Popovers, hangovers and Butter & Scotch

butter-scotch_cover_web“For Keavy, a chocolate chip cookie is one of the most perfect desserts ever created, and she eats one, without guilt, every single day.”

Based on recipes from Butter & Scotch Bar & Bakery in Brooklyn and written by founders Allison Kave and Keavy Landreth, Butter & Scotch is a dazzling spree of pie crusts, cakes, cocktails, cookies, and more cocktails. It’s an almanac of joyous indulgence & happy carnage.

Let’s start with the food. There’s an incredible goody-bag here – cupcake batters and frostings, pies, popovers, buns and BLTs. Milkshakes, biscuits and shortcake. Toffee trifle. Milk and Cookies. Stuff that made your eyes go wide as saucers when you were a kid may well have a night-out twist in Butter & Scotch. The milk that accompanies these cookies is a White Russian.

So if you’re reading Butter & Scotch in search of great baking, great bar food, you’ve got exactly the right book. It keeps on offering, page after page: there’s a Twin Peaks cherry pie, Brooklyn Biscuits, Popcorn, Mama T’s Tuna Quiche, the Whatchamacallthat Pie …

Drawn like a moth to a striplight, I made the cookies first. Massively impressed by the resulting cookie dough – a great sweet bowlful you could just eat with your bare hands – I was pretty happy with the chewy & salty cookies themselves. A great mound of proper toffee-like cookie dough is a thing to behold, and be proud of, and until this recipe I hadn’t really ever got it right. I even managed to leave the dough alone in the fridge overnight because with these cookies, patience is the secret.

I tried the Yorkshire Popovers, which in Butter & Scotch are served with jam. These amazing hillsides of dough puff up in the oven like giant molars. Curiously, they are like the Yorkshire Puddings we have in the UK, and yet curiously not like them. But I thought they were way better than any Yorkshires I’d ever succeeded in making before – crunchy outside and lush and pillowy inside. I tried them with jam as an experiment, and must admit –  raised as I am in the dogma of Bisto gravy for Yorkshires – it was X-Files,  but delicious.

I also made the Candied Pecans. Why I bothered to go through the pretence of taking them from the oven and putting them in a Kilner I have absolutely no idea; you may as well eat these things straight from the tray with your face. Buttery & sugary, these nut confections are extremely addictive. Mine were gone in under an hour.

These pecans, I thought, would go well with a drink …

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butterandscotch_shakersI really enjoyed baking and cooking from Butter & Scotch, and there are lots and lots of recipes I’m going to back to in the future – especially that Twin Peaks pie. But, the testing really came to life when the cocktail shaker came out. No point evading it: there is some proper, serious drinking to be done from Butter & Scotch. It’s right at the heart of the book’s very reason for being.

And what brilliant, brilliant fun it is too. Suddenly I was heating cocktail syrups, shipping in quarts of coffee ice cream & shamelessly building great bowls of whipped cream like I was going into business. And buying Kahlua. And bitters. And Vermouth. I staggered back from the Co-op with bags of ice. It was time to drink.

I listened to music all the while I was creating and boozing: Butter & Scotch music. The book has a playlist from the bar in the back pages – and not just a list of songs, but a collection of songs with stories; narratives for music that is the fabric of Butter & Scotch.  It’s a totally brilliant idea – I’ve never seen it before in a cookbook – so I moved speakers into the kitchen, loaded their tunes on Spotify, a few of my own, and started to test …

North Sea Scullery is a very vodka and gin biased outfit, and unashamedly partisan when it comes to brand. Out of respect for bar-folk the calibre of Allison & Keavy there was no way I was using any old bathwater – it had to be very best spirits from our local Arbikie Highland Estate. Arbikie Potato Vodka is devoutly my vodka of choice – and normally I just drink it dashed over ice neat. The fact Arbikie is magicked to life  just up the road makes it even better and the smoothly smooth vanilla taste is perfect for cocktails. Arbikie is an elite spirit & normally I cherish it like liquid diamonds – so thank you, thank you Katie at the Estate for facilitating this important transatlantic research!

First up, the Union Street Collins. I had to substitute the Hibiscus Clover Syrup for a vanilla of my own devising, but overall, I thought it worked very well and the nippy old-style lemonade-iness is exquisitely tart. A full double vodka goes into this frizzy & chilled delight: “Sherbety fantastisness,” say my helpful notes. Like all good cocktails, there’s a real belt to it, but a deeply pleasant sweet-shop sort of vibe that for me is the dark attraction of the whole mixology business.

butterandscotch_attheopticsThere’s an amazing menu of cool stuff to drink in the book – including Bloody Marys, Jell-Ohh Shots & Cocktail Caramel Corns – but one of the really fun things about Butter & Scotch for me is the section on boozy shakes.

