• Weekly Cocktail #21: The Bellini

    The Bellini.

    It’s Red Haven peach season at Putney Farm, so now we need to use them. We made peach-lavender jam (recipe later today) and will be making peach preserves, peach butter and peach-vanilla ice cream. So we may as well make a cocktail. And if you have peaches, you might as well make Bellinis.

    To be fair, Bellinis typically combine white peach purée and prosecco (think Italian champagne, but sweeter and much less complex). We don’t have white peaches or nectarines (yet), so we are using our Red Haven peaches. But to our tastes, that is a good thing, as yellow peaches have more acidity than white peaches and/or nectarines. And while we like Bellinis with white peach purée, they can be cloying a bit sweet- so using more balanced yellow peaches improves the cocktail and provides a better color. But regardless of the peaches you have, the Bellini is a light, sweet and “long” drink that is good for summer brunch and afternoon parties. And we like cocktails at brunch and afternoon parties.

    Make the peach purée.

    As for the origins of the Bellini, the dates are bit hazy. But we do know that Giuseppe Cipriani, owner of Harry’s Bar in Venice, created the Bellini sometime in the late 1930’s or early 1940’s. He named it after Giovanni Bellini, a renowned 15th-century Italian renaissance painter. Bellini’s paintings, as with many works of his era, tended toward darker hues and somewhat bleak subject matter. So the connection to sweet peaches and sparkling wine seems a bit tenuous. At least the name sounds good.

    Muddle your peaches.

    In any event, the Bellini was originally a seasonal cocktail to feature local white peaches, but someone figured out how to preserve peach purée and it became a year-round drink. And the recipe has become somewhat “fungible” over the last 70 years, and not always to the good. At one point the Ciprianis licensed the name and recipe to a company to mass-produce the Bellini and it was so terrible different they bought back the rights. And good for them, some things are only so “fungible”. In the end, if the peaches aren’t good, it might be best to make something else.

    Fine-strain the muddled peaches.

    But if you do have ripe peaches, then making a Bellini is worth the effort, but there are a few extra steps. Firstly, you need to make a peach purée. There are a few ways to do this. If you are making a big batch of Bellinis, you should skin (make an X on the bottom of the peach with a knife and then blanche for 20 seconds), pit and then puree the peaches in the blender. If making just a few, muddling and fine-straining the peaches will be faster (don’t worry about the skins). Then you need to taste your peach puree and your prosecco. If both are sweet, add a scant dash of lemon juice. If both are tart, a dash of simple syrup might be a good idea. And then you need to deal with the bubbles. Peach puree and prosecco create a lot of foam. And we mean a lot. It will take a few minutes to fill the flutes as the foam subsides. You just need to wait it out. Relax, eat a peach, maybe listen to the Allman Brothers.

    A final note, if using champagne (and we don’t recommend it) use extra-dry or demi-sec, both are sweeter than Brut and will work better. But as Prosecco is almost always cheaper than Champagne, it is the right call and is readily available at most supermarkets or liquor stores. And when a Bellini is just right, it is a very tasty sip, and worth making. After all, if you have peaches, you need to use them…why not drink them?

    The Bellini:

    Ingredients:

    • 2 oz. fresh peach puree
    • 4 oz. Prosecco (or sweeter champagne or sparkling wine)
    • Lemon juice (optional, to taste)
    • Simple syrup (optional, to taste)

    Assemble:

    1. To make puree, expect 3 small or 1 large peach per serving. Pit the peaches. Muddle and then fine-strain to extract the puree.
    2. Add the peach puree and a few ice cubes to a cocktail shaker and shake to chill. Strain the puree into a chilled flute. Slowly add the prosecco, letting the foam settle, until full. Serve.
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  • Bonus Cocktail: The Orchard Moonraker

    The Orchard Moonraker cocktail.

    Last week Carolyn and I had a few days in San Francisco and the wine country, and of course that means we enjoyed some great food and cocktails. Ironically, the wine country is filled with signs promoting cocktails along with wine- and we think this is a great thing. Wine country is also farm country and there are all sorts of tasty fruits and vegetables that can make their way in to cocktail menus- and they are, often with tremendous success. Meanwhile, San Francisco continues to be a hotbed for great food and cocktails. If you like to eat and drink, San Francisco is a very easy place to like.

    And our inspiration for this week’s drink, the Orchard Moonraker comes from a visit to Bar Agricole, one of the best bars (and restaurants) in San Francisco. Bar Agricole is well-known for its cocktail program and a mix of both classic and creative drinks. The interior is modern and clean, the spirits top quality, the glassware beautiful and the bartenders knowledgeable. Altogether, an excellent place for a cocktail, and a great place to discover new flavors. In this case Bar Agricole featured their take on a classic cocktail, the Moonraker, which comes all the way from the Savoy Cocktail Book of the 1930’s.

    The original recipe for the Moonraker is equal parts brandy, peach brandy, quinquina (Lillet blanc or Cocchi Americano) and a few dashes of Absinthe. We tried it this way with Armagnac and Rothman and Winter’s Peach liqueur- and it is a good drink. Bar Agricole’s adaptation was brandy, Leopold Brothers Peach Whiskey, Cocchi and a few dashes of Absinthe. This was even better. The brandy and peach whiskey feature floral and sweet peach flavors, while the Cocchi adds herbal and bitter notes and the Absinthe cleans the palate. A bit unusual, but a very tasty drink. If you like Manhattans or Sazeracs, you may really enjoy the Moonraker. We certainly liked it.

    But as we are gardeners, and we have fresh peaches from the farmers market (ours are about a 10 days out- we are very excited), we adapted the Moonraker one more time to include fresh peaches and more common ingredients. Our version includes brandy, rye (you can use bourbon), muddled peaches, Cocchi and Absinthe. And if your peaches are not particularly sweet, a touch of sugar may help. The Orchard Moonraker, features overt floral and peach flavors and is a bit less sweet (peach liqueur is very sweet) with a touch of spice and depth from the rye and brandy. We use a little less Cocchi (you can substitute Lillet). The other notable difference is that the drink is cloudy from the muddled peaches. But overall, a tasty cocktail and fun way to enjoy peaches in season.

    Orchard Moonraker cocktail and ingredients.

    As for the name, it has nothing to do with the James Bond movie- the recipe has been around a lot longer. But a bit of internet research doesn’t give much more connection to the cocktail. A Moonraker is the name of a small, uppermost sail on some old ships, but is also a knick-name for some old-time British smugglers. Neither seem to have any real connection to the drink, and if they did it’s lost in time. But “Moonraker” sounds good, and the cocktail tastes good. So we will just have to drink it.

    The Orchard Moonraker: (Moonraker recipe below)

    Ingredients:

    • 1 oz. brandy
    • 1 oz. rye (or bourbon, in a pinch)
    • 1/4 ripe sweet peach, in slices (we like the skins on for extra flavor, but skin the peaches if you like)
    • 1/2 oz. Cocchi Americano or Lillet Blanc
    • 2 dashes Absinthe
    • A few dashes of simple syrup if the peaches are tart.
    • Peach slice, for garnish.

    Assemble:

    1. Add the peach slices to a cocktail shaker and muddle thoroughly.
    2. Add the brandy, rye, Cocchi, Absinthe and ice. Shake well to combine. Taste for sweetness and add a bit of simple syrup, if needed.
    3. Double strain (the peach pulp can be thick) into a chilled cocktail glass or coupe. Garnish with peach slice and serve.

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