Orgeat is something I only found out about in my 30s, about the time when I could confidently afford to go to a fancy cocktail bar and have that confidence dashed by not understanding ingredients on the drink menu. Googling this ingredient on my phone at the bar did two things: It made me look really cool, and I found out this indispensable Tiki drink component isn’t out of my league. You can make orgeat at home on the cheap and impress your friends with your elevated at-home Tiki game.
Orgeat has French origins and was once an almond-barley blend. These days the barley has been eliminated. (I don’t speak French, but this French pronunciation is what I’ve been getting comfortable with.) First and foremost, orgeat is almond syrup. Only a splash of orange flower water and brandy are mixed in to give this concoction a spindrift of je ne sais quois. It’s a common component for Tiki drinks, including the mai tai and Trinidad sour. Orgeat adds a subtle nuttiness along with supplying a helping of simple syrup. Normally it’s used in small ½-ounce doses, but I must be truthful: After tasting a dab of the stuff, I was ready to add it to coffee, stir it into oatmeal, drizzle it over pancakes, and use it as perfume. It’s an almond lover’s paradise in syrup form.
You can buy eight ounces for ten bucks, but the bottled stuff includes additional ingredients to make it last longer on the shelf, and once open, it doesn’t last more than a month. Most notably, the store-bought version won’t have the booze in it. Yours will be better. Making a batch at home is simple but requires a few hours of inactive steeping time. You only need raw almonds, sugar, plain water, orange blossom water, and a complementary spirit like brandy or cognac. I saw one recipe that used vodka instead, and I imagine you could try different versions with other spirits and liqueurs you enjoy. However, if you’re trying something new, I suggest you do it in a small batch first to test it out.
Pulse the almonds in a food processor until the biggest pieces are about small pebble-sized, but not as fine as almond flour. On the stove over medium-low heat, pour the plain water and sugar into a small pot to make a simple syrup. Stir it occasionally to help the sugar dissolve quickly. Once the mixture begins to boil and all of the sugar has dissolved, pour in the ground nuts. Reduce the heat to low and stir the nuts frequently. Cook them on a light simmer like this for two or three minutes (try not to let the mixture rip to a boil or it could bring out the bitter notes of the almonds), and turn off the heat. Cover the pot with a lid and set it off to the side to steep for three to 10 hours. I let mine steep for five and a half and it was lovely.
Set up a large measuring cup with a large nut milk bag over it. Alternatively, you could use three or four layers of overlapping cheesecloth to strain the mixture. Pour the syrup and almond mixture into your straining apparatus. It’ll look and feel like thick mud with a hidden syrup layer underneath. Use a rubber spatula to scrape all of the syrup into the bag. Squeeze the almond pulp as thoroughly as possible to get all of the available syrup out and into the measuring cup. There’s no fancy trick to this, you have to wring out the syrup and it’s a little messy. I keep vinyl gloves in my kitchen for times like this, and this helped me swipe syrup down into the cup without getting coated in the stuff. If you’re making a large batch of orgeat, do the straining part in two or three instalments. Save the almond pulp in the freezer for other uses (I don’t have any full ideas yet but you better believe I’m concocting a cake or pie crust of sorts). Stir a half teaspoon of orange blossom water and an ounce of brandy into the almond syrup. Pour the orgeat into a covered container and store it in the fridge for up to three months.
Once you taste this almond syrup, you’ll be undeniably smitten. It will be a lovely hazy fawn colour and taste sweet, slightly creamy, and distinctly almond-flavoured. Originally I thought I could make a faux version with almond extract, but there’s just no way the flavour could be duplicated like that. The aroma and nuance is far fuller than what an extract can bring to a simple syrup because the almond oils get pulled into the orgeat as it cooks and steeps.
There are plenty of cocktails you can make with your fresh orgeat, just give it a shake before pouring in case the oils separate. After your first batch, you can explore flavorful modifications. Try using roasted almonds, or almonds with the skins left on. I did one batch with raw blanched almonds and another with roasted blanched. Both had incredible flavour, and the roasted batch had a slightly darker colour with an extra toasty hint of flavour. Branch out and try different nuts. Sure, orgeat is understood as almond, but what you do in your home is your business. Use cashews, peanuts, or pecans.
The following recipe is a small batch and yields ½-¾ cup of orgeat. I used this orange blossom water, but you can use rose water or another floral water. You can find these in some grocery stores, and lean on the internet if you have to.
- 1 cup blanched almonds, pulsed in food processor
- ½ cup water
- ¾ cup sugar
- ½ teaspoon orange flower water
- 2 tablespoons or 28.35 g of brandy (cognac, vodka, or other complementary spirit)
In a small pot over medium-low heat, add the water and sugar. Stir occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Bring to a boil. Add the ground almonds and reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Stir and cook the mixture for two or three minutes. Take it off the heat and cover the pot with a lid to let the almond syrup steep for 3-10 hours.
Strain the almonds and syrup through a nut milk bag (or layered cheesecloth) into a large measuring cup. Squeeze out as much syrup as you can. Stir in the orange flower water and brandy. Decant the orgeat into a container with a pour spout for easy usage, and store in the fridge.
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