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How To Fall In Love With Lemon Bars and End Up With New Cocktails (Part 2)

Part 2 of Our Adventure, In Which We Travel Back in Time To Capture The Spirit of the Lemon Bar (And Clarify Some Milk).

Making a clarified milk punch is like cocktailing for bakers. We often talk about mixing cocktails as we do about stovetop cooking. Throw what we have together, spice up with some bitters. Didn’t like it? You can quickly start over and have a brand new cocktail in very little time.  Making a milk punch is a bit more of commitment - much more akin to baking.

Fittingly, I was sent this fantastic Lemon Bar Clarified Milk Punch recipe right on the tale end of my lemon bar experimenting adventure. So, with lots of hesitation, I decided to make a cocktail with a three-day recipe.

The basic idea of a milk punch is to clarify (and help preserve) your cocktail through the use of an acid that yields curdling. Sounds like an industrial process only to be carried out in a windowless lab? It’s really not - it requires no special equipment and windows are highly encouraged.

True to their low-tech spirit, milk punches predate the Industrial Revolution (and they more or less disappeared from menus by the time the 20th century rolled around). Best we can tell, bartenders of yesteryear were dealing with some rougher tasting spirits, and the milk clarifying process really helped to smooth out these biting tastes as well as helped preserve batches of this easier to drink potion. And as citric acid was the acid of choice for English Milk Punch (the type we’re diving into here) - probably something about scurvy too?

Today, we’re blessed with better quality spirits so bartenders and home mixologists alike have some different reasons for clarified milk punches, though preservation is still one. For one: nothing tastes like a milk punch. A certain silkiness, soft tartness, creaminess, and richness are unique to this method. These cocktails are easy to batch and store (for quite a while if properly done). And of course, there is the novelty of making what feels like a brand new spirit from a handful of ingredients, almost kitchen alchemy.

So let’s make a drinkable Lemon Bar (trust me, it’s so much better than that sentence made it sound!).

Full credit for this recipe goes to Joel Schmeck of Irving Street Kitchen in Portland, OR. This recipe makes roughly 30 servings, so adjust for the volume that you want (though is there ever too much of a lemon-bar-based-good-thing?!). We’re going to break down the process into four steps over three days: (1) Infusing milk with graham crackers, (2) making the oleo saccharum (a flavorful, lemony syrup), (3) curdling the milk with lemon juice and alcohol and (4) straining.

What you will need:


Flor de Caña four-year-old rum - 29 oz

Licor 43 Liqueur - 7 oz

Amaro Nonino - 5 oz

Batavia Arrack - 2 oz

For Infused Milk:
Whole Milk (non-homogenized if you can find it) - 1/2 gallon
Graham Crackers - 1/2 box

For Oleo Saccharum:
Powdered Sugar - 1 1/2 cups
Cinnamon Sticks - 4
Vanilla Beans (split) - 2

And the Stars of the Show:
Meyer Lemons - 5
Standard Lemons - 5

Day 1

  1. Infuse the milk
    1. Crush the graham crackers
    2. Place them in a medium-sized jar and pour over with the whole milk.
    3. Stir, cover and place in the refrigerator for 24 hours. (Why do we suggest non-homogenized milk? See NOTES below.)
  2. Make the oleo saccharum
    1. Crack the cinnamon sticks with a tenderizer, mortar and pestle… or any heavy object really!
    2. Combine them with the sugar and vanilla beans in a non-reactive container.
    3. Peel all the Meyer lemons leaving as much of the white pith on the lemon and add the peels to the sugar mixture. Place the lemons in a sealed bag and refrigerate to prevent drying out.
    4. With a sturdy muddler, muddle the lemon peel-sugar-cinammon-vanilla mixture until the lemon peels are secreting oils and the mixture takes one a thick syrupy consistency.
    5. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours.

NOTES: Homogenized milk goes through a physical process during which it is forced through tiny tubes to break up the larger fat molecules. This is what keeps it from recombining and results in the type of milk we’re used to seeing in the grocery store. Non-homogenized milk will always separate with a fat layer on top. This separation helps with curdling step later on and makes the clarifying and straining much easier. However, homogenized milk will still work with just a bit more straining required.

Day 2

  1. Clarify the punch
    1. Strain the milk to get rid of the graham cracker solids.
    2. In a separate container, mix together the four spirits.
    3. Juice all ten of the lemons and combine the juice with the alcohol.
    4. Add the lemon-alcohol mixture to the oleo saccharum. Stir well to combine.
    5. Pour the lemon-spirit-syrup mixture INTO the strained milk. See NOTES below on why this order is important.
    6. You will see the milk start to curdle into small, granular globules. Cover and place into the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days.

NOTES: Surface area is important for the curdling process. If milk is poured into the lemon-alcohol-mixture instead of the other way around, the milk will be instantly surrounded, curdling into large chunks. The milky properties we’re trying to extract will be locked in the large curdles, and won’t make it into the punch.

Day 3

  1. Strain the clarified milk punch
    1. Line a conical chinois or any other fine mesh strainer with a later of cheese cloth.
    2. Strain the milk punch. Repeat several times until there are only tiny particles remaining. This step can take quite a bit of time. Note: the curdles help with the filtering, so don’t necessarily discard all of them between steps.
    3. Strain the resulting punch again but this time through a coffee filter to get the clearest result possible.

The three-day cocktail is done! Enjoy it over ice with some nutmeg or use it as a base to make a cocktail. Keep it covered and refrigerated.

This lemon bar milk punch definitely carries the spirit of the lemon bar with it — but if you remember my baking adventure, my perfect lemon bar also has passionfruit. Thus, in the next step I try to find a few cocktails that emulate my favorite desserts and use this milk punch as a base! (Part 3)

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