Part of the fun of being deeply into pastry is discovering the odd little components you never knew existed, but which make your dinner guests’ eyes bug out of their head as they demand to know: what IS that??
Espresso syrup is one of them. A very simple combination of deep, dark caramel and espresso, it’s great for flavoring all sorts of cream fillings, or drizzling strategically on plated desserts. If you’re familiar with making caramel — or even if you’re not — making it is a stroll in the park.
Start by combining a cup of sugar and about a quarter cup of water in saucepan.
Set it over high heat and swirl it gently.
It’ll get darker…
…and darker until it starts to smoke prodigiously. Cook it until you see a deep brown-black spot in the center of the pan.
At this point add 4 ounces (half a cup) of warm espresso. Careful now…it’ll hiss and bubble.
Drop the heat to medium and whisk the mixture. Keep the heat on as long as there are still any hard bits remaining.
You want it nice and smooth, about like so:
Allow it to cool completely, then pour it into a jar for storage (if you want to spike it with a little rum or something beforehand, who am I to stop you?). It will keep for weeks, even months, though it will lose some of its potency with the passage of time.
Heavier still are these sauce-like syrups that weigh in at a ratio of 1.5 parts sugar to 1 part water or more. You typically find them in plated desserts where they’re puddled or drizzled around to create various decorative effects. The recipe is:
8 ounces water
14 ounces sugar
Flavoring elements of your choice – extracts, citrus peels, whole spices, etc.
Combine the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to the boil, stir until the sugar completely dissolves. Allow the mixture to cool, then strain it. At that point other elements can be added like fruit juice and/or liqueurs, up to about 1/4 cup.
I’d put up photo tutorials for syrups, but in all honesty there’s not much to photograph (a pan of water with sugar being poured into it, that’s about it). Plus, the result would be a heck of a lot of syrup in my house! Cake syrups are typically a little heavier than poaching syrups, at a ratio of 1 part sugar to 1 part water by weight. A typical recipe goes like this:
8 ounces water
8 ounces sugar
Flavoring as desired
Combine in small saucepan and bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Cool the mixture, then add either a teaspoon of the extract of your choice or 2-3 tablespoons of your favorite liqueur.
For a Coffee Syrup add three tablespoons of instant coffee or instant espresso powder to the mixture before simmering.
For a Cognac Syrup, add an equal weight of (8 ounces) of cognac. Now that’s good syrup!
A fruit poaching syrup is typically the lightest of the syrups used in the pastry kitchen, at a ratio of 1 part sugar to 2 parts water by weight. Heavier syrups are sometimes used, certainly, but in general if you’re simply poaching peaches or pears, this is the formula you’d use:
8 ounces water
4 ounces sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (or a little vanilla bean if you’re getting fancy)
2-3 lemon wedges
Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil — done! Boil the fruit for five minutes, then lower the heat to a gentle simmer until the fruit is soft.
The nice thing about poaching syrups is that they can be strained and used again, either to poach fruit or as a light cake syrup.
Simply syrup is used mostly for drinks like sweet tea or for cocktails. It’s very light, made of 1 part sugar and 1 part water by volume. To make a simple syrup, combine:
1 cup (8 ounces) water
1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
Heat for about three minutes until the sugar is dissolved. Allow it to cool before using.