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.
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).