Hazelnut Mother

hazelnut mother pictureOne of the more neglected areas of cocktail making (IMHO) is the area of nuts.  There are many different and enjoyable flavors to be had if one does a little digging.  Amaretto is one such flavor, a popular light liqueur with the flavor of cherries and made from either almonds or apricot pits.  Nocino brings out the flavors of green walnuts, and lastly frangelico brings us the flavor of hazelnuts.

If you live in the NW or in Oregon specifically you will know the taste of the filbert as a part of your childhood.  Hazelnuts, or filberts as they should rightly be called grow in abundance here and can be had cheaply as raw, roasted, flavored or in any number of milkshakes and confections.

Taking a page from my attempts to make a good almond syrup I began to wonder that I hadn’t tried my had at any other local nuts.

Thus began my quest for a Filbert Syrup.

To create the syrup you first have to extract the flavors from the heart of the nut.  These are best expressed in hazelnuts when roasted.  I chose a quantity of raw nuts, shelled but with skins still on.  Placing them on a silpat on a cookie sheet I roasted them at about 300 degrees for about 10-20 minutes.  Keep a close eye on them, if they start to scorch they’ll give the entire thing a burnt flavor that you really don’t want.

Leaving the skins on was a decision I made given that the entire thing will be strained through cheesecloth in the end and peeling them is a giant pain.

After the nuts have been toasted you’ll want to open them up.  This can be done in a couple of ways.  You can soak them in a bowl of cold water for about an hour until they are soft enough to crush with a rolling pin.  This leaves you with a nice paste but is time consuming and since you discard the water I think you’re losing part of that early flavor.

The process I used is to place them in small amounts into a blender or food processor and chop them to almost a flour like consistency.  Once you have them done either way you’ll need to place them in an air tight jar with a cold water for about 4-6 hours.  Ratio should be about 3 cups water for every 2 cups of nuts, this should let you extract maximum flavor without having to reduce the milk later.  You’ll want to agitate the jar about every half hour, as you can see in the picture the bits tend to separate into lighter and heavier parts.

After your infusion is ready you’ll want to get a funnel and cheese cloth, strain the water and nuts through the cheesecloth and then squeeze the cloth and nuts to extract all the last bits of flavor you can the liquid should be a murky white/brown this is your hazelnut milk.

Measure the amount of milk you extracted, preferably by weight, and then put it in a flat bottom saucepan on the stove.  You’ll want to bring it to a boil slowly and then turn the heat down to a simmer.  Add a roughly equal amount of sugar or sweetener by weight.  A little less is ok as this does not need to be a thick syrup.  If you want something heavier you can make a rich syrup at double the weight in sugar.  Keep in mind that depending on the sweetener you may wind up with something where you only taste the sugar and not the nuts.

Allow the sugar to dissolve and then bring the syrup up to a boil quickly.  Once it has started to boil turn the heat off, stir for another minute and then allow to cool.

Store the syrup in an air tight container in the fridge, it should last for a few weeks alone, or for longer with the addition of a few tablespoons of vodka.

The flavors of this syrup are meaty and rich.  Unlike Orgeat it defies the fruit flavors and goes right for the earthy taste of root, bark and tuber.  The richness compliments chocolate, coffee and other parts of the mocha family.  Mixed with vodka and lemon juice there is a flavor not unlike birthday cake.

I call this product hazelnut mother because in appearance and texture it looks like a sourdough starter but it tastes divine.

Stocking Your Bar Part 2: Basics

wpid-received_817805461613150.jpegFor my previous ramblings on how to stock your bar check HERE.

A long running argument among my friends is what actually constitutes a cocktail.  The line has been fairly drawn by me at three ingredients and by at least one of my more vocal companions at two.  Under his rule the rum & coke would qualify as a cocktail but under mine the screwdriver would not.  The bar has not been solidified but is constantly in flux.  What remains is that when you boil most cocktails down they are a mixture of a high proof spirit, some lower proof liquor or liqueur and a syrup, juice or soda.

This means that after you have found your base spirit the next portion of the process is finding your mixers.  Because the liqueur section is slightly more difficult and sometimes unnecessary (re: screwdriver, rum and coke, Jack and Ginger) the form of your basic fillers becomes a more important portion of keeping a well stocked bar.

 

Sodas

To start with I want to tackle sodas.  The single most vile and beautiful thing that you can add to your drink is in the form of sugar and carbonated water.  Just like with a base spirit the end result all depends on quality and what you’re willing to put into making your drink.  For the most simple drinks a mini-fridge full of small cans of major label sodas is more than enough.  The smaller size means that you can make one or two drinks without having to worry that an entire 2 liter bottle is going to go to waste before you can get to the rest of it.

If you want to upgrade a step from there, the number of premium bottled sodas has exploded in recent years with everything from Reeds premium ginger beer to high quality organic tonic waters like Q Tonic.  Keeping a six pack or two on hand is easy and fun.

On a half step laterally is the soda stream fountain.  I was given one of these as a gift and can say with authority that it pays for itself in fridge space and flexibility.  The reason this is a half step is that many of the syrups available are made with basic low cost ingredients and not more flavorful premium items.   If you own a soda stream you can take the next step by having the ability to make your own sodas from syrup concentrates which obviates the problems inherent in the store bought syrups.  This also allows you to make things that are not as common in store bought syrups such as porter syrup, Ginger Syrup and Tonic Syrup.

 Syrups

A syrup is generally a high sugar liquid.  The sugar content can come from anything be it honey, agave nectar, or fructose from fruit juice.  These are generally non-alcoholic and are added like a concentrate in small amounts.  Some well known ones include Grenadine (pomegranate syrup), chocolate syrup, Orzha (Almond Syrup), and Simple Syrup which is just sugar water.  Syrups are painfully easy to buy.  Torrani has made a line of both full sugar and sugar free syrups for years with a flavor line that runs into the dozens.  A quick trip to Cash and Carry shows 2-3 other semi-generic brands with similar offerings.

Syrups are also hellishly simple to make, with the verity of sweeteners available in bulk you could quite easily make a dragonfruit and saffron syrup with an agave nectar base if your tastes ran that direction.  With a minor addition of an ounce or two of vodka the syrups will keep in the fridge for weeks.

Sourmix2Juices

Fruit juices are one of *the* most common additives to cocktails.  Starting with Lemon and lime juices and following onward to orange, pineapple, grapefruit and from there to non-citrus juices like apple or cranberry.  Much like the sodas there are ample retail options for many of these juices, but fresh juices are often best where possible and so having limes or lemons to squeeze yourself is great.  Oranges are a bit more difficult as the juices can be bitter without any outward sign, this is why it is best to get oranges in season and to test them before you run an entire pitcher of juice.

Having a selection of fresh juices on hand is key to flavorful cocktails.

Gracious Thanks to Diana C. for the bar photo at the head of this post.