When we moved here a few years ago we were pleased to discover a few small hazelnut trees in our backyard. We couldn’t wait to fill our baskets with hazelnuts and fill our larder with jars of hazelnut butter and bottles of hazelnut liqueur. Since this discovery we have harvested only three nuts. We hope that one day soon our trees will provide, but good hazelnuts are easy to find in Oregon.
A while back Mr. Graham suggested that I make hazelnut orgeat. He bought a pound of raw hazelnuts and found a recipe in a recent issue of Imbibe. I had planned on making a hazelnut orgeat, but I wasn’t sure where to start. Imbibe rarely lets me down, so I decided to go for it.
Orgeat, pronounced OHR-ZHAT, is a rich syrup made with almonds, bitter almond or apricot kernels, sugar, and a few drops of either rosewater or orange flower water. Most commercially available orgeat is made with artificial flavors, corn syrup, and chemicals; they taste awful. There are a couple bottles that I do recommend: Small Hands, made by Jennifer Colliau in Berkeley. She makes some of the best forgotten cocktail ingredients around. She is a tireless tinkerer and researcher. I also recommend B.G. Reynolds orgeat, made here in Portland by Blair Reynolds, proprietor of Hale Pele.
The Imbibe recipe looked simple and straightforward. Indeed, the orgeat came together quickly and easily, but I soon realized that the resulting thick and rich syrup is a real pain to strain. The recipe said to strain from the mash into a bottle, but this did not work. I tried extracting the liquid in small batches with little progress. I began to curse the loss of a whole pound of hazelnuts with only a big sticky mess to show for it. At this rate the straining was going to take hours and would probably yield a half cup of syrup. So I stepped away for a minute to consider the best way extract the liquid from the hazelnut mash. I grabbed a colander, a huge piece of wet cheesecloth to contain the sticky mass of hazelnuts, and a big bowl. The colander did not rest above the bowl, so I grabbed a cooling rack to put between the colander and the bowl (see photos below). I dumped the sticky mess into the wet cheesecloth. I secured it with my hands and squeezed the bejeezus out of it. I also kept pressing the mass against the colander. I was finally able to quickly extract all the syrup.
The results are outstanding. A little syrup goes a long way. Don’t be tempted to skimp on the amount of hazelnuts. It will take a lot to get that rich, nutty flavor. I do love the sweet marzipan flavor of orgeat, but I also love to experiment with new flavors. I know that it may not be authentic to make orgeat with another nut, but orgeat was originally made with barley, not almonds. Nuts such as hazelnuts or pistachios have rich flavors that add an earthy boldness to drinks. Although I haven't tried making pistachio orgeat yet, after my experience making hazelnut orgeat, I can't wait to try it.
Adapted from Imbibe Magazine
Yield: About one pint
Medium/large sauce pot
Wooden spoon to stir orgeat
Half gallon glass jar with lid, optional – to infuse the orgeat overnight, if the sauce pot used doesn’t fit in the refrigerator
Large sturdy bowl
A 36” piece of dampened cheesecloth, enough to line the colander with a double layer
1 pound raw hazelnuts
3 cups of raw sugar or organic cane crystals
1 ½ cups water
5 dashes of orange flower water or rosewater
2 Tablespoons of brandy or vodka, optional, but it does act as a preservative
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Some orgeat recipes suggest peeling the skins before crushing. After a bit of research I decided to skip this step and leave the skins on. I am glad that I did because the skins lend a lovely purplish hue to the finished product.
Crush the hazelnuts in a food processor until coarsely chopped. Alternatively, place the nuts in a cloth bag or in a tea towel and smash them with a mallet until coarsely ground. Spread the ground nuts on a baking sheet and toast them in the oven for 5 -10 minutes. Give the pan a shake or stir every few minutes to toast them evenly and to check for doneness. If the nuts brown too much or burn in any way, discard them and start over.
