Archive for the Creme de Noyaux Category

Cherries 2010

Posted in Cherries, Creme de Noyaux, Home Made Ingredients, Stone Fruit with tags , , , on August 4, 2010 by Mr. Manhattan

It’s been a good cherry season here in northern California with plenty of nice looking fruit still for sale. Commensurately, I’ve been busy. Here’s an update on my projects.

Candied Sweet Cherries—Two ways

Back in May I made two separate batches of candied cherries using Bing and some Van, both of which are bigarreau-type cultivars of Prunus avium, the sweet cherry species. These are really fleshy fruit and I wanted to see if I could approximate the texture and taste of candied Italian amarenata cherries (often incorrectly referred to as amarena). Those cherries are very dark and dense inside, almost like a fruit paste. Some folks don’t like ‘em, but I myself am quite fond of them, especially when they’ve had the chance to ‘make friends’ with some rye in a mason jar and loose all of that heavy syrup in which they come packed.

For the first batch I started out by partially cooking 2 lb. of fruit that had been stoned and then macerated for one hour with 1 lb. of organic cane sugar. I added a vanilla bean (split lengthwise), the peel of two Seville oranges, their juice and about half a cup of water. I stirred everything until all the sugar was dissolved and simmered the mixture for about 15 – 20 minutes, as if I was going to make preserves. I then switched over to a ‘classic’ candying protocol, leaving the cherries to sit in the syrup over night, draining them in the morning, re-heating the syrup to which more sugar is then added, and then pouring the enriched syrup over the cherries again. I did this for about five days; fully candied fruit may be processed for two weeks in this manner. I then gave them a final draining (reserving the vanilla-rich syrup, which is totally killer over ice cream) and put the cherries on a baking sheet to allow them to dry. After a few days I deemed them done.

For the second batch I decided to follow the candying protocol more closely, which meant the stoned fruit was barely cooked on the first day and with much less sugar. Once again I added a vanilla bean, orange peel (Sevilles were now gone however) and the juice of a lemon. I enriched the syrup with daily additions of sugar for another full seven days after which I decided they were candied enough. One thing I didn’t want was to wind up with an entirely glaced cherry. As it turned out, this second batch was far closer to that point that I realized. After being stored in a sealed container for 10 days they were in fact showing signs of becoming crystalized.

Of the two batches, the first is clearly the more successful. The flesh of the fruit is very moist and a lot of fresh cherry flavor remains. There’s also no sign of crystallizing, even after a month in the container. The second batch, while tasty, is definitely more sugary and the fruit has begun to show signs of crystallization. I’ve put a bunch of them into my ‘washing jar’ with some rye where I think they will fare better.

I should say that neither batch approximates the jamminess of the Italian amarenata cherries. I am not sure that I will ever be able to do that.

Brandied Balatons

I have waxed poetic before on the Balaton, a cultivar of sour cherries (Prunus cerasus) originally developed in Hungary, established in states like Michigan, Idaho and Utah, and now showing up in commercial quantities here in California. These seem to be easier far to find than the tart standard bearer, the Montmorency. In fact, I’ve never seen these for sale anywhere around here.

I lucked upon Balatons last year as they were more or less fading and just barely managed to get some home before the market scuttled the box as unsalable. (I’d have taken ‘em!) This year I kept my eyes open for them every time I visited Berkeley Bowl. Two days ago they made their appearance, this time pre-packaged in 2 lb. clamshells. This was actually an improvement over the loose boxes in which I found them last year. All the fruit was firm, bright and in good condition. (Note: two days later all the Balatons were gone—sold out. Guess I wasn’t the only one waiting for these.)

Last year I put my Balatons up two ways: one rye (with orange peel and vanilla bean) and one in mixture of cognac and kirsch. I eventually added some sugar to both batches. Of the two, I liked the cognac and kirsch best, so this year that’s all I did. I also bumped the sugar a bit and allowed the fruit to macerate for a couple of hours before adding the spirits. In about a week I will sample and and adjust the sweetness if necessary.

Cherry Noyaux Experiments

My noyaux investigations continue. An abundance of cherries have been stoned in my kitchen over the past two months and I have not been letting the kernels go to waste. Unlike peach bunkers, cherry stones are easily cracked, though you get much less out of each one. For example, two pounds of Balaton cherries yielded just 19 grams of kernels. That’s “kernels,” the bit inside of each stone, not the shells which account for most of the mass.

I have made two distinct experiments using cherry stones at this point.

