That hectic nature of the summer usually means that I never have a chance to enjoy summer like I do autumn or winter. I don’t sit and really look around. We are always trying to pack as much as possible into those sunny weekends. There are no baking days during the summer. There are no movie marathons, no book binges (unless you’re comfortable sitting for hours and hours on a beach) and no leisurely drives to enjoy my surroundings during the summer. I’m always frantically on my way somewhere. It’s all about the destination—never the journey.
And that’s counterintuitive to how we would all like to ideally spend our summers…
I say we take that part of summer back. With cocktails. Now bear with me! I swear it makes sense.
I always think of a craft cocktail as an accompaniment to sitting back and unwinding regardless of whether you’re alone or with others. Because a great craft cocktail is an amazing thing. The melding of different flavors, textures, and sensations in one drinkable product is unique to a cocktail. It’s also why some bars that attempt a great cocktail menu fall flat on their faces. It requires thoughtful compilation. But get it right, and you’re not going to want to do anything except enjoy that glass. Perfect for slowing down and finally getting to put your feet up.
Before summer slips through our fingertips, some fellow bloggers and I have put together an epic wish list of boozy and non-boozy drinks alike for #DrinkTheSummer. Led by the visionary Sherrie of With Food and Love, we’ve got everything you need and more for some serious summertime parties or nights on the back porch.
My cocktail contribution is based off of my love affair with basil. In anything and everything. A dash of black pepper will keep it interesting. Next I went for gin because it’s the perfect summer liquor for me—floral and herbaceous notes—and goes really well with the basil and pepper. But then I threw a wrench in the cocktail shaker. Egg whites.
Egg whites are traditionally used in old school drinks called sours and fizzes. Think whiskey sours. An egg white cocktail has a smoother, silkier mouthfeel while still remaining light and fluffy. They also round out the acidity and intense flavors of a cocktail by tampering down the overall flavor profile. In a good way. Sounds great, right? So how do we do it?
Basically, all you need to do is add the egg white to the cocktail shaker and go to town. When you vigorously beat up on the egg white in the shaker, the proteins in the egg whites change in drastic ways. (Though slightly different, it may be helpful to refer to the homemade butter post while you read about these egg whites!)
When we shake and shake our egg white, the mechanical shear physically causes the egg white proteins to rearrange or denature. Those proteins are generally in a less stable state after unfolding and frantically search for something other than water to associate with. Remember that proteins can either be hydrophilic, water-loving, or hydrophobic, water-hating. In the natural state, the hydrophobic proteins were happily enclosed in protein formations, away from the water. When we unfold those proteins, the now-exposed hydrophobic proteins are no longer in equilibrium. Here is where the air comes in! Air bubbles are a happy medium for the proteins and they grab onto the air as you effectively force it into the liquid mixture. That inclusion of air causes an increase in volume leading to a foam. Remember when we made chiffon cake? This is just like that.
There’s also a secondary process at work here though. The alcohol from the gin is a secondary denaturation agent. The alcohol molecules are soooo small that they decrease some of the natural interactions that occur between the proteins and water. Basically, the native proteins in the egg whites are stabilized by those hydrophobic/hydrophilic protein interactions we touched on briefly in the previous paragraph. Well the alcohol molecules mess all that up. Because they’re so tiny, you can think of them as being more hydrophilic than water which creates a bit of chaos in the world of proteins. Now the proteins don’t know which way is up. The stability that those water-based interactions used to provide is now lacking which causes the proteins to unfold and denature. Seriously crack an egg in a glass of vodka and see what happens. Mind. Blown.
Oh and there’s also lime juice which messes with the protein structure as well (pH). These egg whites had no chance, really.
Anywayyy the one-two punch of the mechanical shear and the alcohol causes egg whites to form a pretty stable foam in this cocktail. Even if your arms fall off while you’re trying to make it. Plus you get a pretty “head” on the top like a cappuccino. If you do it right, you should get a foam so strong that a straw can stand up straight without any help! Hooray egg whites!
FWIW: The combination of the protein denaturation, presence of alcohol, and acidity has essentially knocked out any fear you may have of the egg whites in terms of food safety. However, if you’re still squeamish, feel free to use pasteurized eggs or carton egg whites.
Basil and Black Pepper Gin Sour
I am calling this a “sour” rather than a “gin fizz” because I don’t add any soda water at the end. If you want to lighten up the flavor even more, however, feel free to top this off with some soda water (but only after you pour it out of the cocktail shaker! It will explode otherwise…)
8 very large basil leaves, torn (or 12 medium basil leaves, torn)
1 teaspoon sugar
2 oz aromatic gin
1 oz fresh lime juice
1.5 oz heavy cream (or feel free to substitute full-fat coconut milk)
0.5 oz simple syrup
1 egg white
- Place your torn basil leaves at the bottom of your cocktail shaker along with the sugar. Use a muddler to macerate the basil leaves. The sugar should cut into the basil and cause the leaves to break down—forcing liquid out of them.
- Once the basil is sufficiently destroyed, about 1-2 minutes muddling, add the gin to the shaker. Use your muddler once again to quickly mix the gin into the basil mess.
- Add the lime juice, heavy cream, simple syrup, egg white, and a few cracks of black pepper to the cocktail shaker. Fill the shaker with ice and top it with a tightly-sealing lid.
- This is the part where you need to get your elbow grease out. Shake the cocktail shaker rather vigorously for at least 3 minutes to cause the egg whites to foam and combine everything just right. Shake shake and shake some more.
- Once finished shaking, or once your arms are about to fall off, strain the mixture into a chilled glass. Make sure to get that foamy bit for the top! Optional: top with a couple more cracks of black pepper.
- Put a straw in your drink and serve! The real test is whether or not your straw remains straight up and down without any help. But most importantly, relax—you earned it.