roasted lemon syrup, or how not to make a french 75

dscf6477.jpgWith a nod to Jeffrey Morgenthaler and with deep shame to Robert Hess, whose recipe I use, I present to you a good drink idea gone terribly wrong.

I have been drinking French 75s as I cook lately (that is, when I’m not working my way stoically through local budget semi-dry Rieslings — don’t ask). They make me tremendously happy: bubbly, giddy, tipsy, all that. In my continuing intrepid journeys into food blogging, I came a recipe for roasted lemon syrup in a forum somewhere, and I got so immediately excited I rushed out to turn all my lemons into roasted, sugary mush. Roasted lemon syrup, I thought, would make a fantastic French 75!

Roasted Lemon Syrup

Roasted lemons really are lovely. The recipe is easy and has give. You’ll want to quarter 6-8 lemons and place them peel-side down in a roasting pan (a smaller, say


8×8, Pyrex dish with deep sides is best). Pour a cup of sugar over the lemons and then almost completely cover the lemons with water (this is why you need the deep dish). Carefully place in an oven preheated to 400 degrees, and roast until you have some black tips on the lemon and the sugar is syrupy and golden, about 45 minutes. Note that the picture has lemons with the peel-side up — don’t do this, as it makes the peels too hard and dark.

When the lemons are roasted (and it’s not an exact science, so just judge by sight), cool them down a bit, then pour all the syrup into a food processor bowl Remove all the flesh from the lemon quarters and add to the processor bowl. Chop up a couple of the quartered rinds, too, for some bitterness, and add to the bowl. Puree until chopped to little bits, then strain in a medium-coarse mesh strainer, pressing on the solids to release all the liquids you can. Pour into a clean bottle and store in the refrigerator. I wouldn’t keep this as long as simple syrup, but it can keep for a while.

You can use this syrup in drinks and in spritzers.

But Do Not Use It in a French 75

I was so excited by the idea of a roasted lemon French 75 that I skimmed a bit off the top without straining and added 3/4 oz or so to my standard mix instead of the lemon juice and simple syrup. Sounds great, right?

dscf6668.jpgNooooooooooo. The sweetness of the champagne clashed with the bitterness of the lemon peel and ate up the sugar smoothness of the syrup, making it taste like saccharine. I added more syrup, thinking the sugar balance was off, and it oozed down the sides the the flute, leaving a trail of slime. Worse yet, the bubbles in the champagne put the bits and chunks of lemon pulp into motion, circulating them like a monstrous brew of polluted stream, over and over, in my glass. And the color — o horrors, the color — it was not the pretty lemon yellow of a French 75 but a darker, muddier sludge that resembled nothing but some revolting bile.

Bottoms up, I said, and gamely drank it down. Looked like bile, tasted just as bad. So I post it herewith, so the entire French 75-drinkin’ blogosphere (all two of you) can learn from the error of my ways. Save your roasted lemons for something else: a French 75 insists on fresh squeezed.

french 75

IMG_3069Does anyone share my budding fascination with French 75s?  This is a champagne cocktail named after a WWI French machine gun. I work on modern literature, so I felt it crucial to sample this libation. Some particularly hip friends served it to me recently, and I immediately felt my coolness increase by 7.5%. Then I was gunned down in a few seconds flat.

Take my advice: drinking a French 75 will help with all your problems. Here’s how to make one, via video by Robert Hess, on whom I may just have a slight crush. Champagne. Gin. Lemony goodness. Simple syrup. Heaven.

Here’s his recipe, with my commentary:

French 75

  • 1 1/2 oz. gin
  • 1/2 oz. fresh lemon juice
  • 3/4 oz. simple syrup

Shake the gin and lemon juice with ice, then strain into a champagne flute.  Top with champagne, and garnish with lemon twist.  Note: straining is important: you don’t want lemon bits in your teeth when you’re kissing that special someone.  If you’re tempted to use meyer lemon, don’t.  The eureka lemon’s acidity is important for this drink.  You may want to play around with the proportions of the simple syrup (I make this with a formula of 2 sugar: 1 water, then heat, stirring, until sugar melts; refrigerate).  DO NOT use a Collins glass. That gives away the secret that you will be “hit with remarkable precision.” Think Mata Hari. Think fast. You can thank me from the floor.