Christian is a cocktail connoisseur. He LOVES mixed drinks, loves experimenting with new liquors and combinations, appreciates a well-shaken Manhattan, and all is right in his world when he has some scotch on the rocks after a long day. He has also taught me almost everything I know (along with Wikipedia and the zealously helpful staff at PJ's Wines and Spirits) about mixology and a well-stocked bar.
Christian's love of cocktails has been very influential in the creation of most of these recipes. He sees anything in the fridge as fair game for a potentially fantastic cocktail. (and when I first met him, the contents of the fridge were olives, a lemon, and simple syrup. But don't tell him I'm posting that!)
My favorite example of his creative mixing mind is the story behind one of my most-loved cocktails of all time: Christian's Big Apple.
In 2009, I was experiencing persistent sinus and respiratory infections, and upon a visit to my local Otolaryngologist, I learned that at 24 years old, I needed to have my tonsils taken out. After the operation, I was allowed only apple juice for several days, so in preparation, Christian had purchased Red Jacket Orchards unfiltered apple juice - the best apple juice I had ever tasted. It was delicious, and far more satisfying (read: not watery, like most apple juices on the market) and kept me sane during the days when I couldn't eat. Upon tasting this delicious juice, Christian's cocktail cogs immediately began turning. "This would make a fantastic cocktail," he kept saying, while I would nod feebly and ask for more Vicodin. The next day, he added 2 ounces of rye whiskey to 2 ounces of this apple juice, and mixed it with 1/4 ounce of Cinzano sweet vermouth, and the big apple was born. As he was drinking it, he kept exclaiming what an incredible drink it was, while I naturally grumbled some choice words at him. As I was on heavy painkillers for the next 10 days, I had no knowledge of this succulent, spicy yet sweet creation, but as soon as I got clearance from the good doctor, I insisted that Christian make me one of these drinks he had raved so much about. For the next year, it became my go to drink nearly every night, the sweetness of the apple juice satisfying my evening sweet tooth, and the rye and vermouth giving it just enough kick and depth that allowed me to savor and enjoy my drink.
In honor of the creation of the big apple only a year or so ago, I wanted to try to create a big apple muffins, using the delicious elements of the cocktail to create a superb and versatile treat that I would enjoy as much as I enjoyed that cocktail.
1/2 cup softened butter
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 teaspoon cloves
1/4 cup sweet vermouth (I recommend Cinzano)
2 tablespoons rye whiskey
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
Combine brown sugar, eggs, and vanilla until smooth and well-blended. Then mix in butter until it becomes slightly thicker and lighter in color. I used to swear by using harder, refrigerated butter, but recently, I've been experimenting with my butter at different temperatures, and have really come to like mixing it in when it's softened overnight at room temperature. Not melted, mind you, but softened enough to mix in fairly smoothly by hand.
After the butter is completely blended in, add the rye and sweet vermouth. Keep stirring until the liquors have emulsified sufficiently with the wet batter. It's going to look a little strange, but never fear. Also, don't let the batter sit at all once the booze is added, because then ingredients will start to separate, and it doesn't bake well or taste as good. Once the emulsion is set, add salt, cloves, flour (one cup at a time, blended in) and lastly, baking soda.
Use an ice cream scoop to scoop into a muffin tin, and bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes. These muffins are incredibly moist and flavorful, but not particularly sweet. I've found them to be perfect for an on-the-go breakfast, but if you need to satisfy a sweet tooth, make a crumble (1/2 cup brown sugar mixed with 2 tablespoons flour, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and 2 tablespoons of melted butter, mixed together then crumbled over the top before baking) does the trick.
Quick tip: baking soda versus baking powder
If you're like me, and have always wondered what's the difference between baking soda and baking powder, here's your answer. Both are leavening agents, which are essential when you're adding liquid (or liquor) to baked goods, but baking soda is a strong basic, whereas baking powder is baking soda with the addition of cream of tartar, an acid. The addition of cream of tartar neutralizes the powder's pH, and creates a more neutral, tasteless leavener. Baking soda is often used when an acid (like most alcohols) are added to the recipe. This creates bubbles within the mixture, and prevents your baked goodness from becoming like a brick, so it's important not to let these bad boys sit too long before baking or else you risk losing all of your bubbles. Baking powder can be substituted for baking soda, but baking soda can't be substituted for baking powder unless an acid like cream of tartar is added as well, to prevent the goodie from taking on a bitter flavor.