Here we go again! This week, I had a wonderful adventure with the Café Brulot. In theory, this orange, cinnamon, and clove-influenced drink helps warm those chilly October nights. I say in theory, because our interpretation perhaps went a little off track and did not follow one of Eugene Walter’s pillars for cooking: “keep a light hand.” Oops. (I like cinnamon, sue me.)
Regardless, making this recipe is REALLY fun, and you probably have most of the ingredients in your kitchen already. Plus, you feel like you are literally drinking and smelling wintertime while you’re all warm and cozy inside. And who doesn’t want that?
Mark Twain felt strongly about New Orleans coffee and had superlatives for the famous after-dinner concoction Café Brulot. There are countless versions of this beverage.
Take thin strips of peel from orange and place in bowl. Remove pith, seeds, and membranes from orange and place flesh in bowl. Season with cloves, cinnamon, and a splash of Cointreau or Grand Marnier. Heat brandy and put into bowl. Set on fire and tilt bowl back and forth until flames subside, then pour in very strong, hot coffee. Mix and serve at once.
A few things:
Before beginning, keep in mind that at some point you will set fire to brandy. After reading the directions “set on fire,” my roommate, Hunter, promptly announced that he was first going to look for a fire extinguisher. It can’t hurt to have one handy.[Note: No one was harmed in the making of this recipe]
The directions to “remove pith, seeds, and membranes” required a quick Wikipedia search. WHAT IS PITH? Basically, you want to remove the stem and that outer layer of the orange, and just take the good inside stuff. Taking the best part of the orange out takes some time. Get someone to help you with it, enjoy their company, and try to avoid accidentally squirting orange juice at them.
Now, it is going to smell REALLY good, what with the orange, cinnamon, and cloves in your kitchen. When the smell gets so intoxicating and you want even more, waft and do not directly sniff from the seasonings or spirits. I watched Hunter do this twice, first with the cloves and then with the brandy. You would think he would have learned his lesson the first time (but hey, twice I tried the candied ginger plain for last week’s Merry Mabel, so I probably shouldn’t say anything).
So, now we had the strips of orange peel and the flesh of the orange itself and it was time to season. As I mentioned, we got carried away, forgetting Eugene’s tip to “keep a light hand.” This was where we took a very wrong turn. When I started to season with cinnamon I heard a quick intake of breath behind me and a too late warning to “be careful with the seasoning!”
And now, we return to the splash. Before we even started splashing, Hunter suggested we should go with a heavy splash. Now it was my turn to gasp. Apparently, a heavy splash to him means completely dousing our oranges, cloves, and cinnamon with Grand Marnier. I’ve learned that the definition of a splash varies person to person.
When it came time to pour the brandy, I emphasized that the recipe called for one cup (especially after seeing what a splash meant to Hunter, I was fearful of what a cup might be). In a very Eugene Walter way, Hunter refused to measure and instead poured the brandy freehand: “That’s a cup! And . . . now a splash!” Apparently a cup of brandy wasn’t enough. If you read my description of Hunter’s splash, you would be correct in assuming that there is now a lot of brandy involved and all ready to be lit on fire!
Before lighting things on fire, Hunter told his dog, Charlie, “Charlie, it’s dangerous in here. Dogs out, flambéers only.” Once we had created a dramatic atmosphere of danger and flambéing, Hunter lit our concoction, and it actually worked! It was SO cool. Hunter started tilting the bowl back and forth and we marveled at how cool the blue flames looked. And then slowly some panic started to build. And then it picked up very quickly. “The orange is on fire! The orange is one fire! The bowl is getting hot, really hot!” I responded to this increasing panic with laughter (the endless repetition of “the orange is on fire! The orange is on fire!” will most certainly incite some chuckles). Though small and nothing to worry about, the flames weren’t going out so we put a lid over it and the fire went out immediately. All was well.
To be perfectly honest, I was overwhelmed by how much we seasoned the drink with cloves. This recipe is definitely one that I’ll repeat until I learn to have a lighter hand. That said, when you have the smells of fall and winter AND get to play with fire, you pretty much can’t go wrong.
Recipe from The Happy Table of Eugene Walter: Southern Spirits in Food and Drink, edited by Donald Goodman and Thomas Head. Copyright © 2011 by Donald Walter Goodman.