When temperatures fall, I like to look to Eastern Europe for inspiration as I brew liqueurs and spirits to keep us warm on cold nights. Countries such as Hungary, Russia, and Slovakia have been turning their excess stone fruits and other ingredients into luscious tipples for centuries.
Plums and Cherries to Warm Your Soul
I can’t think of a better way to pass a chilly night than curled up by the fire with a glass of plum brandy (slivovitz) or cherry liqueur. While there are innumerable places to buy bottles of these delicious drinks, it is simple as can be to make your own at home.
Plum brandy is very easy, and by starting a batch in August, you’ll have several bottles of velvety sweetness to toast the holidays with loved ones. Traditional plum brandy is comprised of ripe plums, citrus peel, cinnamon, sugar, and vodka. It is easy to play with flavors, substituting orange peel for lemon and adding star anise or cloves instead of cinnamon.
Cherry liqueur is even more simple with only ripe cherries, sugar, and vodka required. Layer the flavors by adding a vanilla bean.
These basic recipes can be applied to almost any ripe fruit you have on hand. Try it with juicy peaches and add a bit of brandy to turn it into schnapps, or some gorgeous pears with a sliver of fresh ginger to give it a kick.
- Enough ripe plums to fill two 2-quart jars (do not pit!)
- 1-1.5 cups raw sugar
- 2 whole star anise
- 3-4 cups vodka
- 2 pieces orange peel or lemon peel (pith removed)
Prick plums all over with small, sharp knife. Pack plums into two sterilized jars.
Add sugar, citrus peel, and star anise. Pour in vodka until jar is full.
Store in dark place, turning jar over each day for two weeks to help sugar dissolve. Store in cupboard or closet for 3 months.
When ready, strain and bottle. Serve cold.
The Dark Magic of Coffee Liqueur
Another favorite liqueur is one I learned how to make from dear Hungarian friends: coffee. It is heavenly, dark, rich, and sweet, wonderful stirred into hot chocolate, whipped cream, or drinks such as a White Russian.
A basic recipe for coffee liqueur includes strong coffee, vodka, and a bit of raw sugar. I like to use half vodka and half rum and add cinnamon or cardamom to make it even more scrumptious. While plum brandy and cherry liqueur take about three months to ferment properly, coffee liqueur is ready in just a week.
- 1 cup strong coffee simmered with a vanilla bean
- 1 tablespoon raw sugar
- 1 cup vodka or eau de vie
Mix hot coffee with raw sugar until sugar dissolves. Let cool.
Stir in vodka. Pour mixture into sterilized bottle and seal.
Let sit for one week then add to baking or drinks such as White Russians.
When the drinks have finished brewing, you can drink them neat or add the fruity ones to whipping cream for a syllabub, the coffee liqueur to chocolate sauce for ice cream.
All photos courtesy of the author except lead photo by Blue Lotus.