The New Convivialist

Tag: drink

Looking Forward and Glancing Back: A Cocktail for the New Year

ingredients whiskey

Now that 2013 has faded away and with it all the requisite year-in-reviews for restaurants (here, here and here) and pop music (here), 2014 has taken the stage with lists of its own: Oscar-hopeful releases and politico-cultural predictions by just about anyone who thinks you’ll listen.

I myself will not make any recaps or predictions other than a libationary one: if 2013 was the year of the Manhattan (cocktail), then let 2014 be the year of the Big Apple.

The Big Apple is a little something I invented for the dark days of winter. It has the whisky and angostura punch of a Manhattan, but with an additional soothing element of hot-spiced apple juice. I do like a good Hot Toddy in the cold months, but sometimes I find it lackluster without loads of honey or sweetener. The Big Apple, on the other hand, won’t disappoint with its full and spicy flavors that match perfectly to bourbon whiskey.

Admittedly, I started drinking this cocktail before we rounded the corner into 2014. It was just too perfect for that period between Christmas and the New Year. While I think it is best suited as an after-dinner drink or nightcap, why not serve it up at a January brunch? It is mildly refreshing, given the apple juice, thus suited for heftier dishes like eggs, potatoes and bacon. It’s also easy to make for a group. Just slow-heat a big ol’ pot of apple juice and simmer with spices for as long as you like. Therefore your mix is ready-made– just add the alcohol and go. (A fair warning, though: during the day I think a couple of these would sufficiently knock you out until nightfall.)

Happy New Year!

Recipe: Big Apple hot cocktail

For the hot-spiced apple juice:

1 liter apple juice or apple cider*

2 cinnamon sticks

a large pinch of whole cloves

a slice of fresh ginger

-Simmer this mixture in a saucepan or pot over very low heat for at least 20 minutes, longer if you like, for a spicier flavor.

For the cocktail:

Hot-spiced apple juice

1.5 oz or 44 mL (1 shot) bourbon whisky

1 dash Angostura bitters

cinnamon stick

-Ladle some hot spiced apple juice into a small mug. Pour in the whisky and dash of Angostura bitters. Stir and serve with a cinnamon stick as garnish.

*If you are in the US, I would highly suggest using apple cider for this drink. In most countries in Europe, though, if you say apple cider, it means the alcoholic kind. The closest we have to what you want in Germany would be naturtrüber Apfelsaft, basically an unfiltered apple juice. Using this just adds to the overall spiciness and depth of the drink.



Zwiebelkuchen and Federweisser


For the past couple of months I have been lamenting the lack of Fall Things here in Germany. Why aren’t people running off to the countryside to pick apples every weekend? Why are the pumpkins only for eating and not for carving? And don’t even get me started on Halloween… I know. These are all American Fall Things. But wonderful things. Things that should be emulated in all countries lucky enough to have seasons. Traditions, however, are subtle things and even though nothing can ever replace a good apple pie in October, there might –just might– be some German Autumn traditions worth writing home about.

Take Zwiebelkuchen and Federweisser, for instance. This culinary tradition, though admittedly more popular in wine-producing regions of Germany than in Berlin, is based upon the seasonal early grape harvest. Though it is bottled to look like wine, Federweisser is actually must, the result of partially fermented white grape juice. The taste is somewhere between sparkling white wine and sweet, refreshing grape juice. In order to be Federweisser, it must contain 4% alcohol by volume, but depending on how long it’s been sitting around, it can reach up to 10% alcohol. Which is also the fun of Federweisser: you simply never know exactly how tipsy one glass (or bottle…) will get you. In fact I’m drinking it as I write, so if my grammar is a bit off the mark, you know I’ve been blessed with a 10%-er.

In fact, though, I have been fortunate simply to have found Federweisser this late in the season, according to my local wine shop, as it is typically available only from early September to late October. I first had the delicately balanced meal of Federweisser and Zwiebelkuchen (a savory onion tart) at my friend Eva’s house somewhere around mid-September. She, as an excellent cook of all things German and traditional, inspired me that night; I vowed to try to make the dish myself as soon as possible. Now, nearly two months later, after having bought every possible mini-sized candy from the supermarket in preparation for the costumed children who would never even come close to knocking on my door on Halloween, in a near fit of American Autumn Nostalgia, I needed to do reconcile this. I gave myself a pep-talk: German traditions can be good, too. Just try it.

