Disco Cubes: Ice is a big part of the mix in making great cocktails

Creating artisanal ice for large scale events, private clients and parties in Los Angeles is a continuation of Leslie Kirchhoff’s career as an artist, DJ and photographer for high-end magazines like Vogue. Feeling a little stifled and less than creative in her day-to-day work doing magazine shoots, she hit upon the idea of ice cubes as works of art–albeit not very permanent ones. She also realized that while putting large ice cubes in drinks was trendy, putting something in the ice cube itself wasn’t being done. Using that as a springboard she started Disco Cubes, where she creates handcrafted ice so beautiful and/or unique that it turns a mere cocktail into a showpiece.

         “The cube itself is just the container for whatever you put inside, like a tiny 3-dimensional blank canvas where gravity doesn’t quite exist,” says Kirchhoff who describes great cocktails as similar to multi-sensory sculptures. “Mixologists are truly becoming artists, much like chefs have become. You have the architectural elements, like the shape and texture of the glassware, the color and clarity of the drink. Every element is so carefully calculated that it’s a wonder why more people aren’t experimenting with ice.”

Now Kirchhoff is sharing her ice cube recipes in the recently released Disco Cube Cocktails: 100+ innovative recipes for artful ice and drinks. The name Disco harkens to both a renewed interest in the designs, clothing and aesthetics of that era as well as her own work as a DJ. Kirchhoff also is very much influenced in her ice works by Danish designer Verner Panton who she describes as an inventor as well and the first to make a single-form injection-molded chair.

          I just love everything about him,” she says, impressed by Panton’s ability to find a balance between the weird and the practical while have fun doing so.  

         A perfectionist when it comes to cubes, Kirchhoff also read up on the physics of freezing and talks about polishing ice cubes to make them perfect. In other words, Disco Cubes isn’t just cracking open an ice cube tray or putting a glass under the dispenser on the refrigerator.

Some of her recipes have multiple steps and include ingredients we’re not likely to have on hand. Others are simpler and those are the ones I’m starting off with here. If you like them and want to go more experimental, I’ve included the more complicated ones at the end.

Makes 4 Spears
4 fresh herb sprigs [about 4 inches long]
5¼ in clear Collins cube mold

Place one herb sprig into each Collins cube compartment. Fill the mold with water and freeze until solid, about 30 hours.
Remove the cubes from the mold, polish them, and keep frozen until ready to use.
Polishing Cubes
As with metal that needs polishing or wood that needs sanding, ice sometimes needs a little love before it’s ready for its close-up. Cubes may have seams from two-part molds, lumpy tops, or other imperfections you want to smooth out. This process must be done quickly, especially in a warm environment.
Shaping Herbal Spears
A sharp paring knife can easily skim off the seam from an ice sphere. Hold the cube with a microfiber cloth in one hand, while carefully carving with the knife facing toward you, rotating the sphere away from you as you go.

These are easy to make and can be used in drinks such as Bloody Marys, Margaritas and Michelada (chilled Mexican beer mixed with other ingredients such as lime juice and Worcestershire sauce) that require spicing up.
Makes Enough for 10 to 15 Drinks
1 ounce hot sauce
2 cups water
Quarter sheet pan, to use as ice mold

In a glass measuring cup, combine the hot sauce with 2 cups of water. Place a quarter sheet pan in the freezer, and carefully pour the hot sauce mixture directly into the pan. Freeze until solid, about 2 hours.
Pop the entire sheet of ice off the tray and transfer to a 1 gallon freezer bag until ready to use. When ready to serve, with the ice still in the bag, shatter it into various-size pieces [anywhere from 1 to 4 inches, or 2.5 inches in length] using a mallet or rolling pin.

You don’t have to wait until the holidays to serve this one. It can be a cool summer drink as well.
Makes 24 Servings
Four 750 ml bottles prosecco, chilled
24 ounces Peppered Cranberry Syrup (see recipe below)
16 ounces vodka
¾ ounce orange bitters
1 Rosemary Wreath (see recipe below)

In a large punch bowl, combine the prosecco, cranberry syrup, vodka, and bitters. Stir to mix. Gently add the ice wreath and serve.
Peppered Cranberry Syrup
Makes About 24 Ounces
4 cups cranberries [two 12 ounce packages]
1 cup sugar
4 ounces apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons peppercorns, coarsely cracked

In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the cranberries, sugar, apple cider vinegar, and peppercorns with 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool. Refrigerate the mixture for at least 6 hours, or overnight. Strain it twice through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl and refrigerate in an airtight container until ready to serve, or for up to 1 week.
Rosemary Wreath
Makes 1 Ice Wreath
1 tablespoon dried hibiscus flowers
One 8 cup Bundt pan
1 or 2 bunches rosemary sprigs

