  However, the time required to culture the cream is at least six hours. Definitely not a last minute project, but not overly intensive either.

Quality: The result of this is a good, fresh, high quality butter.  I did not taste test directly next to Plugra, but I would put it up there at least on the same level.  The results after using it for baking were amazing.  Spreading it on a good fresh crusty bread could be phenomenal as well.  Even considering this makes me want to go make more just to use as a spread on things.

Fun: Most of the process of culturing butter is waiting (as the warming and the churning take up a very small amount of time to do).  Choosing to not use the shields on a stand mixer could provide a sort of Jack-in-the-Box sword of Damocles excitement to your afternoon, followed by lots of cleaning.  But in this case it is much better to consume the finished product than make it. It's not "un-fun", but it is no wild and crazy time either.