So, I tried it. I already knew from Eva’s that it would be a nice meal. With cooler weather, you crave fatty, heavier foods, naturally. Add a couple of glasses of a beverage of ambiguous alcohol content and you really crave fatty, heavier foods. Zwiebelkuchen, enter stage left.

Quite aside from the food and drink themselves, in spite of myself I discovered I suddenly had that Fall Feeling I had been craving. Perhaps the solution was never to flee the city to pick my own apples or to buy a bunch of mini-Snickers for little ghosts and goblins. It was just to pick up a bottle of sweet ‘feather-white’, fry up some onions and let Autumn in Berlin take hold.

Zwiebelkuchen recipe

Zwiebelkuchen – Onion Tart – Recipe

For the dough:

1 teaspoon active dry yeast

180 grams (about 1 1/2 cups) all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 tablespoons melted butter or olive oil

½ cup (120 mL) lukewarm water

For the topping:

Approx. 100 grams bacon, cubed in thick lardons

½ kilo yellow onions (around 2 medium/large) peeled and sliced

1 Tablespoon olive oil

1 Tablespoon butter

Pinch of sugar

1 teaspoon salt, divided

¾ cup (175 grams) sour cream

1 egg

Freshly ground nutmeg and black pepper, to taste


1. For the dough: In a mixing bowl, dissolve the yeast in the lukewarm water. Stir in 1/4 cup flour and let the mixture get bubbly, about 10 to 15 minutes. Add the kosher salt, butter or oil and remaining flour and mix to form a rough ball. Knead the dough (with hands or stand mixer) for about 5 minutes. Let rise, covered with a damp towel or plastic wrap, until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

2. To make the topping. While the dough is rising, in a large skillet over medium heat cook the bacon, stirring frequently, until the fat is rendered out and the bacon is crisp around the edges, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Add to the skillet the olive oil and butter. When butter is melted and beginning to bubble, add the onions, sugar and ½ teaspoon of the salt. Sauté over medium heat for about 20 to 25 minutes, until the onions are completely soft and just beginning to caramelize around the edges. Remove from the heat and cool completely.

3. In a medium bowl stir together the sour cream, egg and remaining ½ teaspoon salt. Add freshly ground nutmeg and black pepper to taste.

4. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. With floured hands, stretch and pat the dough out to cover the entire sheet. Let rest for about 15 minutes. Spread the cooled onions over the dough. Sprinkle with the cooked bacon. Pour the sour cream mixture over the top and spread to distribute evenly. Let stand in a warm place while preheating the oven to 425°F (approx. 220° C).

5. When the oven is hot, carefully slide the pan onto the center rack and bake for 25 to 35 minutes, or until the topping is firm and the dough is golden. Let cool slightly, then cut into squares. Yield is only 3-4 servings, so feel free to double this recipe for a larger dinner.

Enjoy with a glass of Federweisser or a crisp white wine, ideally a German one. Enjoy the cosy feeling of Fall Things.

zwiebelkuchen dough

Federweisser and Zwiebelkuchen






I’ll have a New York Soda, please

Ever since I studied in Italy years ago, I have been a coffee lover. I just don’t think I understood it before I actually lived there, where good, rich espresso is a given part of daily life. Sure, I drank coffee every once in a while, but coming from Massachusetts, the home of Dunkin’ Donuts (but, really, I swear it wasn’t so bad when I was young!), my choices for freshly ground coffee, never mind espresso drinks, were practically nil. Remember, this was the 90s, before terms like “single-origin espresso” and “third wave” and “aeropress” became themes one could read about in the food section of any major newspaper on a weekly basis. [If coffee and Massachusetts interests you, there was actually just this week a column in the NYTimes by Oliver Strand about the subject.]

I think I can recall the first time I went into a Starbucks as a naive high school student. It was in Boston on Newbury Street and the drink was a Caramel Macchiato. It all felt so… fancy. At the time of course I had no idea what was inside that cloying frothy drink, nor did I realize that it bears no resemblance whatsoever to what you would be presented with when ordering a caffè macchiato in Italy. Nevertheless, ignorance is bliss and I happily sipped the novel treat.