The Ramos Gin Fizz is a case in point. This creamy, orangey masterpiece calls for a big double of gin – and again I used Arbikie’s superior Kirsty’s, which is perfect because it already has a clean citrus & rosey kick. I also went local where the recipe calls for a tablespoon of marmalade – where else but The Dundee Orange from Mackays, a copper-panned wonder they’ve been making in Dundee since 1938? My granny’s favourite marmalade!

I had worked ahead here – for a mercy – and ordered orange flower water from Amazon, and combined with some other bits of alchemy like lime juice and then great fistfuls of vanilla ice cream, the whole Ramos experiment is a supreme jaffa milkshake with a nostalgic organgey-fool pudding pull – completed by that great whack of gin. Remember the orange ice cream Nigella Lawson made? It’s a bit like that, but designed for dancing. Creamola Foam, Gin & Ice Cream. Something like that …

I followed a couple of Fizzes with the sharp edge of a Butter & Scotch Martini simply because I love Martinis. Bohemian Rhapsody was playing, Bob Marley was playing, The Specials were playing & suddenly it was 3Am.

It was all going very well indeed …

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I don’t usually drink alcohol first thing in the morning but recipe testing is a serious business. Armed with my customised hangover, it was time to try the Butter & Scotch Manmosa.

The Manmosa is a very dangerous discovery. Inspired by a Metro-North trip after a night on the town, Keavy’s Manmosa is a pint glass blend of super-chilled lager and freshly squeezed orange. It’s the ultimate balm for cocktail excess. Not unlike that old trick of submerging a vodka in a pint of fresh orange, lemonade & ice, the Manmosa is a proper livener. The beeriness is disguised and citrussy, almost hidden. Refreshing, uplifting, restorative. Best to have another one, I thought, in the interest of balance.

Another pick-me-up is the Pepsi & Milk.  You don’t have to add booze, but I added vodka. It reminded me a lot of cola floats, that giddy mix of fizzy and creamy you remember from formica cafes & childhood summer holidays in the rain. Allison’s dad drove a Pepsi truck in Brooklyn, and her story for this drink is another example of the nostalgia & love at work in Butter & Scotch; it’s this sharing of history & the simplicity of our favourite things to eat and drink that I look for most in cookbooks.

I’m saving the best for last. Again, I’d prepared for this one. The Honeychile Rider cocktail (pictured above) requires chilli honey, so this involved some sterilising and infusing the week before, then waiting. But it’s worth it, because the gobstoppery thrum of heat is the key ingredient in this amazing drink. The more infused the honey, the fiercer it’ll get. The Honeychile’s testy exploration of warmth, gin, bitters and syrup is something really special. There’s a bit of prep as I say – and you need passion fruit puree, which I had to order in specially – but in the end, it’s inspirational. The hangover was gone and it was night-time again.

By this stage, there’s nothing else to do but fix an El Dudorino or three as the sun goes down. The Dudorino is a Kahlua and Vodka ice cream wonder that teams essence of Lebowski with spirit of Charlie Brown & Snoopy. It’s fabulous. Time to turn up the tunes, separate the liquor-stuck pages of Butter & Scotch with a spatula, and relax.

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Butter & Scotch is a great book. It’s full of really exciting & scrumptious food. You’re not going to lose weight and you’ll be glowing with booze not quinoa, but you’re going to love it. Cookbooks can be stern and intimidating, but Butter & Scotch is like a night out with your best mate. And if said best mate likes cocktails and toffee trifle, then your Christmas Present worries are also solved – buy them this book immediately.

I want to be sure though not to make light of Butter & Scotch just because it’s such a laugh and there’s so much drinking involved. At the end of the day these are considered, perfected recipes made by very skilled people who know their baking and their cocktails. That’s why they work so well. These are artisan good times.

Happy minutes; special book.


allisonkeavy

Hangover cleared, North Sea Scullery caught up with Allison & Keavy to ask about their book, their bar and points in between.

NSS: One of the things I really love about your book is the strong sense of the bar’s identity & people that sings out of the pages – particularly the anarchy and indulgence! But there’s also nostalgia there too – I’m thinking of the Pepsi & Milk, for example. There’s a whole life-time of experience deciding the Butter & Scotch way of life?

A&K: Thank you, it sounds like you totally got what we’re going for! Nostalgia fuels so much of what we do, from the music we play in the bar, to the desserts we serve. It’s a starting point for a lot of our recipe testing, and we both strive to incorporate nods to our personal histories in our menu. The Mary Ellen is a pairing we serve, inspired by Keavy’s grandmother, who would order a small cup of soup when out to dinner, leave it untouched, and then get a martini and a hot fudge sundae for her real dinner. That type of indulgence is what we’re all about!

