Now that it's getting chilly out I've been revisiting one of my favorite hot drinks - Cafe Brulot. This is an old New Orleans drink frequently enjoyed after dinner. Lots of recipes attribute it's origin to Jules Alciatore at the New Orleans restaurant Antoine's in the 1890s while some claim the the drink's creation involved the pirate Jean Lafitte. The origin might be somewhat murky but the basic ingredients are pretty consistent among the various versions floating around. Coffee, brandy, triple sec (and/or sugar), citrus peels, cloves and cinnamon. And fire. The fire is what really makes this drink a show stopper. Since it also happens to taste delicious, the fire and crowd-pleasing theatrics are a bonus - they're not masking up a ho-hum drink. To make it in bulk I use an old circular chafing dish with a handle. It came with a burner which I fill with denatured alcohol. These are all over flea markets and yard sales (though sometimes they're missing the water pan). They can be ornate, inexpensive...and occasionally difficult to clean. But for this sort of thing they're perfect and allow you to undertake the whole production at the table.
Part of the fun of making Cafe Brulot is that service of the drink culminates in ladling flaming liquid down a clove studded orange peel. To do that you need to have a fair amount of brandy and triple sec involved. Enough to dunk the ladle into it without needing to tilt the vessel containing the flaming mixture. That sort of volume requires company. Which is fine except that sometimes I want it when we don't have plans to have people over. I wondered if there wasn't a way to make it on a smaller scale while still incorporating some of the pyrotechnics.
Since most beakers are made of borosilicate and can handle being put over a flame I figured I'd build the drink in one of those, put it over a tea light and see what happened*. It worked, though as you can see from the pictures there was some rigging involved with sake cups and a small stack of quarters. Ladling the fire wasn't really an option here but it still ignited fine and flamed up nicely as the coffee was added. The coffee eventually overtook the flames and put the fire out.
Sean sent me this link for a better stand on which the beaker can rest. If you haven't been to the American Science and Surplus site, or seen their catalog, you're in for a treat. They also have beakers and a burner which burns denatured alcohol. You could pretty much get everything you need for under $30. Plus you can pick up the balloonicopter,candy powered car and EMF tester you've always been wanting.
With a full batch you can ignite a ladle full of the liquid and pour it down the orange peel where it ignites the rest of the liquid in the bowl/dish. I don't have a ladle that small so I just lit the whole thing and let it burn for a little bit before adding the coffee.
This recipe is a hybrid from a few that are out there and reflects the quantities necessary for a single serving. If making in bulk I usually multiply the liquids by the amount of servings needed. Bulk quantities for peels and spices are a little more by feel depending on the overall quantity being made.
1 lemon - long spiral peel
1 orange - long spiral peel
2 oz Brandy - Saint Vivant Armagnac
1 oz Triple Sec - Cointreau
1 Cinnamon Stick
4-6 oz Hot Coffee
Peel the citrus in a long spiral. Express the oils into the beaker and drop in the lemon peel. Stud the orange peel with the cloves and drop that one in too (you could probably skip actually putting the cloves into the peel, I'm just used to doing it that way). Add the brandy, triple sec and cinnamon stick and ignite the heat source below. Brew a cup of coffee. When the brandy mixture is more-than-warm/somewhat-hot ignite it. Let it burn for a little bit. If you sprinkle some powdered cinnamon here it will spark up festively. If the orange peel is poking out of the liquid it will start to burn too and that's a good time to add the coffee. Otherwise maybe 15-20 seconds. Pour the coffee over the flame which will probably jump up a little before eventually going out. Sometimes you may need to stir it to put out the flames. Extinguish the heat source below and strain your Brulot into a cup.
If doing this on a larger scale with some sort of chafing dish the steps are mostly the same. Reserve the clove studded orange peel though because you can ladle the flaming liquid down the peel and into the dish a few times. Thread the last inch or so of the orange peel through the tines of a fork and use the handle to position the peel over the dish. I've found that adding an extra clove at the end of the peel will keep it from slipping through the fork. The flames will linger a bit longer if you pour the coffee along the inside edge of the dish.
*Best to go with new beakers as used ones may have been exposed to all kinds of stuff you wouldn't really want to drink.