With Valentine’s Day approaching, it’s natural to reflect on what constitutes a romantic gesture. For me, a romantic gesture is all in the thought, effort or passion put into making your loved one feel your affection. This is true any time of year and applies to other loved ones in my life, like family and friends. A carefully crafted cocktail or a beautifully presented dessert can truly create a whole experience for someone. For this recipe, I partnered with local Indian sweet-maker Simply Mithai to create a cocktail and dessert pairing to share with the special person or people in your lives.
My inspiration started with chocolate, as Ambreen of Simply Mithai crafts gorgeous hand-painted filled chocolates. I’ve had the most success getting a rich chocolate flavor from cacao nibs, especially after toasting them to release more flavor and aroma. Cacao nibs are just pieces of cacao beans that have been dried, fermented and crushed. They don’t inherently contain any sugar and are packed with fiber, protein and antioxidants.
I love using them for chocolate flavor and a satisfying crunch in baking, but they’re also fantastic for syrups and infusing spirits. In this case, I roasted them in the the oven, then simmered them with water and raw cane sugar to create a deliciously rich syrup. Rather than discarding the used cacao nibs, I threw them into a batch of healthy muffins to enjoy over the work week.
A recipe that starts with chocolate can go many ways, but I really wanted to maintain a fresh, not overly sweet flavor profile. To do so, I chose one of my favorite fruits of the season, Cara Cara oranges, as my next ingredient. If you haven’t already has this epiphany, not all oranges are created equal. They offer a surprising range of colors and flavors and get a lot more interesting than your typical navel orange. Cara Cara oranges are a reddish-pink on the inside and are sweeter and less acidic, with some notes of red berries. Fresh Cara Cara juice paired wonderfully with the cacao nib syrup, adding some tang, freshness and delicate fruitiness.
I wanted a spirit that would play nicely with the chocolate and orange flavors rather than overpowering them, and jumped on my friend Lindsay’s idea to use white whiskey. White whiskey can range in flavor depending on the grain but is typically sweeter, less oaky and has more of a bite. Long Shot White Whiskey by Union Horse Distilling was a fun one to incorporate as it tastes a bit like a smoother unaged tequila and mixes well while retaining its character.
I finished the cocktail with a bar spoon of rose water for a touch of floral flavor and served it in an elegant coupe glass garnished with a Simply Mithai chocolate. If you choose to use a chocolate as a garnish, be sure to first heat your cocktail pick in some hot water so it can pierce the chocolate without breaking it (a shout-out to my crafty husband for having a steady hand to pull this off).
The resulting cocktail is a vibrant orange color and starts with tang, fruit and a hint of rose on the palate, finishing with the satisfying creaminess of chocolate.
A Romantic Gesture
1.5 oz white whiskey
1.5 oz fresh Cara Cara orange juice
0.75 oz toasted cacao nib syrup*
1 bar spoon rose water
To make cocktail, add all ingredients to a shaker with ice and shake until chilled and slightly foamy. Double strain into a coupe glass (single strain if you prefer pulp) and garnish with a chocolate. Present to your loved one as a thoughtful, romantic gesture.
*To make syrup, roast 0.5 cup of cacao nibs in the oven at 400 ºF for about 5 minutes, or until aromatic. Remove cacao nibs from oven and add to a small saucepan with 1.5 cups of water and 0.25 cup of raw cane surgar. Simmer for 15 minutes, then strain and allow to cool. Store excess in the fridge for up to 3 weeks and be sure to shake before using as it will separate due to the natural oils.
Thanks to Belen Aquino for the stunning cocktail photography, Lindsay for lending me the lovely Pottery Barn Monique Lhuillier coupes and arrow cocktail picks and Simpy Mithai for creating such beautiful chocolates and orange rose cake for the occasion!