Hazelnuts are the underdogs of the nut world. Small and modest in appearance, they are packed with flavor. My first encounter with hazelnuts was the bags of mixed nuts in the shell that arrive in the markets in late fall/early winter. My mom would always stock up before Thanksgiving and they would last through the winter. They still remind me of winter weekend afternoons enjoying the warmth of the woodstove, the sound of football games on television, and sharing a large wooden bowl of nuts in the shell. The shells would collect in napkins and saucers strewn about the living room. We all had our favorites: The almonds with their corklike shells, the leathery brazil nuts, and my favorite, the perky little hazelnuts. I am not sure if we called them filberts or hazelnuts.
My love for the hazelnut followed me to adulthood. My favorite gelato combo is still a scoop of gianduja and a scoop of nocciola. I would buy the occasional bottle of Frangelico. In fact for a long time the only booze I bought was Frangelico. When I was in my twenties I used to add it to soymilk and ice and grate some nutmeg on top - and that was the extent of my cocktail making.
Even though I love the monk shaped bottle and the distinct hazelnut flavor, I was frustrated to discover that this product is not just hazelnuts, sugar, and alcohol. The rich brown color comes from caramel coloring and not from toasted nuts. I am sure there is some corn syrup lurking in there too. So now that I live in the land of hazelnuts and filberts, I thought I should start making my own hazelnut liqueur. It is much easier to make than a batch of chocolate chip cookies.
Frangelico has added vanilla and chocolate flavor. I added a little vanilla bean to mine, and if you feel like adding a few cacao nibs to your batch, please feel free. The cacao nibs may cause some cloudiness and add a bit of fatty residue, so keep that in mind.
Let's get started.
3 cups raw hazelnuts
2 cups vodka, I used Smirnoff
1/2 cup brandy
1/2 vanilla bean
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
First Toast the Nuts:
Add the hazelnuts to a jellyroll pan or cookie sheet with sides. Toast for 10 -15 minutes at 350 degrees F. Every few minutes give the pan a shake to assure even toasting. Do not over toast, it is better to err on the side of under toasted. You want them to be slightly golden, not brown.
Infuse the Vodka and Brandy:
When the hazelnuts are ready, remove from the oven and let them cool in the pan. When they are cool, place the hazelnuts in a large mason jar and add the vodka and brandy. Cover the jar tightly and give it a little shake. Let the mixture sit for two weeks at room temperature. The liqueur should have a strong hazelnutty flavor and scent. I smelled and tasted the mixture every few days.
Make a Simple Syrup:
Add the sugar and water to a small saucepan and simmer over medium low until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool.
Sweeten the Liqueur:
When the syrup is cool, add a bit at a time to your hazelnut booze mixture until it is a little less sweet than you like. Add the half vanilla bean and let the mixture rest 5 days.
Strain and Bottle:
Strain the liqueur through cheesecloth or a coffee filter and let it rest for a few more days to let all the flavors infuse. You can add more simple syrup, if needed. If you do, allow a few more days before enjoying.
This liqueur makes a nice after dinner sip, but it is also great with seltzer on ice or with your favorite milk and nutmeg. We tend to correct our Sunday coffee with it.