Following is a complete how-to for my favorite recipe, Cranberry Liqueur. It covers in detail a number of issues which are taken for granted in other recipes here. It's probably a good introduction to read through before starting one of your own.
A note before diving in: cranberry was the first flavor I had real success with, so it's the oldest recipe in my collection. As a result, it's seen more tinkering than most of the other recipes. The first major change I introduced was the addition of cinnamon and allspice, for that festive, "holiday" flavor. It's proven quite popular, so now I produce two varieties. More recently, I took to heart some complaints I'd been getting about sweetness. The original Meilach and Meilach recipe simply called for "1 1/2 cups of sugar syrup," and elsewhere in the book defined the recipe for sugar syrup: 2 units of sugar boiled in 1 unit of water yields 2 units of syrup. In reality, it yields about 10% too much. So I was left with the decision of how to interpret the instructions, and originally I simply obeyed the declared proportions for syrup, getting a little less than 1 3/4 cups of syrup. However, I decided to try it with using exactly 1 1/2 cups of syrup. The results have been overwhelmingly positive, even among the people who liked it well enough before. And along the way, I figured I'd see how it worked with lime peel instead of lemon peel. Also a win.
Ingredients: 16 oz Cranberries1 1 1/2 cups vodka 1 1/2 cups sugar 3/4 cup water 1/2 lemon or lime peel 1/4 orange peel
1 stick cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground allspice
Tools: 1 1/2 liter sealable jar2 large funnel 1 sheet cheese cloth coffee filter or paper towel bottles (4 cups should be enough) apple corer/peeler
1Fresh or frozen, but don't try it with sauce. Well, it might work with cranberry sauce, but I have no idea how to compensate for the jelly and extra sweetening.
2I use Arc jars, with metal bands and a latch-like deal which secure the glass lid to the glass body, with a rubber ring providing the seal. The mixture is a little larger than one liter, so make sure you have enough room if you don't get metric sizes.
First, clean the heck out of your jar. Any faint lingering smell will become a taste in your liqueur, and since many new jars smell like latex at first, you'll really want to make sure they're clean. Boiling water can be effective, but make sure you've warmed up your jar with merely hot water first, or it'll shatter. And if you use the rubber rings like I do, clean them as well. You can't spend enough time cleaning.
Chop up the cranberries in a blender or food processor, on the lowest setting, until it's the consistency of grits (Maypo, for you Northerners). We recently bought a Cuisinart Classic, and it made the chopping process a breeze. Make sure they're all chopped up; any berry still whole won't contribute to the liqueur. Pour into jar. Using the apple peeler, carefully peel just the rind (leaving the white pith behind) from your 1/2 lemon/line and 1/4 orange, and put the peels in the jar. Pour vodka in the jar. If you're using the optional spices, add them to the mix as well. Boil sugar and water together; when the sugar is all dissolved, let stand a minute and then measure 1 1/2 cups into the jar. Seal the jar quickly, lest the alcohol evaporate in the heat. Let the mixture steep for 4 weeks, shaking lightly each day. Store in a dark place.
Note: When I was working with the blender, I found that it was slightly easier if I poured most of the chopped cranberries into the steeping container, and then washed out the remaining bits from the blender jar using the vodka.
After steeping, take the jar out and line your big funnel with your cheese cloth. Put some other jar-like thing underneath the funnel, or you will pour your mixture all over your tabletop, which is not recommended (I have tried it myself). Pour mixture through cheese cloth. Gather up the corners of the cloth, and squeeze the solid material remaining of all the liquid your strength can muster (if you're using a cinnamon stick, remove it before squeezing). Filter again through this funnel, lined with a coffee filter or paper towel, to get all the lingering solids out. Paper towels are more porous and let larger particles through, but it goes an awful lot faster. Solids remaining aren't too much of a problem; they'll leave yellow rings around the inside of your bottle after a month or two, but they don't affect the taste that I've noticed. Occasionally, you might also see some extra cloudiness at the bottom of your bottles after a few weeks. Shake moderately before serving to redistribute the material.
Before bottling, clean the heck out of your bottles, too, for precisely the same reasons you cleaned your jar. Pretty bottles aren't necessary, but they do tend to make your audience more disposed to liking the contents. Pour the liquid into your bottle, cork, and you're done. Aging a month may help mellow it a little, but drinking immediately is still quite good. Notably, one friend of mine who had kept a bottle for an entire year said it had matured fabulously. The optional spices have gotten rave reviews from all but a few of my tasters, who thought the original was still the best. The spices definitely impart a winter-holiday feel to the drink. I have also been told that allowing the liqueur to breathe before serving greatly improves the taste. That is, open the bottle and let it stand open to the air for up to a half hour before serving. This does cut down on the lifetime of the bottle, of course, but it tends to get the bottles emptied sooner rather than later. And finally, lime does seem more popular than lemon. The lime peel imparts a stronger and more recognizable taste, which people enjoy. I have yet to use lime peel with the spices, though.
Yield: about 4 cups
This stuff will last at least a year if unopened (none of mine have remained unopened for more than a year), exactly one year if opened seldomly and resealed, and a few months if opened often. If you're unsure, just make sure it all gets drunk at the first opening. Works for me.
One other issue: corking. Corks are porous, and will allow your alcohol to slowly evaporate, and contribute to the decay of your liqueur over time. I'm looking into sealing the bottles with paraffin after corking them to try and combat this problem. But don't be fooled into thinking that corks can preserve your liqueurs indefinitely. Well, perhaps wine-quality corks pressed with a mechanical corker into standard wine bottles will do all right, but remember to leave your liqueur bottles on their sides.
Questions/clarifications? Hey, I have no life either. Write me here, I'm always on.
measurement (unless stated otherwise)
|1 cup = 8 ounces =
|1 quart = 32 ounces =
|1 tbsp (tablespoon) =
1/2 ounce = 15ml
|1 fifth = 25.6 ounces = 750ml
|1 tsp (teaspoon) =
1/6 ounce = 5ml
|1 pint = 16 ounces =