Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The 44 Cordial

When I was young, I had piles of books. Given my lifelong literature consumption, this should be no surprise. But it wasn't just the usual kiddie lit -- there were all sorts of practical how-to guides, science manuals, craft instructions, and the like. I had a book about evolution that, in addition to detailing the living fossils growing on every forest floor, explained how to pan-fry puffballs for dinner (I don't think I ever did). I had kid-centered almanacs that have made me a fount of useless knowledge (although quite useful on trivia teams), and volumes of experiments leading me to set up balloon-taped-to-straw ziplines criss-crossing my room, and even, thrillingly, set a cylinder of tissue paper on fire and watch its ashes rise, ghostlike, towards the ceiling (sometimes, terrifyingly, still aflame -- thanks, Dad!). Often I tend to live in my head, and forget how much fun these sorts of projects can be. Like making a 44 cordial.

To an extent, all cooking is an experiment, a transformation of ingredients into a new whole. But making a 44 cordial really makes you feel like a kid again, holding your breath and sticking out your tongue slightly as you navigate the blunt-ended scissors. It reminds me of those pomander projects kids can diligently labor over for hours, pushing dozens and dozens of cloves through the thick skin of an orange. Except here, instead of studding an orange with cloves, you use 44 coffee beans. And then, to take the project into the grown-up realm, you submerge it into a jar of booze. You sweeten it up with sugar (44 teaspoons), and let it sit for 44 days, enough time for the flavors to infuse, age and soften.

Most versions of the 44 cordial seem to use rum, although there are variations with vodka or grain alcohol. The coffee beans can be bolstered with a vanilla bean, or swapped out (partially or entirely) for cacao beans. I've seen this concoction credited to Madagascar (which, given its delicious coffee, vanilla and chocolate, would make any of these variations credible), though it's also similar to France's vin d'orange.

I realize that it's a bit dangerous to post a recipe before I've had a chance to fully appreciate the finished product, but I wanted to tip folks off while citrus season is in full swing. And, as with any hands-on experiment, it piques the curiosity. Do the acids inside the orange do something to the coffee beans? Would the result be as good if you just stabbed the orange a few times to release the oils and expose its innards, and then just tossed the coffee beans alongside? I suppose I could do a side-by-side comparison and see. But, given the type of all-too-grown-up week I've had, I'm happy to just sit back, meditatively poke a bunch of coffee beans inside an orange, and dream of the boozy sweetness to come.

The 44 Cordial

traditional, as per various sources

This yields a strongly-flavored apertif -- you can sip it on its own, or use it as an element in building ridiculous cocktails. It also makes for a great gift. 

1 orange
44 coffee beans
44 teaspoons sugar (aka a scant cup)
4 cups light rum

Taking a paring knife, make 44 small stabs into the orange, and slip the coffee beans inside (they should stud the skin, making it look like it has some sort of pox). Marvel at how fun it is. Then place the coffee-studded orange in a large jar, and add the sugar and the rum. Let age in a cool, dark place, swirling occasionally, for 44 days.

When it has aged, discard the boozy coffee orange, and strain the liqueur through a cheesecloth. You can enjoy right away, chilled or at room temperature (although, like all good booze, it will improve with age).


  1. Even though I'm not a rum-fan, I'm just curious enough that I may have to do this. The idea of poking coffee beans into that orange seems very satisfying indeed...

  2. I only just had a Sambuca with an espresso bean tossed in the glass for the first time, and now I am hooked. Clearly, this is the next level. Food science! Love it.

  3. Love it, 44 cordial, must must must do this! :)

  4. My wife and I did this last year after having a glass at Lincoln restaurant on N Williams in PDX, and it's AY-MAY-ZING. We still have some in a bottle in the freezer, which comes out every now and then for a postprandial cordial.

    I'll have to try the vanilla bean and/or cacao bean variation!

  5. Discard the orange? Quel horreur! Slice it into eighths and use it to garnish the glass. Encourage folks to suck out all the intense flavors. I have made it annually since I first learned the recipe in Provence in 1985. I use a bit less sugar though.

  6. This looks sooo good. I really want to get into making homemade liqueurs and cordials. Thanks for this.

  7. You don't have to use rum - you can use vodka, bourbon or even scotch (use a less expensive blend!)

    You can jazz it up a bit by adding a stick of cinnamon and or a few cloves.

    BTW - it's a pain to stuff the coffee beans in the orange. I stab the orange all over with the knife and just toss it in the booze and put the coffee beans in loose and strain it all out after 44 days or 6 weeks.

  8. this sounds so amazing! can't wait to start stabbing/inserting/blending this concoction. thanks for sharing. =)

  9. I was shown this in Bayeux. Of course, they used the regional calvados. Lovely drink. Going to try this now back in the UK