Among our small circle of friends, it’s become tradition to give a little box or jar of treats to celebrate the holidays. I love coming home during December to find a stash of peppermint whoopee pies or a jar of granola with lavender honey tucked up next to our front door. And, of course, planning what to give is just as fun as receiving.
This year, I decided to make up a batch of infused bourbon for our gift. Way back at the end of summer I bought a perfect basket of peaches, chopped them up, and let them meld with a bottle of bourbon for six weeks. The result tastes incredible.
The problem? I didn’t make quite enough. While I could have rushed a second batch, with only a handful of weeks before Christmas and no good peaches in sight, there really wasn’t time to do it properly.
Fortunately, with a little research, I discovered that citrus fruits — abundant and heavenly right now — don’t need weeks to infuse. In fact, you can make a bottle of yummy orange vodka in just 3 or 4 days.
Start with 3-4 oranges. If you can find blood oranges, they’ll give your vodka a beautiful color, but valencia or navel oranges will still taste good.
Using a vegetable peeler or zester, carefully scrape off the orange skins, leaving all of the white pith behind. Add the skins to a clean gallon mason jar or similarly-sized container.
Now turn to the orange flesh. Again, you want to avoid the pith, which will make your vodka bitter, so slice off the white parts first and discard them. Then, chop what remains into about 1-inch sections. Add the orange flesh to the jar, giving it a little squeeze as you do to release some of the juices.
Next, cover the oranges with a 750 mL bottle of vodka. As always when I’m infusing, I like to pick a middle-of-the-road liquor. If you go too cheap, the quality of the result will suffer, but there’s no need to buy premium vodka, either.
With the vodka added, cap off your container and put it in a cool, dry place for 3-4 days, gently swirling it once a day. Once the vodka is infused, use a cheesecloth or tea towel to strain off the orange pieces. At that point, have a taste. If you like, you can add some simple syrup to sweeten the vodka, but I thought mine was sweet enough with just the oranges.
Bottle the orange vodka in clean containers, and use for any cocktail requiring orange vodka. You can find many on the Internet, but here’s a recipe I’ve come up with to get you started.
The Christmas Morning
2 jiggers orange vodka
1 jigger fresh-squeezed orange juice
1/2 jigger rosemary infused simple syrup
About 5 drops of Angostura bitters
A small sprig of rosemary
With the bright orange vodka and some pine-y rosemary infused simple syrup, this cocktail really does taste just like Christmas morning.
First things first: to make the rosemary simple syrup, add 1/3 cup sugar, 2/3 cup water, and a few sprigs of rosemary to a sauce pot. Bring to a boil, and stir until the sugar dissolves. Allow to cool, remove the rosemary, and store in the fridge indefinitely.
To make the drink, add the vodka, orange juice, simple syrup and bitters to a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake well, and strain into a martini glass, or — in a pinch — your grandmother’s old-fashioned wine glasses. Garnish with a sprig of rosemary to add more lovely scent.