Sure, sure, sure. You could run to the liquor store and pick up a bottle of Kahlúa and nobody will kick you out of the party. It’s plenty respectable as the number one coffee liqueur in the world with a provenance dating back to 1936 Veracruz, Mexico. (As the story goes, four guys pooled resources and talents and whipped up the first batch using Arabica beans, rum, local sugar and vanilla. Four years later, Kahlúa had hit the US shores). But think of the approving nods and admiration you will get if you roll in with a handcrafted hostess gift of homemade Kahlúa and a knowing “I made this” glow about you. Mic drop. The crowd murmurs.
To tell you the truth, I had never considered making this until one of you, dear readers, asked me about it recently. I was casting about for a homemade culinary treat like the ones I have shared over the years (and oh so conveniently linked below) and it hit me as pure genius. I have done spices, candies, crackers, but never a liqueur. I had to do a bit of research and only then realized it is quite brilliant, because unlike the commercially bottled stuff, you can use high quality ingredients and tweak it to your own desired sweetness and ingredient selection.
What’s in Kahlúa?
For SURE, traditional Kahlúa is made with rum – white or dark would work. It’s Mexican, for crying out loud. But there is already so much sugar in the recipe – I have seen recipes that double the amount of sugar I use – that I feel using a more neutral spirit, like vodka, provides a more rounded taste. But since you are cheffing it today, consider a small batch Bourbon, vanilla rum, or even a spiced spirit. I am a longtime believer that Garbage In/Garbage Out rules the kitchen, so choose a quality ingredient.
All coffee beans are either Arabica or Robusta. Most quality cafes and coffee brands use Arabica for its sweeter, more mellow taste, with undertones of fruit and berries. There is a bright acidity to the finish. Robusta is more likely to be found in mass marketed and instant coffees, and it is more harsh, with raw grain and peanut notes and low acidity. Can you guess which one I insist upon?? A lot of Kahlúa recipes will call for instant coffee. My guess is that is how you can easily control the brew strength – more crystals, less water. But you will get a more sophisticated and smoother blend if you make coffee or espresso the old fashioned way, using Arabica beans with a heavier hand. I used Lavazza espresso beans and added 50% more than standard coffee strength. The reader that started this all had flown in Kona from Hawaii. Ooh la la!
Ingredient three (of four) in homemade Kahlúa is sugar. You can find recipes that call for white, brown, molasses, even Stevia or monkfruit. I’m a bit of a purest with avoiding sugar substitutes. The sugar not only adds sweetness – no surprise – but it has a critical role in the final viscosity. This recipe will get slightly thicker as it sits for a couple weeks, but it will not be syrupy like commercial brands. To my taste, that yields a better bar component that can be used in myriad ways. If you like that syrupy, cloying sweetness, by all means add more sugar, up to double. I chose an organic dark brown sugar for its molasses flavor notes.
Lastly, the vanilla bean. They have gotten quiet pricey, so sub with a splash of real vanilla extract if you must. If you make this all in one big jug for the two weeks of curing, you might want to strain out the bean, if using, before bottling. But if you are going straight to the gift bottle as you make it, scrape all the seeds into the batch and cut the beans into enough pieces to put one piece in each bottle.
I have recently become a sucker for Health-Ade Kombucha which conveniently comes in cute 16-ounce brown glass bottles with resealable lids (with a nice little anchor on top), as well as a 64-ounce jug. I had enough bottles to cure in the big jug and then transfer out into small bottles after curing for two weeks. If you have to buy them, there are plenty of options on Amazon. (affiliate link)
Due to travel, I left this bottling in the capable hands of a beverage tasting professional. The report back yesterday after two weeks of swirling and agitating (inverting to move any sugar settling) was “smooth, great coffee undertones, balanced” followed by “having another taste…….I like it.” 🙂
Kahlúa Flavor Harmony
For anyone who is a coffee lover, the number of options for marrying coffee with other flavors is no surprise. Just think of the constant rollout at Starbucks and see how they have paired it. I list several here just to spur your creativity. Consider these inspo for cocktails, drizzles over ice cream, or savory dishes where you might want to add in a hit of Kahlúa.
What Can I Do with Homemade Kahlúa?
Ohhhhhhhh, so you saved some for yourself, now did ya? I got you covered!! There are so many ways to use Kahlúa beyond cocktails, though that is oddly all I see on the official Kahlúa site. Over the years, I have worked with dozens of spirit brands, and it’s always a struggle to get them away from cocktail recipes. It’s such a narrow perspective! One of my clients – Carolans Irish Creme – thought outside the box. I developed all kinds of recipes for them, from brunch to BBQ to breads to sides. So with that spirit 🙂 in mind, here are a few cocktails and a number of other ways where Kahlúa and you might journey. Let me know what you try! Take the road less traveled, made so much tastier with homemade Kahlúa!
