The end of yet another yearly cycle is upon us, and it is often at this time of year that I begin to reminisce about those sacred moments of the past: the abundance of joy and laughter, and the interludes of the bittersweet and sorrowful. An amalgamation of events have taken place this year, one in particular that has definitely compelled me to reflect on the cycle of life and, the beauty and memories that one life can accumulate.
Nevertheless, the enchantment of childhood Christmas’s, held closely to my heart, remains safe and unforgotten, a blessing I am grateful for. I find myself eagerly preparing myself for the journey ahead to visit family and friends, relishing the thoughts of warm, open fires, the layers of cream, knitted jumpers, long frosty walks through emptied fields, and simply being with those I cherish and hold dearly. There is a profound pleasure I find in collecting perfumed evergreens from outdoors, crafting wreathes, cooking heartier dishes and preparing homemade gifts, that truly elevates the experiences of the season. A little decadence goes a long way.
The art of infusion, if you will, is meditative in a manner, mindful and slow. Although patience is required, I have provided three different liqueurs with different infusion times to suit all occasions. In essence, this trio captures my childhood recollections of the scents of festivities.
Winter Citrus Infused Scotch Whiskey with Figs + Yuletide spices
Adapted from Country Living
I have made this infused whiskey for my grandmother, Ida, religiously for almost five years now. As much as I loved the original version, I had the desire to achieve a beverage with stronger, spicier flavours and distinctively warming notes. This drink tends to disappear quite quickly.
Makes: 700ml whiskey
Infusion time: 4-6 weeks
700ml scotch whiskey (single malt or blended)
2 cinnamon sticks, broken
6 dried figs, torn
2 star anise
1 vanilla pod, broken
1/4 cup muscodavo sugar
Pour in all the ingredients into a sealable glass jar or container (preferably airtight). Stir once or twice and seal, storing in a dark, cool place. Every few days for the first week, stir the mixture gently. Leave to infuse for a few weeks, checking and stirring occasionally. When ready, prepare a sterilised glass bottle or container of your choice, and, with a fine sieve or cheesecloth, catch all the solids and discard. Pour the liquid into the bottle and store for use.
Blackthorn and Spruce infused vodka + roasted thyme
Spruce, mildly sweet with a bright somewhat citrus flavour comes to life with the earthy, slight hints of the lemon and mint notes of the thyme. The blackthorn berries provide a gently overtone of anise which compliments the other elements beautifully, providing an overall wonderful experience. Roasting the thyme brings out the essential oils and the deeper flavours which I think really benefits the complexity of the drink. If you are worried about a harsher piney flavour, start with one cutting of spruce and a shorter infusion time, working your way up till you achieve your desired taste.
Infusion time: 2+ days
2-3 spruce tips, unsprayed, washed and dried (each approximately 2 inches long)
2-3 tsp caster sugar
10-12 blackthorn berries, dried
8-10 thyme stems
One day in advance, place the vodka in a glass bottle, with the blackthorn berries, slightly broken with a mortar and pestle. Next day, heat the oven to 250c (482f). When ready, place the thyme stems on a baking tray in the oven for 2-3 minutes, or until they are slightly golden and fragrant, making sure that they do not burn. Place in the vodka. In a mortar, grind the spruce needles with the sugar in order to release the essential oils and the flavour, pour into the vodka and leave overnight. In the morning, pour the ingredients through a fine sieve or cheesecloth to catch any solids. Discard these. Pour in a clean, sterilised bottle and seal. Use within 2 years.
Hot buttered brandy cider with honey, marsala chai and dates
Sweet, slightly acidic, aromatic and comforting. Golden in appearance, this festive brew amalgamates images of an oriental winter.
Makes: approximately 2 drinks
Infusion time: 1hr 30 minutes
1 tbsp butter (+1 tsp extra for cooking)
2 cinnamon sticks, broken
2 tbsp + 1 tsp brandy
2cm piece of fresh ginger
3-4 cardamom pods
2 marjool dates
1 tsp raw honey
rosemary sprigs, to garnish
Pour the cider and butter into a pan and place on a gentle, low heat. Place the cinnamon, fresh ginger, cardamom and cloves into the liquid and stir occasionally. In another pan on medium heat, place the de-pitted marjool dates with the extra butter and stir until a thick chunky syrup is formed. Pour this into the cider mix. Once the cider beings to bubble, turn off the heat and leave to rest with a lid on for an hour or so. When ready to use, pour the raw honey into each glass, turn heat on again until mixture begins to simmer, stirring gently. Take off heat , pour in the brandy and pass through a fine sieve or cheesecloth, discarding the contents. Pour into the glasses, stir and garnish with a rosemary sprig. Enjoy hot or warm.
Happy holidays to everyone and a best wishes for the New Year.