In the Catskills, you learn the sound of animals. The peck, peck and hissing of a wild turkey as she fights with her own image in a window pane. You’d think the window was about to break.
Or the snort of a mountain lion. No, they can’t growl. They snort. How would you recognize it? Oh, trust me. When we had one in our front yard, and Suzen and I were hugging each other like our first night together, the conversation went something like this:
“You go look to see if it is still there.”
“Because you are the girl.”
A month ago, there was another sound but I knew the species: wifus frustratedus. Yes, Suzen was in the panty and unhappy.
“What is it?” I poked my head in.
“This!” Her hand was on the shelf she has for vinegars and olive oils. We don’t have enough to open up a museum, but we could do a serious popup.
“Well,” I reached forward.
“No,” she corrected, “this.” Her hand now pointed to the shelf above. The one where I store supplies for cocktail research. “Is there an orange liqueur that you don’t own?”
“Maybe one. From Albania,” I admitted.
“I need space. Can’t you do something?”
“Actually, Suzen, I began the solution yesterday. It will just take a month.”
“A month? A MONTH?” Eyes rolled as she walked past. She did not hear my explanation, but I had one.
And now, that month has passed, and I do have a solution. I can eliminate most [but not all!] of those orange liqueurs. And, without ego, I want to say: this:
I made my own orange liqueur and it is wonderful, awesome, excellent.
How? I followed the recipe for Triple Sec in Luscious Liqueurs by A. J. Rathbun. This slim volume has recipes for over 80 home-made liqueurs. I’m working my way through, page by page and this orange gem is the first to complete the process. Each recipe takes, from start to finish, several weeks. Each week and each step is definitely worth the effort.
While the book calls this Triple Sec, I am calling it Orange Liqueur. Triple Sec is, by reputation, the lowest common denominator of orange-flavored liqueurs. This creation is the equal of fine liqueurs, such as my favorite, Mandarin Napoleon.
I’ve enjoyed this liqueur on its own, at room temperature and chilled. In a margarita, it’s sublime. The flavor is sweet and not complex: just pure orange intensity, with none of those chemically aftertastes that can come with, say, conventional Triple Sec.
Of course, since it is so good, I’ll need to make a lot more. And that will mean I need shelf space. I wonder how best to explain this to Suzen.
For the vodka to use here, go with a moderately priced brand. You don’t need expensive, but you want underlying quality.
Homemade Orange Liqueur
Yield: a bit over 1 quart
- 4-5 medium to large oranges, as sweet as possible
- ½ cup water
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 cups vodka
Wash, dry, and peel 2 of the oranges, trimming away any white pith. Put the peels in a glass container with a tight-fitting lid.
Juice all the oranges. You need 1 cups of orange juice.
Combine the sugar and water in a saucepan, stir well, and turn on the heat to medium. Slowly add the orange juice, stirring all the while. Raise the heat to medium-high, and bring the mixture just to a boil. Lower the hat a bit and simmer gently for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool completely.
Add the orange syrup you just made and the vodka to the peels, stir well, and seal. Place in a cool dry spot away from sunlight. Let the liqueur stay calm, except for occasional swirlings for 1 month.
If it is really pulpy, filet the liqueur first through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl. Otherwise, just strain through a double layer of cheesecloth into a pitcher or other easy-pouring vessel. Strain again through 2 new layers of cheesecloth into a 1 large bottle or a number of small bottles or jars.
Source: Luscious Liqueurs by A. J. Rathbun
Looks good? Well, it tastes better. There is a story to this pie, but first a summary. This a chiffon-style pie with a liqueur-infused gelatin base folded into slightly sweetened egg whites and unsweetened whipped cream. Alright, I strongly sweetened the egg whites and I could not resist putting more sugar and booze into the whipped cream, but that is beside the point. I used banana rum for the very delicate chiffon, then garnished it with both banana slices and sugar coated blueberries. Even Suzen liked it. She said it was too sweet, but …
In 1970 the wonderful Craig Claiborne published a reader’s recipe for Brandy Alexander pie. It became one of the most requested recipes from The Times — pre-internet. Other readers improvised and sent in many personalized versions. Dick Taeuber, a statistician from Maryland, went berserk, perfecting the recipe and suggesting twenty different liquor combinations: chocolate mint, brown velvet, raspberry alexander, Cheri Suisse, … His full list was published by Claiborne in 1975 in The Times and now appears in The Essential New York Times Cookbook.
I have tried many different liqueur combinations, and enjoyed them all. There are two changes or points of order to consider when making this pie. First, it calls for ½ cup of liqueur. That may have been appropriate for the 1970s but we are all so much more sophisticated now. Amanda Hesser, in Food 52, says there is “enough alcohol to raise the hair on your neck and then make your neck wobbly too.” So, I reduce the liqueur to ⅓ cup — not counting that dash in the whipped cream — and I’m thinking of going even lower. This pie can rock you or be subtle.
Second, the recipe requires using a package of gelatin, heating it with liquids, and then letting it cool. I have made some real mistakes here. Once I let it not just cool but entirely solidify in the refrigerator — I just forgot about it because it was the fourth quarter and the Jets were about to fumble again. Solidified gelatin is not an easy item to fold into egg whites. And then I tried an ice bath where it did not all solidify, just the part on the bottom — I was watching a TV trial where they let the murderer off.
Be careful with your gelatin. Don’t over chill. Don’t let it solidify. Don’t cook and watch TV at the same time. Do let this pie chill for hours or overnight.
Let your imagination run wild. Is there, on a top shelf, some liqueur you bought in a stupor and never wanted to look at again? Now’s the time!
Dick Taeuber’s Cordial Pie
Yield: 6 servings, enough for up to 6 people but more like 3
- 1 ½ cups gingersnap crumbs or graham crackers
- ¼ cup melted butter, [⅓ cup graham crackers]
- 1 envelope unflavored gelatin
- ⅔ cup sugar
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- 3 eggs, separated
- ½ [or less]cup total of liquors, Brandy, Crème de Cacao, …
- 1 cup heavy cream
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Combine the crumbs with the butter. Form into a 9-inch pan and bake for 10 minutes. Cool.
Pour ½ cup cold water in a saucepan and sprinkle the gelatin over it. Add ⅓ cup sugar, salt and egg yolks. Stir to blend.
Place over low heat and stir until the gelatin dissolves and mixture thickens slightly (it won’t be as thick as a custard). Do not boil! Remove from heat.
Stir the liqueurs or liquor into the mixture. [For this banana version, I used banana rum that literally was sitting on the shelf.] Then chill until the mixture starts to mound slightly.
Beat the egg whites until stiff, then add the remaining sugar and beat until the peaks are firm. Fold the meringue into the thickened mixture.
Whip the cream, then fold into the mixture. [Remember, Brian sweetened the cream here and added a splash of liqueur, which could be the same liqueur as in the gelatin or something complementary.]
Turn the mixture into the crust. Decorate as you desire. Here we used bananas and blueberries, but you can leave it alone, dot with whipped cream, shaved chocolate, … Use what works with the liqueur you have added.
Chill for several hours or overnight.
Source: Food52.com, a haven for all foodies