Simple syrup can scare people. Its place is in the treasure-trove cluster from which your drinks arise. From margarita mix to tomato juice to sliced limes to a muddler to even the right glass, this place reflects the most intimate parts of your palate because it’s in your home. It also reflects just how seriously you take your drinking – and I’m not making an addiction joke here. Not really…

People spend less time in the kitchen than ever before. In “The Joy of Not Cooking,” a brilliant article in my favorite magazine, The Atlantic, author Megan Mcardle mentions how we used to spend 30 hours a week in the kitchen, and now it’s about 5.5 hours. But never before have we spent so much money on our kitchens. Interesting, right? Mcardle goes on to surmise that it is this very alienation of something so essential – our relationship with sustenance –  that’s spurring on obsessive thinking about food and cooking. And so, does that explain the incursion of wild and fancy bartending into our very homes?

Like most things, it’s a part of the explanation. At the same time, most folks have heard of simple syrup but don’t know how to make it. Instead, along with that movement to fancy up our kitchens and the drinks that accompany, we often settle for what’s easiest. Prepping up a batch of simple syrup is usually a little too close to actual cooking. Alas, it’s just not done. Given that infusions seem to be the all the rage right now, I thought I’d bring a little attention to both.

When most people talk about infusions, they’re in reference to an infused spirit. Vodka infused with grapefruit and pink peppercorns, gin infused with cucumber and pepper, whiskey infused with vanilla and cocoa nibs – these are all mouth-watering delish! But alcohol is expensive, and it’s a real commitment to take something that expensive, and infuse it with something that, in all regards, represents something a little too wild for folks who spend less than six hours a week on prepping and eating.

My solution is to infuse simple syrup. It’s much less expensive and will free you up to be more adventurous. The Serious Eats blog covers well the essentials of having to make simple syrup. Basically, I use a ratio of 1-ish:1 of water and raw sugar; I use a little more water for infusion time. I also choose raw sugar because it’s more healthy, but if I want a clear syrup, I cross over into the realm of the refined white sugar we all know so well.

I begin by dissolving the sugar into the water. As soon as it’s dissolved, I add the leaves, sprigs, twigs, spices or whatever I’m using. Most recently, I infused one batch with basil and another batch with lavender. I simmer and stir until the liquid begins to thicken. Then, I remove from the heat and let the solutions cool to room temp.

The basil infusion needed more basil, so I added more leaves. In total, I used about 15 medium to large leaves to one liter of syrup. I poured the syrup – leaves and all – into a big jar, and put it in my fridge. A couple days later, I filtered out the leaves and will experiment with that for at least a month. The sugar acts as a preservative ensuring a long shelf life. Of course, if anything funky starts happening – discoloration, new aromas – throw.

As for the lavender infusion (and I purchased the lavender from Whole Foods), it needed no extra steeping time.

Drinks I plan on making include hard basil limeades (with gin or vodka and soda) and lavender lemon martinis although once armed with infusions, everything becomes a candidate for the infusion experimentation. Did you see 91/2 Weeks? I can only imagine what the Kim Basinger-Mickey-Rourke stripping scene could have been if they only knew of infusions. Move over, whipped cream…how about something more floral?

Basil Infusion

  • 15 basil leaves
  • 1 liter simple syrup

Lavender Infusion

  • Half cup of lavender
  • 1 liter simple syrup

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