Orgeat is something I only discovered in my 30s, around the time I could comfortably afford to go to a fancy cocktail bar and have that trust shattered by not understanding the ingredients on the drinks menu. Googling this ingredient on my phone at the coffee shop did two things: it made me look really cool, AND I’ve found that this must-have component of the Tiki drink isn’t out of my league. You can prepare orgeat at home on the cheap and impress your friends with your Tiki game at home.
Orzata has French origins and was once a blend of almonds and barley. These days the barley has been eliminated. (I don’t speak French, but this French pronunciation that’s what I felt comfortable with.) First, orgeat is an almond syrup. Just a splash of orange blossom water and brandy are mixed to give this concoction a je ne sais quois twist. It is a common component for Tiki drinks, including mai tai and Trinidad sour. Orgeat adds a subtle nuttiness as well as providing a serving of simple syrup. It’s normally used in small ½ ounce doses, but let’s be honest: After tasting a small amount of the stuff, I was ready to add it to coffee, mix it into oatmeal, pour it on pancakes, and use it as a perfume. It’s an almond lover’s paradise in syrup form.
You can buy eight ounces for ten bucks, but the bottled stuff includes additional ingredients to make it last longer on the shelf, and once opened, it doesn’t last more than a month. Notably, the store-bought version will not contain alcohol. Yours will be better. Making a batch at home is simple but requires a few hours of idle steeping. You just need raw almonds, sugar, plain water, orange blossom water, and a complementary spirit like brandy or cognac. Instead, I saw a recipe that used vodka and I guess you could try different versions with other spirits and liqueurs you like. However, if you’re trying something new, I suggest you do it in a small batch first to give it a try.
Blend the almonds in a food processor until the larger pieces are about small pebbles, but not as fine as almond flour. On the stove over medium-low heat, pour the plain water and sugar into a small saucepan to make a simple syrup. Stir occasionally to help the sugar dissolve quickly. Once the mixture starts to boil and all the sugar has dissolved, pour in the peanuts. Reduce the heat to low and stir the nuts often. Let them simmer like this for two or three minutes (try not to let the mixture boil or it could bring out the bitter notes of the almonds), and turn off the heat. Cover the pot with a lid and set it aside to soak for 3-10 hours. I let mine steep for five and a half and it was amazing.
Prepare a large scoop with a big bag of nut milk above. Alternatively, you could use three or four layers of overlap gauze to filter the mixture. Pour the syrup-almond mixture into your strainer. It will look like thick mud with a layer of syrup hidden underneath. Use a rubber spatula to scrape up all the syrup in the bag. Squeeze the almond pulp as thoroughly as possible to get all the syrup available and into the measuring cup. There’s no fancy trick to this one, you have to squeeze out the syrup and it’s kind of messy. i hold vinyl gloves in my kitchen for times like this, and it helped get the syrup flowing into the cup without getting covered in stuff. If you’re making a large batch of orgeat, make the strained portion in two or three installments. Store the almond pulp in the freezer for other uses (I don’t have full ideas yet but you better believe I’m making a pie or some sort of pie crust). Mix one-half teaspoon of orange blossom water and one ounce of brandy into the almond syrup. Pour the barley water into a covered container and store it in the refrigerator for up to three months.
Once you taste this almond syrup, you will be undeniably impressed. It will be a nice misty fawn color and have a sweet, slightly creamy and distinctly almondy flavour. At first I thought I could make a fake version with almond extract, but there’s no way the flavor could be duplicated like that. The aroma and nuance are much fuller than what an extract can bring to a simple syrup because the almond oils are absorbed by the orgeat as it cooks and infuses.
There are lots of cocktails you can make with your fresh orgeat, just shake it before pouring in case the oils separate. After your first batch, you can explore flavorful tweaks. Try using roasted almonds or almonds in their skins. I made one batch with raw blanched almonds and another with roasted blanched almonds. Both tasted amazing and the toasted batch had a slightly darker color with just a hint of extra toasted flavour. Branch out and try different nuts. Of course, barley is intended as almond, but what you make in your house is your business. Use cashews, peanuts or pecans.
The following recipe is a small batch and makes ½-¾ cup of orgeat. I used to this orange blossom water, but you can use rose water or another floral water. You can find them in some grocery stores and lean on the internet if needed.
1 cup blanched almonds, ground in food processor ½ cup water ¾ cup sugar ½ teaspoon orange blossom water 2 tablespoons or 1 ounce brandy (cognac, vodka, or other complementary spirit)
In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, add the water and sugar. Stir occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Bring to the boil. Add the ground almonds and reduce the heat to a simmer. Stir and cook the mixture for two to three minutes. Remove it from the heat and cover the pot with a lid to let the almond syrup steep for 3-10 hours.
Strain the almonds and syrup through a bag of nut milk (or layered cheesecloth) into a large measuring cup. Squeeze out as much syrup as possible. Mix the orange blossom water and brandy. Decant the barley water into a container with a spout for easy use and refrigerate.