In my home town of Louisville just about everyone has a julep some time during Kentucky Derby weekend, which falls this year on May 7-8. If you buy a julep at the race track, you can keep the souvenir glass imprinted with the names of all the winning horses since the Derby began in 1875. Some people collect the beautiful silver julep cups.
Although the original mint julep was made by combining fresh mint leaves with sugar and water, the newer method is to make mint syrup. You can prepare this up to a week ahead of time, so it's easier to make your own juleps if you are watching the Run for the Roses at home.
Here's how to make fresh mint syrup in the microwave.
MINT JULEP SYRUP
2 cups water
2 cups sugar
20 sprigs mint
Combine water and sugar in 2-quart microwave casserole. Microwave at HIGH (100% power) 8 to 10 minutes, stirring after 4 minutes, until completely dissolved and clear. Add mint sprigs, cover and let stand overnight. Strain out leaves and refrigerate syrup, covered, in glass jar. Makes about 2 cups.
To make Traditional Kentucky Derby Mint Julep, pour 1 to 2 ounces (2 to 4 tablespoons) Mint Julep Syrup over shaved ice in 10-ounce glass. Stir in about 2 ounces (4 tablespoons) Kentucky bourbon. Garnish with mint sprigs, letting mint extend well above top of glass so you can enjoy its aroma while you sip.
Of course, untraditional versions of this drink are equally delicious. Substituting fruit juice or ginger ale for bourbon provides a no less spirited taste treat. And this Ice Cream Julep is my favorite way of celebrating the Derby, which has been called the most exciting two minutes in sports.
ICE CREAM JULEP
2 ounces (4 tablespoons) bourbon
2 tablespoons Mint Julep Syrup
1 cup vanilla ice cream
Combine bourbon, Mint Julep Syrup and ice cream in blender and process until smooth. Serve immediately in short glass, garnished with mint sprig. Makes 1 serving.
Not only to be served on the first Saturday in May, this festive Mint Julep Cheesecake is a delicious dessert for spring and summer. I like to drizzle chocolate sauce over each serving.
MINT JULEP CHEESECAKE
3 tablespoons butter
1 cup fine chocolate cookie crumbs
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup creme de menthe
1 teaspoon vanilla
Chocolate sauce, optional
Place butter in 8-inch round microwave dish. Microwave at HIGH (100% power) 30 to 45 seconds or until melted. Add crumbs and 2 tablespoons sugar. Stir with fork until well mixed. Lightly press on bottom and about halfway up sides of dish. Microwave at HIGH 1 to 1 1/2 minutes, rotating 1/2 turn every 30 seconds. Let stand while making cheesecake filling.
Place cream cheese in 2-quart microwave bowl. Microwave at MEDIUM (50% power) 3 to 5 minutes, until softened. Add remaining 1 cup sugar, flour, creme de menthe, eggs and vanilla. Beat with electric mixer at high speed until well blended.
Cover with plastic wrap, turning back 1 corner to vent. Microwave at MEDIUM HIGH (70% power) 10 to 12 minutes or until hot and thick enough to mound from spoon, whisking vigorously every 4 minutes. (Mixture will melt to shiny liquid, then thicken.) Pour into prepared crust.
For soft custard-like consistency, place cheesecake in refrigerator and chill at least 3 hours. For firm cheesecake-like consistency, continue microwaving at MEDIUM 10 to 13 minutes longer, until firm and top looks dry. Drizzle each serving with chocolate sauce. Makes 10 to 12 servings.