Hazelnut Mother

hazelnut mother pictureOne of the more neglected areas of cocktail making (IMHO) is the area of nuts.  There are many different and enjoyable flavors to be had if one does a little digging.  Amaretto is one such flavor, a popular light liqueur with the flavor of cherries and made from either almonds or apricot pits.  Nocino brings out the flavors of green walnuts, and lastly frangelico brings us the flavor of hazelnuts.

If you live in the NW or in Oregon specifically you will know the taste of the filbert as a part of your childhood.  Hazelnuts, or filberts as they should rightly be called grow in abundance here and can be had cheaply as raw, roasted, flavored or in any number of milkshakes and confections.

Taking a page from my attempts to make a good almond syrup I began to wonder that I hadn’t tried my had at any other local nuts.

Thus began my quest for a Filbert Syrup.

To create the syrup you first have to extract the flavors from the heart of the nut.  These are best expressed in hazelnuts when roasted.  I chose a quantity of raw nuts, shelled but with skins still on.  Placing them on a silpat on a cookie sheet I roasted them at about 300 degrees for about 10-20 minutes.  Keep a close eye on them, if they start to scorch they’ll give the entire thing a burnt flavor that you really don’t want.

Leaving the skins on was a decision I made given that the entire thing will be strained through cheesecloth in the end and peeling them is a giant pain.

After the nuts have been toasted you’ll want to open them up.  This can be done in a couple of ways.  You can soak them in a bowl of cold water for about an hour until they are soft enough to crush with a rolling pin.  This leaves you with a nice paste but is time consuming and since you discard the water I think you’re losing part of that early flavor.

The process I used is to place them in small amounts into a blender or food processor and chop them to almost a flour like consistency.  Once you have them done either way you’ll need to place them in an air tight jar with a cold water for about 4-6 hours.  Ratio should be about 3 cups water for every 2 cups of nuts, this should let you extract maximum flavor without having to reduce the milk later.  You’ll want to agitate the jar about every half hour, as you can see in the picture the bits tend to separate into lighter and heavier parts.

After your infusion is ready you’ll want to get a funnel and cheese cloth, strain the water and nuts through the cheesecloth and then squeeze the cloth and nuts to extract all the last bits of flavor you can the liquid should be a murky white/brown this is your hazelnut milk.

Measure the amount of milk you extracted, preferably by weight, and then put it in a flat bottom saucepan on the stove.  You’ll want to bring it to a boil slowly and then turn the heat down to a simmer.  Add a roughly equal amount of sugar or sweetener by weight.  A little less is ok as this does not need to be a thick syrup.  If you want something heavier you can make a rich syrup at double the weight in sugar.  Keep in mind that depending on the sweetener you may wind up with something where you only taste the sugar and not the nuts.

Allow the sugar to dissolve and then bring the syrup up to a boil quickly.  Once it has started to boil turn the heat off, stir for another minute and then allow to cool.

Store the syrup in an air tight container in the fridge, it should last for a few weeks alone, or for longer with the addition of a few tablespoons of vodka.

The flavors of this syrup are meaty and rich.  Unlike Orgeat it defies the fruit flavors and goes right for the earthy taste of root, bark and tuber.  The richness compliments chocolate, coffee and other parts of the mocha family.  Mixed with vodka and lemon juice there is a flavor not unlike birthday cake.

I call this product hazelnut mother because in appearance and texture it looks like a sourdough starter but it tastes divine.

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