The first time I stopped into Jestine's in Charleston-a homestyle family restaurant famous for fried whiting and a line that winds around the block, I was told dessert is mandatory.
After a spread of dense chicken and limas and buttery biscuits, a Coca Cola cake sounded joltingly weird enough to get me back on my feet-or maybe just push me over the edge in full-on food coma. Long a fixture in vintage cookbooks, sodas like cola and root beer have found a variety of uses in cooking. It's also not completely outlandish to see cakes made with orange or lemon-lime soda-get experimental with the sodas you try.
Root beer's flavor ranges from anise to sassafras, and it makes a great addition to savory cooking (especially barbecue). Cola packs in a similarly tough-to-describe flavor, with traces of vanilla, cinnamon, and citrus.
If you're avoiding high fructose corn syrup, there are plenty of alternative artisanal sodas that use cane sugar instead. It's the carbonation and flavoring you want from sodas like root beer or cola-the syrupy body isn't necessary.
Soda belongs in your cooking, folks, and we've got some ideas on how to make it really pop.
Cola's high acidity and caramel flavor makes a surprisingly good meat tenderizer. Cola typically has a pH of about 2.7-for comparison, lemon juice has a pH of 2-making it acidic enough to break down some proteins without dissolving your meat. Soda acts as great tenderizer-you could get a tender cut of meat grill-ready in less than a half-hour. Cola-tenderizing for 24 hours yields a meat dish that practically melts, like this Atlanta brisket.
Try braising with cola, like you would with wine. Some carnitas would be excellent with the tang of cola and orange juice, and with only a 40-minute marinade, you could even pull it off on a weeknight.
Make a barbecue-friendly glaze with cherry soda, (a good use for leftover liter bottles from a party). Reduce the liquid by three-quarters, then add cherry jam, vinegar, soy sauce, and mustard. Cook that down for about another hour, and you have a rich, fruit-forward sauce for barbecue ribs. You can use a similar approach to make a cola sauce with cooked onions and jarred chili sauce.
Boost your next batch of baked beans and add root beer with cider vinegar, tomato paste, and chili powder before baking the beans.
In the same way that it tenderizes brisket or pork ribs, soda contributes a little tenderness to a chocolate cake's batter. A Coca Cola sheet cake like the one I had at Jestine's doesn't even need sugar in the batter. If you want to take it the traditional route, fluff it up with marshmallows in the batter and a crunchy crumble of pecans on top.
How does this work? The carbonation of the soda releases bubbles that get trapped in the batter, working just like a baking soda without the metallic taste. You'll still need a little baking soda in a cola cake, but soda works as a extra push of leavening, with a tart taste.
There's no question of whether root beer works in creamy applications for dessert-hello root beer floats-but it also bubbles up dramatically with baking soda for a tender cake.
If you really want to take soda love to a sweet place, bring root beer to a boil with milk to make a pudding that replicates a root beer float.