It frightens me to walk through the soda aisle at the supermarket. I avoid that section at all costs, hoping to dodge my nightmares of swimming in thousands of pounds of processed high fructose corn syrup and cloyingly sweet canned beverages. I really don’t like overwhelmingly sweet, sticky sodas, and I don’t drink store bought ones at all.
But if you spot me at MGFD or at Harry’s Pizzeria, you’ll probably catch me drinking soda. Homemade soda. Flavors like local lychee and vanilla-allspice are always complemented with blissful thoughts of sunshine, summertime and sparkling fresh flavor. They are the bright, natural flavors that have made me a true fan of soda again.
I have always been curious to know exactly what goes on in the MGFD kitchen that makes these sodas just so good. I pictured a top secret soda prep room in the back of the kitchen, full of test tubes and white lab coats, where only the pastry and beverage department team members were ever allowed. How else could such a refreshing soda be prepared, right? Well, I put aside my imagination for a couple of minutes and sat down with Beverage Manager Ryan Goodspeed, at what’s becoming my usual spot at the bar, and investigated just how they make their sodas so irresistible.
Ryan began by explaining that the sodas were actually first offered as a special, created by Executive Pastry Chef Hedy Goldsmith. After gaining quite the fan base, the sodas were added to the menu permanently. In true Genuine style, the flavors change constantly, reflecting seasonal ingredients in a fresher, more sparkling way.
Making the homemade sodas is very straight forward. The sodas are composed of 2 ounces flavored simple syrup and 4 ounces soda, a ratio of one to two. But, to start this ratio all off, the MGFD team must first make the basic simple syrup, equal parts water and sugar, which is brought to a boil and then set to cool. The flavors are incorporated into that basic recipe. The key though is understanding the nuisances of each flavor, because they cannot all be added to the syrup in the same way.
Ryan explained that different fruits should be added at different times of the syrup preparation. Strawberries or blueberries are usually added to a pot and boiled down prior to being stirred with the water and sugar. But treating lychees in the same manner would strip the fruit of it’s bright flavor. Raw, pureed lychees are added to a cooled simple syrup for the lychee soda instead.
The same thought process applies to herbs, like basil, mint or rosemary. These are added at the last minute of the boiling process, and removed shortly thereafter. The extraction of herb flavor occurs quite rapidly, and the extraction could be diminished or tarnished if the herbs are left in the syrup for a longer time. Also, Ryan mentioned that if mint is added to the cooling syrup, the team is careful to remove the stems prior to the addition. Mint stems could potentially add a bitter, unpleasant flavor to the syrup.
Ryan has graciously shared the recipe for the cola soda and I know that this will be added to my rotation of homemade recipes. The best part? It packs a whole lot of that sparkling, Genuine fresh flavor.
Homemade Cola Syrup
Makes about 1 quart cola syrup (enough for about 10-15 cola sodas)
1 quart water
zest of 2 large oranges
zest of 2 large limes
zest of 2 large lemons
1 cinnamon stick, crushed
1 nutmeg, grated
1 star anise pod, crushed
2 tbsp chopped ginger
1 vanilla bean, split and scooped
1 quart white sugar
1 cup (packed) light brown sugar
In a heavy pot over medium heat, bring the water to a simmer with the zests, cinnamon, nutmeg, star anise, ginger, and vanilla bean (both the pod and the innards). Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer gently for 10 minutes. Add white and light brown sugar. Stir to dissolve.
Line a sieve or colander with a double thickness of cheesecloth and place over the bowl. Pour the contents of the pot through the sieve. Allow to cool and refrigerate until ready to use.
To assemble the cola soda, pour 2 oz homemade cola syrup over ice and top with 4 oz soda water.