Orgeat

Orgeat is an almond-flavored sweet syrup with a little orange flower water, most often used in Mai Tais. I’ve made several batches of it over the last year, but I’ve never really studied it. I made it, tasted it, gave half away and made random Mai Tais for a while. Recently I decided to do some serious studying of the Mai Tai – more on this later – and needed some orgeat. I grabbed the ingredients and followed this recipe over at FXCuisine.com. When I was done, I compared it to the memory of my last batch, which was Darcy’s recipe over on his Art Of Drink blog. And I thought further back to the experiences I documented the first time I made Orgeat. That experimentation was based on KukuAhu’s thread about Home Brew Orgeat over on Tiki Central.

And these memories made me feel unhappy about the batch of orgeat that I had just finished.

Every time I made orgeat, I felt that it was too sweet and that the almond flavor was too weak. These thoughts were after tasting the orgeat, on its own, not in a cocktail. I also didn’t care for the mouthfeel or texture, since these recipes made for a mildly almond-flavored simple syrup. A Mai Tai made with any of these orgeat recipes always seemed to have very little almond taste, to the point of being unnoticeable. I wanted more.

A part of me struggled with this. The recipe at FXCuisine cites some old French cookbooks, so it’s a historical (though the author does mention that the recipe is a modern interpretation). Darcy is a professional bartender with a chemistry background and knows what he’s talking about. KukuAhu and The Gnomon have made more orgeat than I probably ever will. A part of me felt that it was wrong to break away from these orgeat recipes, and thus break away from a classic, “correct” Mai Tai recipe.

So I took a batch of the FXCuisine orgeat and made up a Jeff “Beachbum” Berry $100 Mai Tai. My first thought was that there was way too much lime (I just don’t like overpowering lime or tartness, and tend towards sweeter cocktails). My second thought was that the cocktail was too sweet, though it might have been because of my homemade Rock Candy Syrup, following The Gnomon’s recipe. Finally, on my third sip, I was studying the tastes contained within, and I could not detect any almond.

After making 5 more Mai Tais using slightly different variations, I came to a couple conclusions. The first was that the $100 Mai Tai was not the Mai Tai recipe that I liked. Oh, it’s a damned fine recipe, very authentic, and makes for a damned fine cocktail. But I grew up on very unauthentic Mai Tais made in New England Chinese Restaurants, and those taste very different from the $100 version, so this was simply not the Mai Tai that I loved. (Call me a heretic, its OK.) The second conclusion that I came to was that I wanted an orgeat with more almond flavor, less sweetness, and a better mouthfeel (even though I’m not so sure that last point will affect the cocktail very much).

So I bought some more almonds, replenished my supply of Orange Flower Water, and got to work in the kitchen.

Ingredients

1 lb whole blanched almonds (slivers don’t produce as much almond taste)

3 cups filtered or spring water

1 cup sugar (preferably organic cane sugar)

1 teaspoon high-quality almond extract

1 tablespoon orange flower water

You’ll also need

3 more cups filtered or spring water (for cleaning/soaking)

1 medium (1.5 liter or 2 quart) saucepan

1 medium plastic bowl, with cover

Stirring utensil

Cheesecloth or nylon straining bag

1-liter bottle for finished product

My Orgeat Recipe

Take 1 pound of whole blanched almonds. Let them soak in 3 cups of filtered or spring water for a half-hour, swish them around a bit in an attempt to clean them, and drain (throwing out this water). Grind them up in a food processor until they’re about as fine as coarsely-ground coffee (or something close to that if you have a cheap food processor and a lack of patience, like me). Toss the ground almonds into a plastic bowl that has a lid, and heat 3 cups of filtered or spring water heated to about 150F. Add the water to the ground almonds, cover, and let sit for about 2 hours.

Strain the mixture through a piece of cheesecloth or a nylon straining bag, saving the liquid (almond milk) in the saucepan. (By the way, I highly recommend nylon straining bags. They are a washable, reusable form of cheesecloth that are far stronger and far superior to cheesecloth – all this for $1 more. You can get them at most wine-making stores, whether walk-in or online. I get the Small Coarse Bags from beer-wine.com – they’re plenty big enough and fine enough for this.)

Squeeze the almond mash to get every last drop – or until your hands get tired and you give up. Toss out the almond mash. Heat the almond milk on a very low flame until it reaches about 105F. (If you don’t have a thermometer, stick your finger into the liquid. When it’s so hot that you really want to pull your finger out, that’s hot enough.) Pour in 1 cup of sugar – preferably organic unbleached cane sugar, but you could use the highly processed, bleached stuff if you want a pretty white orgeat. Stir constantly until all the sugar has dissolved.

Cover the pot, remove it from the burner and let it cool for an hour or so. Add 1 teaspoon of high-quality almond extract, and 1 tablespoon of orange flower water. This will yield almost exactly 1 liter of orgeat. (You can add a couple ounces of vodka or white rum as a preservative, but even without this the orgeat will keep for many months in the refrigerator – as long as everything used is very, very clean.)

Summary

This recipe is similar to those listed above – I’ve mainly reduced the sugar and increased the almond extract. In my opinion this results in an end product with more almond flavor and a very nice balance of almond, sugar, and orange flower water. The mouthfeel of this is interesting, and doesn’t feel like a simple sugar syrup like the others did.

Though I started with the exact $100 Mai Tai recipe, I tweaked things from one Mai Tai to the next, and ended up reducing the lime to 3/4 ounce, eliminating the rock candy syrup, and using a  full ounce of this orgeat. That strays a bit from the recipe, but produces a Mai Tai that is slightly less tart and has slightly more almond flavor. I still have experimenting to do though.

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