Update: Per Henry’s suggestion in the comments, cooking the lemon low and slow results in even better caramelizing.
I was a little under the weather this week, which put a damper on my enthusiasm for cooking and especially coming up with new ideas. Fortunately, there is one thing I enjoy when I have a cold—a nice hot toddy—that includes lemons, which our generous neighbors have plenty of, and are willing to share.
I didn’t feel it would be right to just make a hot toddy and call the week good, since that would really only entail squeezing a lemon wedge over a cup of hot whiskey, honey and water. I tried to think of something to up the ante, and finally found inspiration in an old memory from college. One night while making mulled wine, a Russian friend showed us a way to eat lemon slices as a snack. She sliced a thin round, covered it in sugar and popped it straight into her mouth, rind and all. We may have been a touch skeptical at first, but we quickly became converts. I figured that I could cover a lemon slice in sugar this way, then caramelize it before adding it to a hot toddy for both a burst of lemon and sweetness.
I sliced a few 1/4 inch thick rounds from a nice fresh lemon. It’s really amazing how good a fresh lemon smells—entirely more fragrant and rich than one that has been sitting in the store. I removed the seeds from each slice, then set them aside to prepare the sugar.
Rather than covering the lemons in just sugar, I decided to mix in some other spices that I like in a toddy, so that they would cook with the sugar and lemons. I chose allspice and cinnamon, but you could use anything you like. I didn’t measure, just tasted the mix a few times until it had the right balance. If I had to guess, I’d say it was about 1/3 cup of sugar, 1 tablespoon of allspice and 2 teaspoons of cinnamon.
I dredged each lemon slice in the sugar until they were well coated, then placed them in a sautÃ© pan over medium-high heat. The sugar and juices melted out of the lemons and began to smell slightly of marshmallow after about a minute and a half. I flipped the slices and continued to cook them for about another minute, then removed them and placed them on a cooling rack with paper towels underneath it. I also immediately ran the pan under water to rinse out the melted sugar, which would have been hell to clean if it had cooled.
As the lemons cooled, I sprinkled more of the sugar mixture over them, flipping them once to coat each side.
They took about 10 minutes to cool, which is plenty of time to heat a pot of water, and place whiskey and honey in a mug. I skewered each lemon with a small bamboo skewer and balanced it over the mug, then poured the hot water over the lemon and into the whiskey and honey. Once served, the lemon slice should be slid into the drink to flavor it more and to use as a stir stick.
Caramelized Lemon Hot Toddy:
2 oz. Bourbon
1 tsp. Honey
1 Caramelized Lemon Round
6 oz. Boiling Water
Mix bourbon and honey in a mug. Place skewered lemon round over drink and pour boiling water over lemon into mug. Steep lemon and use to stir drink occasionally.
More photos of the caramelized lemon process are here.