Orgeat is perfect for many varieties of dessert cocktails.
THIS HOLIDAY SEASON, consider serving dessert cocktails made with orgeat. Or-what? Orgeat (pronounced or-zhat) is a French almond syrup, an essential ingredient in the Mai Tai as well as the classic Japanese Cocktail. Orge is French for barley, and orgeat originally referred to the age-old method of making barley water. Over time, aromatic almonds replaced barley, and orgeat found its way to the bar.
Your best bet is to make it at home. Don’t bother with artificial commercial syrups. When orgeat is made well, it is killer — thick, nutty, sweet, luscious. Plenty of easy DIY orgeat recipes are available online, using blanched almonds, water, sugar and a touch of orange blossom or rose water.
I pursued a more flavorful and labor-intensive version, courtesy of Jesse Cyr, general manager at Rob Roy in Seattle. Rob Roy makes several drinks with orgeat, and the owners are opening a tiki-themed bar called Navy Strength.
While Rob Roy typically uses orgeat by craft producer Small Hand Foods, Cyr shared his method of soaking whole raw almonds to extract the oil. But the skins, if left on, make the syrup somewhat gritty. So skins must be removed by hand. I have done a lot of tedious jobs in the kitchen, but removing peels from six cups of almonds has got to top the list. It took about 50 minutes.
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Once peeled, the almonds are processed with water and allowed to sit. The liquid from the pulverized almonds is almond milk, the heart of orgeat. Orange blossom water is added for flavor and a splash of vodka or cognac as a preservative. The rich creamy nectar is delicious with sparkling water or in coffee.
For a decadent holiday cocktail, Cyr suggests mixing orgeat with cognac and apricot liqueur. “Apricots and almonds go well together,” he says, noting that they are both in the drupe — or stone fruit — family. “By adding cream and nutmeg, you get a nice after-dinner dessert cocktail.”
Who needs dessert on a plate? I’d prefer to drink mine.
Eastern Drupe Fizz
½ ounce apricot liqueur
½ ounce dark rum
1 ounce cognac
1½ ounces heavy whipping cream
¾ ounce orgeat (homemade, recipe below, or by Small Hand Foods, available online)
1. Combine ingredients in a shaker, and shake to emulsify cream. Add ice; shake to chill.
2. Strain into a chilled fizz glass and add a splash (approximately ¾ ounce) of soda water. Garnish with grated nutmeg.
6 cups raw almonds
Hot water for blanching
1¼ cups hot water
½ teaspoon cream of tartar
1½ ounce cognac or vodka
1 teaspoon orange flower water
1. In a medium saucepan, cover almonds with hot water (2 inches above the almonds) and soak for 30 minutes. Drain almonds, reserving the almond oil water.
2. Peel and discard the almond skins.
3. Combine almond oil water with 1¼ cups near-boiling water and add to peeled almonds. Blend with an immersion blender or food processor until fine. Let sit for 45 minutes.
4. Strain through a fine strainer into a large container, then pass through a cheesecloth, squeezing the cheesecloth to release as much almond milk as possible. Discard nut pulp, or use for another purpose.
5. Over medium heat, combine almond milk with sugar in a 1:1 ratio by volume. Bring to a simmer, and add cream of tartar. Heat just until sugar is dissolved, then remove from heat and cool for 10 minutes. Add the cognac or vodka and orange flower water. Bottle and chill. Keeps refrigerated for about a month.
— Rob Roy