Experiment #1: Boosting the Peach Noyaux

The first thing I wanted to try was to add cherry kernels to the peach kernel noyaux I made last year. That first product has always felt a bit delicate and subtle to me. My thought was to boost the flavor by macerating some cherry kernels in it. One batch, using Bing/Van kernels, has been macerating for two months and has now been coarsely filtered. The aroma of this noyaux is definitely more intense but it’s the flavor which has really changed: much more marzipan and bitter almond. My current thoughts are to mix in more of the peach kernel noyaux to reduce the bitterness and/or add more sugar.

I also have a second similar batch based on the Balaton kernels in process. It will be interesting to see if it tastes any different than the batch based on Bing/Van kernels.

Experiment #2: Straight Cherry Noyaux

Another idea was to make a new batch of noyaux based entirely on cherries. Since cherry stones contain such small kernels I decided to just crush the stones and add everything—kernels, shells, and any flesh still attached—to a bottle of VS cognac. That batch is about one month old right now and has turned a coppery-red. You can smell the cherry in it and when tasted, it exhibits a light cherry flavor. It will be interesting to see how much more flavor develops in a month and how it tastes after it’s been sweetened. I may also augment this with some of the cherry-boosted peach noyaux.

Noyaux Redaux

Posted in Creme de Noyaux with tags on January 2, 2010 by Mr. Manhattan

A few days ago I happened upon what appears to be a moderately old bottle of Bols Creme de Noyaux for sale in a nearby neighborhood liquor store. I purchased it, of course. Here’s a photo:

I’ve been trying to date it based on some of the clues I found on the bottle. These are:

  • Sealed with “Bureau of ATF” tax stamp. (See photo below.)
  • Produced and bottled in Louisville, KY.
  • Label indicates “certified colour added” on front label. (N.B. British spelling of “color”). All other label text in Dutch.
  • Glass impressed with volume of bottle on back: “3/4 QUART.” (See photo below.)
  • Bottom of bottle impressed with text: “ERVEN LUCAS BOLS LIQUOR BOTTLE” and the number “60 78″ plus a couple of other symbols I cannot make out very clearly.

I’m guessing it’s at least 25 years old since as best as I can determine the very last tax stamps were used in 1985. I’m also guessing it may be colored with cochineal rather than a completely artificial coloring. (It’s actually rather lurid looking.) Certainly this isn’t any sort of pre-Prohibition treasure but it’s definitely got an historical feel about it. If anyone can help me refine these guesses, leave a comment or drop me a line.

Oh, and yes, I opened and tasted it. Intense marzipan flavor with a distinct bitter finish. I can’t figure out if the finish is from the flavoring (peach pit kernels would definitely give you that) or from the coloring.



Crème de Noyaux: A Short, Moderately Accurate, Incomplete History

Posted in Cocktails, Creme de Noyaux, Home Made Ingredients, Stone Fruit with tags , , , on November 19, 2009 by Mr. Manhattan

By now most of us know the stories of “lost” cocktail ingredients like orgeat, grenadine, and pineapple gum syrup. These are well known to us today, in part, because their fortunes are linked to many famous (and delicious) cocktails: orgeat to the Mai Tai, grenadine to the Ward 8 (among others) and pineapple gum to Pisco Punch. (The lesson here is that it pays to be well connected if you’re an obscure cocktail ingredient.) Today however I am going to talk about an ingredient far less storied and far less referenced in “The Canon” of famous cocktails. In fact, this ingredient is most famously associated with a cocktail many (if not all) of us would likely eschew if one were offered to us today. This is a story about crème de noyaux—along with a little history of its poster-child cocktail, the Pink Squirrel.

“So, what the heck is this pink stuff in my glass, anyway?”

According to the source of all truth (wikipedia), crème de noyaux (or noyau as it is may also be spelled) is “an almond-flavored pink crème liqueur made from apricot kernels.” Actually, that’s most of the article quoted for you right there. Short and, unfortunately, misleading. Why?

First off, it is inaccurate to say crème de noyaux is “almond-flavored.” Crème de noyaux may taste of almonds, but no almonds, as such, are used to make it. (Aside: Amaretto, another “almond-flavored” liqueur, is similarly almond-free.) Second it doesn’t tell you that in addition to apricot kernels, noyaux may also be made from peach and cherry stone kernels, possibly a combination of all three. Third, it doesn’t tell you that, being made from the kernels of fruit in the Prunus genus, it contains traces of amygdalin, which is converted into cyanide as a side effect of digestion. (OK, by the enzyme beta-glucosidase, if you must know). Finally, it doesn’t tell you what the heck makes it pink. Today, of course, that pink is likely to be good old artificial food coloring. I’d hazard a guess that once upon a time it was colored with cocineal, though my research on this was quite inconclusive.

[N.B. If you didn't already know, the term "crème" does not refer to the use of cream (or a non-dairy equivalent) as in "Bailey's Irish Cream," but rather to any highly sugared liqueur. See, this article is full of information!]