NSS: Butter & Scotch is the only cookbook I have with a playlist! So, I was listening to the bar’s music while I was testing your food and booze! Can you say a bit about how important music is in the ambience of Butter & Scotch?

A&K: I don’t think we can overstate the importance of music in shaping the experience at Butter & Scotch. Which is not to say it’s always going to be the same when you come in: Depending on the time of day, weather, who’s bartending, number of patrons in the bar, etc., we tailor the music to match. There’s a lot of 90s jams, a lot of lady jams, some hip hop, some doowop, some early rock & roll… it’s a super eclectic mix.

NSS: Obviously, we’re delighted to see lots of Scotch Whisky throughout the book! I really like the way you distinguish between recipes that call for a blend, say, or a peaty malt like Laphroaig – a Scullery favourite! If you had to name one, is there a ‘most popular whisky’ at Butter & Scotch, and really what’s the best thing about drinking whisky?

We love Scotch whisky! Allison actually just returned from a trip to Scotland and is hankering to add a few more to our selection. One of our favorite things about whisky is the range of flavor that you get from a product served within a relatively small geographical area. The amount of peat used, the type of barrels, the water – all of this contributes to the final, unique flavor of the whisky. For neat pours, the two most popular choices at B&S seem to be Laphroaig and Macallan (very different ends of the spectrum!).  Allison has a cocktail on the menu called the Rita & Bernie, which is a riff on a Rob Roy cocktail, with brown butter-infused Scotch, some vermouth amaro, and bitters. It’s named for her great aunt & uncle who live in Manhattan. Bernie is over 100 years old, Rita’s on her way, and they both drink Scotch whisky every day at 5pm, which they credit in part to their longevity!

butterandscotch_barNSS: From the photographs, Butter & Scotch looks like a great place.  You clearly had a really definite sense for how you wanted the bar to look?

A&K: We did indeed! We brought in our amazingly talented friend Lindsay Mound, who helped to define our look both in terms of the interior design as well as a lot of our packaging and brand design. She came up with this sort of twisted version of a 1950s soda shop meets sexy neon-lit lounge, and it really works! There’s lots of geometric shapes and strong colors and patterns – we get a lot of people taking selfies in here!

NSS: When we were testing from your book, we really got stuck into the cocktails! I get a real feel for invention and experimentation (and refinement!) in the way you go about creating your cocktails, and your food?

A&K: Thank you! We are very open when we’re developing recipes, taking inspiration from all kinds of things, from childhood nostalgia to new taste combinations and flavors we experience dining out in NYC. We start rough, and then test until we get to where we want to be! Sometimes that happens quickly, sometimes it takes a number of attempts before we land on it.

NSS: What are your future plans? Another bar maybe further down the line?

A&K: We definitely see more locations down the road, but don’t have any concrete plans for that just yet. We are definitely interested in writing more cookbooks (we already have ideas for 2 more!), and are looking into other ways to grow our brand – watch this space, there should be more to come soon!

NSS: Cheers to you both!


nss-blasterThe North Sea Scullery
Butter & Scotch Playlist

A Message to You Rudy, The Specials
The Specials

Trenchtown Rock, Bob Marley & The Wailers
Live!

(White Man) in Hammersmith Palais, The Clash
Story of The Clash

History Song, The Good, the Bad & the Queen
The Good, the Bad & the Queen

Watching the Detectives, Elvis Costello
The Best of the First Ten Years

Take Me Home, Country Roads, Toots & The Maytals
In the Dark

Mr Fire Coal Man, Stiff Little Fingers
Go for It

Train to Skaville, The Ethiopians
Train to Skaville

One Step Beyond, Madness
One Step Beyond

Private Life, Pretenders
Pretenders

Pressure Drop, The Clash
Black Market Clash

Israelites, Desmond Dekker
The Definitive Collection

Walking on the Moon, The Police
Regatta de Blanc

007 (Shanty Town) The Selecter
Street Feeling

Bhindi Bhagee, Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros
Global A Go-Go

Punky Reggae Party Dub, Bob Marley & The Wailers
Exodus

The Liquidator, Harry J Allstars
Liquidator

Enjoy Yourself (It’s Later Than You Think), The Specials
More Specials


Big Huge Thank Yous: Allison & Keavy at Butter & Scotch, Jessica at Abrams & Chronicle, Katie at Arbikie

All images: © Molly Landreth and Jenny Riffle.

Butter & Scotch: Recipes from Brooklyn’s Favorite Bar and Bakery by Allison Kave and Keavy Landreth (Abrams, £19.99)