In a large heatproof glass measuring cup, steep the hibiscus flowers in 32 ounces of hot water for 5 minutes.
If using a silicone Bundt pan, place it on a quarter sheet pan.
Arrange the rosemary sprigs in a wreath shape inside the pan. Through a fine mesh strainer, pour the hibiscus tea into the mold, then add 2 cups of water. Use the sheet pan to transfer the mold to the freezer and freeze until solid, about 8 hours, or overnight.
Makes 2 Cocktails
2 Radish Cubes
2 cucumber strips
4 ounces Miso Butter Washed Suntory (see recipe below)
1½ ounces freshly squeezed lemon juice
¾ ounce Radish Simple Syrup (see recipe below)

Place 1 Radish Cube in each of two Old-Fashioned glasses to temper. Add 1 cucumber strip to each glass, circling the cube and touching the side of the glass.
In a cocktail shaker filled with plain ice, combine the whisky, lemon juice, and radish simple syrup. Cover and shake for 15 seconds, then double strain into the glasses.
Radish Cubes
Makes 4 Cubes
4 micro radishes, or small red radishes,
stems trimmed so total size is about 2½ inches
2-inch clear ice cube mold
Place 1 radish in each compartment of the clear cube mold. Fill the mold with water and freeze until solid, about 30 hours. Remove the cubes from the mold, polish them, and keep frozen until ready to use.
Miso Butter Washed Suntory
Makes 2 Cups
4 ounces unsalted butter
1 teaspoon sweet white miso paste (can substitute soy sauce instead)
2 cups Suntory whisky (or other bourbon)

In a small pan set over medium heat, melt the butter. Whisk in miso paste to combine. Remove from heat and let cool slightly. Combine the melted miso butter and bourbon in a lidded wide-mouth container, then cover and shake briefly to combine.
Let sit at room temperature for at least 2 hours, then transfer to the freezer for at least 6 hours or overnight. Remove the hardened butter from the top of the bourbon and set aside, then strain the mixture through a coffee filter set inside a sieve and into another lidded jar. Store infused bourbon in the refrigerator for up to a month.
Radish Simple Syrup*
Makes about ¾ Cup
½ cup sugar
½ cup thinly sliced radishes

In a small saucepan over high heat, combine the sugar and ½ cup of water. Heat, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and add the radishes. Cover and let steep at room temperature for at least 2 hours, then strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a lidded jar or bottle.
*Beware the pungent smell of making this simple syrup.
“In 1973, Manu Dibango brought an infec¬tious groove from Africa to the dance floors of downtown New York City with his mas¬sive global hit, “’Soul Makossa,’ which flew off shelves so quickly that even DJs had a hard time getting their hands on a copy,” says Kirchhoff. “The infectious sax riff and vocal chant were covered, sampled, and famously ripped off time and time again, most notably by Michael Jackson in ‘Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’. With these cubes you’ll have a party in your glass faster than you can say ‘ma-mako, ma-ma-sa, mako-mako ssa.’”
Makes 1 Cocktail
1 Tangerine Turmeric Cube (see recipe below)
2 ounces tequila
Soda water or tonic water, for topping off
3 dashes Angostura bitters
Lime wheel, for garnish

Place the Tangerine Turmeric Cube on a cutting board and using a serrated knife cut it diag¬onally through the middle. Place both halves into a white wine glass or Old-Fashioned glass. Pour the tequila over the top, then top with soda or tonic water, bitters, and lime wheel.
Tangerine Turmeric Cubes
Makes 4 Cubes
8 ounces freshly squeezed tangerine juice, strained
2 ounces fresh turmeric juice, strained (see note below)
2 ounces Honey Simple Syrup (see below)
12 dashes of orange bitters
Collins cube tray

In a large glass measuring cup, combine the tangerine juice, turmeric juice, simple syrup, and orange bitters. Pour the mixture into the tray and freeze until solid, about 4 hours.
Simple Honey Syrup
1 cup water
1 cup honey

Combine water and honey in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high, stirring constantly until honey dissolves. Remove from heat and let cool about 30 minutes until it is at room temperature. Store refrigerator in airtight container, it should keep for up to 2 weeks.
Note: Turmeric juice can be found locally at Apple Valley Market in Berrien Springs and GNC in Benton Harbor or if you don’t want to buy it then consider mixing a little ground turmeric with carrot or orange juice.
The above recipes are reprinted from Disco Cubes by Leslie Kirchhoff with permission by Chronicle Books, 2020.
Jane Ammeson can be contacted via email at janeammeson@gmail.com or by writing to Focus, The Herald Palladium, P.O. Box 128, St. Joseph, MI 49085.

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