This simple syrup was developed for adult flavored sodas, but has other functions as well. It can be used to flavor a dessert “salad” of strawberries and mozzarella a la a Caprese salad, or use it in cocktails or salad dressings. With herbs in the mint family (if it has a square-ish stem it is in the family) you must be careful not to over-steep or you wind up with a bitter taste. Start checking flavor at seven minutes, as eight is the magic number when making a tea with dried mint. Basil and fresh mint can often go longer. Although the anise and fennel are optional, they are there to compound and emphasize the flavors of the basil.
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup basil leaves, loosely packed
1 smallish pinch anise seed (less than 1/8 teaspoon)
10 fennel seeds
Put the sugar into the bottom of a small heavy-bottomed sauce pan. Carefully pour the water over the sugar trying not to splash. Bring to a boil over high heat — do NOT stir — and boil until the syrup is clear and has reduced by 25%. (Stirring disrupts sugar crystals on the side of the pan which later act like seed crystals which will cause your syrup to turn into rock candy.)
Once the syrup has reduced, lower the heat to low and allow to cool down a bit. Add the basil and spices if you are using them and carefully submerge the leaves into the syrup. Cook for seven minutes, and carefully taste for flavor and to see if the syrup is getting bitter. Continue cooking if not. Check every minute or so. Once the syrup is good and basil-y, or turning bitter, strain through a fine mesh strainer and allow to cool. Store in the refrigerator. Keeps a week or two.
YIELD: 1 cup