The State of Crème de Noyaux Today

Here in the United States crème de noyaux has pretty much vanished. In the San Francisco bay area where I live, the only brand of crème de noyaux I see with any regularity on the liquor store shelves is the Hiram Walker, the provenance of which I can only speculate. Mostly or entirely artificial in flavor and color would be my guess. (If someone can prove me wrong, please do.) Elsewhere you may find Bols, DeKuyper and Marie Brizard, but these may be called crème de almond instead of noyaux—a name which I believe crept into usage in the 1950’s. (Someone with a set of Old Mr. Boston Guides could probably help settle this.) One of these offerings, the Marie Brizard, is also completely clear.

The French are a bit luckier, naturellement. Best as I can tell from the Internet, they have two choices, de Poissy and de Vernon, both of which are naturally flavored. However Erik Ellestad has tried obtain these (according to his blog entry on the Eye Opener Cocktail) but without any success. (Either that or he’s not sharing with the rest of us. ;->) Also unknown to me is whether these offerings are tinted the traditional pink or not.

Getting High on Your Own Supply

Let me now rewind things by a few months and explain how I became interested in this particular ingredient in the first place…

In May 2009, Erik Ellestad wrote up his experiences making the Old Etonian cocktail (part of his on going project to make all the cocktails in The Savoy Cocktail book). The Old Etonian calls for the elusive crème de noyaux. Erik had received a bottle of homemade noyaux from another famous blogger, Matthew Rowley at Rowley’s Whiskey Forge. I already knew the execrable state of domestic noyaux, Rowley had published the recipe he used on his blog and since I love making exotic ingredients, I knew right away that I had found my next project!

Matthew’s recipe comes from the 1910 edition of the “Picayune’s Creole Cook Book,” which he has generously allowed me to reproduce from his blog. Here it is:

Peach Kernel Ratafia
(Ratafia aux Noyau de Peches ou d’Abricots)

¼ pound each of peach or apricot kernels
4 pints of brandy
2½ pounds of sugar
2 pints of water

Pound the peach or apricot kernels – some also pound peach stones – steep them for one whole month in four pints of brandy in an earthen jar, and at the end of that time add a syrup made of two and a half pounds of sugar and 2 pints of water. Mix all well together, and then filter, and bottle and seal, and keep in a cool, shady place.

[Here's a link to Matthew's original blog post.]

As you can see, it’s a straightforward and relatively uncomplicated process. The only real challenges are collecting the peach stones (you need quite a few) and then cracking them open to extract the kernels inside.

To get my peach stones I took a tip from Rowley and went to a local bakery well known for their fruit pies: Bake Sale Betty in Oakland, CA. As it turned out, the owners were familiar with making liqueurs from apricot pits, so my request wasn’t completely strange to them. All I had to do was wait for peaches to reach their seasonal peak, a which point the bakery would start making their pies, saving the stones for me. A few weeks later, I stopped by to see how things were going at which point they handed me a stack of “to go” boxes filled with peach stones, about 20 pounds worth. As they say, I had scored. Incredibly grateful, I promised to come back in a couple of months with a bottle of crème de noyaux, in payment.

Cracking peach stones open is the really hard work, any way you do it. Rowley used a hammer and cracked them open on the concrete sidewalk outside his house. I decided to try using a pair of giganto-sized Vicegrips to split them open. It took me the better part of two hours and my hands were hella sore for a day afterwards. But, for my trouble, I obtained 8 ounces worth of the precious kernels, enough to make two batches of Rowley’s recipe.

The rest of the recipe involves pounding the kernels in a mortar and pestle, macerating them in the cognac, waiting, sweetening and then filtering the results. Let me add a couple of notes about sweetening and filtering.

Sweetening: While waiting for Bake Sale Betty to collect peach stones for me, I was given a small pile of nectarine stones which I used to make a test batch of the noyaux. Nectarine stone kernels turn out to be much less fragrant than those from peaches and the resulting liqueur was pretty lackluster. However, by making it I determined that the amount of sweetening specified in Rowley’s recipe was way way too much for my palate. I find the Cajun palate is generally inclined to make things much sweeter than I prefer, so this wasn’t too surprising. When it came time to sweeten the batch I made with peach kernels, I used half the amount of sugar called for.

Filtering: Even after filtering through several layers of fine muslin, the noyaux retained a suspension of very fine particles. Over the course of about a month, these settled out, allowing me to rack off almost perfectly clear liquid. I tried to reclaim what was left behind (several ounces) by using regular Melita coffee filters, but most of the particles simple passed right through the paper. I suspect that if you really want to get things perfectly clear, you’ll either need to use a Buchner filter and 3-micron filter paper discs or try following the procedures provided on Rowley’s blog from the same book as the noyaux recipe. These involve using felt and or isinglass.

