Cordial Recipes From Your Kitchen

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PHOTO: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
Some are time consuming because the mix has to sit and age, but otherwise most cordial recipes aren't difficult to prepare.

Amaretto, Kahlua, Strega, Drambuie, and other costly
imported liqueurs have enjoyed a tremendous popularity in
recent years. Folks have discovered that–aside from
their use in cocktails and as after dinner drinks–such
elixirs can turn ordinary dishes into fine cuisine
(and that a dollop of one of the heady beverages
in a cup of hot coffee can guarantee a warm, comfortable
conclusion to a cold day of ice fishing or woodcutting or
cross-country skiing).

Surprisingly, the budget-breaking connoisseur cordials are
quite simple–and comparatively inexpensive–to prepare
at home, because infusion (the steeping of ingredients in
an alcohol base) is the primary method employed in the art
of making liqueurs.

Such preparation doesn’t require much in the way of special
technical know-how or equipment: An aspiring
alchemist needs only measuring cups and spoons, a
good-sized saucepan, a funnel, some cheesecloth, a supply of empty bottles (wine, liquor, etc.) that can be
securely corked or sealed, and a few cordial recipes.

The Honey Factor

Homemade liqueurs are grouped into two basic types,
according to whether the sweetening ingredient is added
before or after the infusion period. Most
recipes call for sugar, but honey can be substituted in
many instances. In fact, the special “character” of some
liqueurs, such as Irish Mist and Drambuie, can be directly
traced to the distinctive flavor of the natural sweetener.

Clover honey is generally considered ideal for cordial
preparation, as its mild flavor won’t overpower the other
ingredients. The major disadvantage of using honey
is that your finished product may have a somewhat cloudy
appearance. This can be corrected, however, by carefully
siphoning the liquid into a clean bottle after the sediment
has had time to settle to the bottom.

Coffee Liqueur

I began my cordial-making career with a recipe for a coffee
liqueur. When vodka is used as the base spirit, this drink
will turn out much like Mexican Kahlua. If you
substitute dark rum for the vodka, it will taste more like
Jamaican Tia Maria. (Try serving the beverage over ice
cream for a great new twist on the conventional sundae!)

For either version, boil 1 cup of water in a saucepan,
gradually pour in 2 cups of sugar, and stir the
boiling mixture until the sweetener dissolves and the syrup
is clear. Add 2 ounces of instant espresso coffee powder
(or you could use 1 cup of very strong brewed
espresso–or other dark roast coffee–instead of
water as the liquid in the sugar syrup) and mix the
ingredients thoroughly. Remove the pan from the heat,
allow it to become cool to the touch, and stir in 1 pint
of 80-proof vodka or rum.

Now, place 1/2 of a vanilla bean (found in the grocery’s
spice section) in each of two bottles. Funnel in the
mixture and allow the brew to stand for three weeks in a
cool, dark cupboard. After the waiting period has elapsed,
shake each bottle to loosen any sediment, and strain the
liquid through a funnel lined with
cheesecloth into clean bottles that, again, contain
your recycled vanilla bean halves.

Golden Herbal Liqueur

Legend has it that Italian Strega was first created by
three beautiful witches, and that lovers who share the
magical potion will never be parted.

Preparing a similar beverage involves sweetening the brew
after its rest period, and requires angelica root,
an herb that may prove difficult to find (though most
well-stocked health food stores should either
carry it themselves or be able to refer you to a source).

To make the spicy cordial, remove the seeds from 6 cardamom
pods, add 3 teaspoons of anise seed, and crush all
the kernels with the back of a fork. Put them in a 1-quart
container with 2 1/4 teaspoons of chopped angelica root, 1
three-inch-long cinnamon stick, 1 clove, 1/4 teaspoon of
mace, and 1 fifth of 80-proof vodka. Shake the mixture
well and store it in a cupboard for one week. Then pour it
through a cheesecloth-lined strainer several times, and
blend the liquid with 1 cup of sugar syrup (see previous
recipe). The liqueur can be consumed immediately after
sweetening.

“Almond” Liqueur

This delicately almond-flavored cordial is a bit taxing to
prepare, because the required apricot or peach pits are
difficult to crush. I’ve found, however, that partially
filling a cloth bag (such as an old pillowcase) with pits
and then pounding them with a hammer gets the job done well
enough.

The rest is easy. Just place two cups of smashed pits (the
crushed shells seem to add as much flavor as do their meaty
centers, so use everything!) in a 1-quart container, and
add 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon of ground
coriander, and 2 cups of 100-proof vodka. Store the
infusion for two months in a cool, dark place, then
filter it through a cheesecloth-lined strainer and discard
the fruit pits. Sweeten the almond nectar with 1 cup of
sugar syrup, and store it until the liquid clears.

A Final Note

Though your homemade liqueurs will certainly be of
marketable quality, their sale would be in
violation of laws governing the disposal of alcoholic
beverages. (Neither should the drinks be labeled with their
“proprietary” names: Kahlua, Strega, or what have you.)

The laws, however, don’t place restrictions on
“kitchen cordials” as gifts. In fact, the most pleasant use
I’ve found for my creations is to present them to my
friends (and foraging thrift stores and garage sales for
interesting containers has proved to be nearly as much fun
as making the cordials in the first place!).

What’s more, I’ve mentioned just a very few of the infinite
possibilities for creating fine liqueurs. So, go on …
experiment! You have all the fruits and spices of the earth
from which to extract an unlimited variety of aromas,
flavors, and colors. Who knows, you may invent your own
legendary potion!

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