When the nuts are nicely toasted, transfer them to a large saucepan or saucepot. Add the sugar and water to the pot, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer the orgeat mixture for ten minutes, making sure that the sugar has completely dissolved. If not, simmer a bit more. Remove pot from the heat and let the mixture cool. Put a lid on the pot and let the orgeat infuse in the refrigerator overnight or for a day. If your pot does not fit in the refrigerator, transfer the orgeat mixture to a half gallon mason jar.
Now it is time to strain the syrup. Line the colander with the damp cheesecloth. Place the colander over a sturdy bowl, using a cooling rack in between if necessary to keep the bottom of the colander from sitting in the liquid (see photo below). Carefully transfer the orgeat mixture from the pot or jar into the cheesecloth-lined colander. Gather the cheesecloth tightly around the mixture, squeezing the bundle and pressing it against the colander, trying to extract every bit of syrup from the mixture. Be careful to not let any nut pieces escape, because they are not pleasant to imbibe. If you suspect that there are any nut pieces in your orgeat, strain the syrup again through a cheesecloth-lined colander. You don’t want any fragments at all. This may seem like a pain, but it should strain pretty quickly this second time through, but you may need to give the orgeat a stir here and there to move the process along.
Once the liquid is free of any fragments, add the flower water of your choice and the brandy. Pour the orgeat into a bottle or pint jar with a funnel.
If refrigerated, the orgeat should keep for 2-3 weeks.
Keep scrolling down for orgeat drinks and recipes, plus some ideas for the leftover hazelnuts.
What Does One do With Orgeat?
Hazelnut orgeat is wonderful in coffee and makes a delicious soda. This particular orgeat made the best orgeat soda that I have ever had. The hazelnuts lend a lovely pink hue to the soda. For an 8 ounce soda, use one tablespoon of orgeat to 8 ounces of sparkling water. Stir gently.
Orgeat is an ingredient in tiki drinks like Mai Tai, Fog Cutter, and Scorpion. Orgeat is found in quite a few classic cocktails such as a Japanese Cocktail, and French pastis based aperitifs such as Momisette and Mauresque.
A bottle of homemade hazelnut orgeat would make a lovely holiday gift. Be sure to include a recipe card or two with your favorite orgeat based drinks.
We really loved it in a Japanese Cocktail. This cocktail is usually made with cognac, orgeat, and Angostura bitters. Our favorite version substituted Calvados (a type of apple brandy from Normandy) for the cognac and Scrappy’s aromatic bitters instead of Angostura. I kept the ratios the same as the original cocktail.
A seasonal variation of the Japanese Cocktail
Makes two cocktails
4 ounces Calvados or apple brandy
1 ounce hazelnut orgeat
4 dashes aromatic bitters, Scrappy’s or Angostura
Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake well, until very cold and strain into small cocktail glasses. Garnish with a thin slice of apple, if desired.
What About all the Leftover Sweetened Hazelnuts?
Don’t throw them away. The remaining syrupy hazelnuts are full of flavor. Use them in a crumble or swirl in a cake. Make hazelnut ice cream. Or make nut milk.
Hazelnuts make a rich nut milk. I love it in coffee, smoothies, and in White Russians. It is also good shaken with bourbon or rye, a splash of rosewater, and a few pinches of cardamom. Delicious!
Note: This is a slightly different process than how I normally make hazelnut milk, but we need to extract all the flavor we can out of the leftover hazelnuts.
Yield: 1 liter of nut milk
Materials and Ingredients:
Leftover nuts from hazelnut orgeat making process (see above)
2 Half gallon jars
Water to fill jar, around a quart
I thought the nuts were too sweet to use as is, so I decided to rinse away some of the syrup surrounding the nuts. Place the nuts in a mesh strainer and run cold water over them until enough syrup has rinsed away. Put the nuts in a half gallon jar. Add enough cold, filtered water to fill the jar. Cover the jar and leave out on the counter (or in the refrigerator) overnight. The next day strain the liquid from the solids using a wire mesh strainer. This nut milk will keep for a week in the refrigerator.