“So, what the heck does it taste like?”

The homemade noyaux definitely has a unique aroma and taste. The nose is very effusive, practically volatile. There’s a lot of marzipan backed by the grapey scent of the cognac in which the kernels were macerated. The marzipan continues onto the tongue where it’s joined by a little tea and the sugar. It finishes with a distinct bittersweet edge, which at first I found a little challenging. I was worried that the bitterness would dominate the experience of drinking the noyaux, much the way tannins can build up on the tongue and dominate the fruit in a young cabernet. That did not happen. Instead I found that after a few sips, the sweet and bitter components achieved a pleasant equilibrium. I was reminded of the experience of tasting a Del Maguey mezcal for the first time: you sense you’re drinking a very “pure” product, something from the earth which has been processed just enough to express itself fully and no more.

A Mostly Obscure Bestiary of Cocktails

Appropriately enough for a ‘lost’ pre-Prohibition ingredient, the majority of cocktails which call for crème de noyaux are to be found in The Savoy Cocktail Book. Here’s the complete list:

Eye Opener Cocktail
Fairbanks Cocktail (No. 2)
Jockey Club Cocktail
Lily Cocktail
Mikado Cocktail
Old Etonian Cocktail

Of these, the Mikado, a variation on the Japanese, is my personal favorite though, ironically, it also contains orgeat which is of course made from…almonds. I find this somewhat diminishes the impact of the crème de noyaux. The Lily is the only one of these in which crème de noyaux plays a significant role, equal in proportion to gin and Kina Lillet. However I can’t say I really love how that one tastes. Too angular a combination of tastes, me thinks.

More to my taste was another cocktail I found on CocktailDB called the Crawl Cocktail. Here’s the recipe:

Crawl Cocktail

1 oz. Cognac
1/2 oz. light rum (Flor de Cana Aged white)
1/2 oz. Crème de noyaux
1/4 oz. Curacao
1 dash Angostura bitters

Stir over ice. Serve in coupe with a lemon twist for garnish.

Despite my best efforts, I was unable to find any attribution for this cocktail. If you know anything about it, please drop me a line and let me know.

The Trail of The Pink Squirrel

The most famous crème de noyaux cocktail is, of course, the Pink Squirrel. I decided to learn what I could about it for this blog post. The trail led me to Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where, legend has it, the cocktail was invented. Byrant’s, as it turns out, is still around and still makes Pink Squirrels (and Grasshoppers) as part of what looks like a serious bar program. I contacted the folks at Bryant’s to answer some of my questions.

According to John M. Dye (manager) and Shirley Lowery (former manager and first licensed female bartender in Milwaukee), Bryant Sharp invented the Pink Squirrel in 1941. (Prior to 1941, Bryant’s had been a beer hall, tied to Miller Brewery.) The original recipe called for ice cream and not the heavy cream called for by modern recipes. In the 1960’s, Bryant’s second owner, Pat Malmberg, decided to cut the crème de cacao from Bryant’s original recipe since felt it was unnecessary. Bryant’s still makes their Pink Squirrels according to this recipe today.

Less clear is whether the Pink Squirrel started life as an alcoholic beverage or as milkshake to which spirits were then added. (After reading Dye’s account, I have myself wondered whether Bryant was in fact serving ‘spiked’ milkshakes prior to Repeal, but have not been able to obtain corroboration of this theory one way or the other.)

I also quizzed Dye regarding the brand of crème de noyaux that Bryant might have been using in his original cocktails. Dye says he’s believes it might have been Bols but really he’s not sure. He says that Bryant’s has a long history with Bols and they use their crème de noyaux today.

Unanswered Questions

Like the title says, this history is short, only moderately accurate and definitely incomplete. There’s more research that could be done and I am hoping over time I’ll be able to answer some or all of the following questions:

1- Was pre-Prohibition crème de noyaux colored pink?

2- What was originally used to color crème de noyaux pink?

3- Are the French offerings pink colored?

4- At what point did crème de almond become a “synonym” for crème de noyaux?

5- When did the Pink Squirrel first appear in the Old Mr. Boston guide (and with or without the ice cream)?

One For the Road

I’ll end this with an original recipe of my own. It’s pretty simple and to the point. Along with rye, I’m mixing the noyaux with maraschino, which is made from the kernels of yet another Prunus genus fruit, the cherry.

Kernel of Truth

2 oz. Wild Turkey rye
1/2 oz. Homemade crème de noyaux
1/4 oz. Luxardo maraschino liqueur

Stir over ice. Serve in a chilled cocktail glass.

Cheers!

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