Now, thirteen years and thousands of cups of coffee later, my general mantra is that there is no excuse for a bad coffee. There are a multitude of possibilities out there to find great coffee beans and brew a cup yourself at home with very simple means or, if you live in a larger city, to go to one of many coffee shops and let the experts make you a fine espresso. In Berlin, my current favorite is Five Elephant in Kreuzberg, which just so happens to also be very close to my apartment. That said, I wouldn’t quite say I am a coffee snob; sometimes 80-cent deli coffee is just right and if you are in New York on a very limited budget, there is no shame in Bustelo. But I do try to drink the good stuff as much as possible.

Enough of boring you with my personal path to coffee enlightenment. The moral of this story is actually to bring the highbrow and the lowbrow together in one glass of, shall we call it, New York Soda. I first heard about the concept from my very special friend (boyfriend sounds too young, partner too old!) Paul, who is a life-long New Yorker. Paul is anything but a coffee snob. He cringes at the thought of spending $4 on a cappuccino. I have on more than one occasion caught him eating ground coffee out of the can on the way out the door in the morning. He hates drinking coffee hot. All this I could deal with. But one day – must have been a few years ago – I was horrified to see him pour seltzer over day-old cold coffee, hold it up to examine the carbonation, only to gulp it down in three seconds.

“What did you just do?” I asked, not quite trusting my own eyes. “You don’t know it? It’s coffee and selzer- a New York Soda,” he replied casually. As new waves of ever more complex gadgets and fads have entered the world of coffee, that New York Soda has stuck with me. The audacious simplicity of it! How has it not been ironically adopted by some fourth-wave coffee shop?

It turns out that a brand called Manhattan Special has made an espresso soda since 1895. Manufactured not in Manhattan but Brooklyn and founded by southern Italian immigrants, bottles of the stuff can still be found in some delis and old-style restaurants around New York City. It appears, however, to be a marginalized cult drink.

I personally have never been much of a fan of bubbly water, but Paul is, and due to an unfortunate accident, he is now confined to bed for the next weeks with a fractured knee. Therefore, I am running out to the store twice a day to satisfy his effervescence cravings. Which is not entirely bad, since it got me thinking again about this New York Soda business. Paul and I began brainstorming.

While one could ostensibly make a satisfying New York Soda with regular drip coffee, we both agreed that espresso would be richer and more cola-like. Depending on how strong you like it, you could begin with 1 – 1 ½ shots of espresso (we made ours using a stovetop Moka pot). The next question was sweetened or unsweetened. Paul insisted on unsweetened: pure so that the true flavors of the coffee could shine through. I thought it would be nice to try it with a sweetener, and ended up using maple syrup, though I suppose cane sugar would also work well.

Finally and also very importantly is the bubble issue. Paul feels that carbonation emphasizes and brings to the surface the aromatics of the coffee in a way that drinking it straight cannot. He may be onto something. Just think about it: it is accepted that many single-origin brews, and the lighter and fruitier ones, should not be drunk hot but left to cool a bit so that the mouth can detect the full bouquet of flavors. I’m sure there is a scientific explanation for all of this and I will look into it further, but for the purpose of this experiment, I will leave it at that. Moreover, the carbonation encapsulates the vibrancy and complexity of the coffee and, according to Paul, creates little explosions of flavor burps in the mouth. Therefore, he decided that New York Soda should be made with a fruitier, lighter brew, not too dark or woody, which would just deaden when cooled. The water should be very carbonated, but the bubbles not too big. This may take some experimentation and is also based largely on personal preference.

I personally found the sweetened version of the New York Soda to be more quaffable. It is a thirst-quenching alternative to straight iced coffee in the summer and one that I wonder whether will eventually catch on in coffee shops. But for now, it remains one of those old New York quirks, paved over by an insatiable search for the unprecedented.


New York Soda


1 – 1 ½ shots of espresso (ideally a lighter, fruiter blend), cooled to room temperature

2 tsp. maple syrup

Carbonated water (Natürliches Mineralwasser mit viel Kohlensäure)


  1. Brew the espresso. Pour into a heatproof container and stir in the maple syrup. Let cool to room temperature.
  2. Fill a 12 oz glass with a couple of ice cubes (not too much). Pour in the espresso and top with carbonated water. Stir slightly and drink immediately before the effervescence weakens