I know that spirits are not for all my readers and so I have listed below some of the other culinary gift treats you can find on my website. Here are a few quick and easy things you can make to delight your friends and family:
Prepare the bottles by running them through the dishwasher and having them hot when ready to fill.
Prepare strong coffee and pour into a large mixing bowl or stockpot. While still hot, add the brown sugar. Stir until dissolved.
Scrape the vanilla bean seeds into the coffee/sugar mixture, cutting the remaining bean into four equal pieces. Distribute the pieces of bean between the bottles.
Add the vodka to the coffee/sugar mixture and stir.
Using a funnel, divide the Kahlúa among the four bottles (you may have a little extra – for the chef, of course). Let the bottles cool to room temperature, then tightly seal with the caps.
Store in a cool, dark place for two weeks (four is even better), and once a week agitate, turning them upside down and right side up to move any settled sugar around.
If you find yourself short on time to have this made and stashed for 2+ weeks, how about attaching a cute little note saying “don’t drink til New Year’s Eve”? Nobody is going to judge if you give a gift with a little more resting time required. Let’s make this no stress, ok?
Traditionally Kahlúa is made exclusively with Arabica bean coffee. I made mine just short of espresso strength using a high-quality blend from Lavazza.
Choose a good quality spirit to mix with. As the kitchen saying goes, Garbage In/Garbage Out. Only here it’s Garbage Out with a whole lotta sugar, should you reach for rot gut.
I used Wholesome brand dark brown organic sugar which added a rich molasses flavor. As you can see in the photo above, its texture is more coarse than refined. Feel free to adjust sugar quantity to your taste. This yields a slightly less syrupy product than if commercially produced. But if you don’t mind a Kahlúa thinner still and you want to feature the coffee flavor, then you can cut the sugar back further, up to half of what I call for, using only 3/4 pound brown sugar.
I am here to the rescue. Relax! I got you covered. Not just any old Prosecco cocktail, but Santa’s Sparkler here to save the day. You have got to be anxiously running down that list and back up, checking it once and checking it twice!! Sound familiar? Tree trimmed?
Check. Stockings hung? Check. Then why do I feel like this?
Can’t quite get this magic all in sync! I feel like a monkey handing out suckers. Okay, not really but this photo is too good to waste. Wait. Does that monkey carry a Gucci handbag?
You haven’t heard of Santa’s Sparkler before? Possibly because I just made that name up. I was going to go with Santa Sipper but that seemed questionable and Santa’s Helper seemed enabling. Sparkler because it’s got a little bubbly, but then I dose it with something stronger, and a couple of aperitifs to boot. I’m just here for the aromatics. I know not all of you are drinkers and I appreciate that, so please enjoy the random photos and see how many reflections of me and my cell phone you can find in them. #onvacation And while you take a gander at the photos, look at the special ornament in the top photo mixed in and among the flutes. Anybody? That is a Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS fundraising ornament from their series of Broadway Legends from some years back. That is Angela Lansbury in her 1966 version of Mame, the Miss in the Moon. See the trumpet against her leg? So cool!
Holidays are stressful enough, and I wanted to bring you a little cheer before you throw the wrench at your beautiful tree when the wheels literally fall off the bike you’re assembling. We’ve all been there. Take a deep breath, take a sip, and double down on getting the job done.
I like to think of this Prosecco cocktail as the UN of holiday cocktails. A regular Aperol Spritz makes total sense – everything is Italian. And TBH I photographed just that some months ago to bring it to you, but by the time I got to December I felt it wasn’t enough for you, my people. I needed to zhuzh it up a bit. Enter the multi-cultural line up of bevvies. I am normally a bit opposed to cross cultural-ing food, but I saw a drink like this on a menu and it made me want to tinker with the classic Aperol Spritz. I wanted something to balance the bitter of Aperol, and Lillet sprung to mind. Both are orange-based, but the flavors vary pretty significantly.
Lillet (I’m using Blanc which is a little yellowish) is made near Bordeaux, France (since 1872) and is a maceration of sweet and bitter oranges, quinine (adds a bit of bitterness, but overall this is more floral and citrus-y), and barks. The fruits start their maceration in alcohol, and once the key flavors are extracted, they are pressed and mixed with wine, then aged in oak barrels.
Aperol is of course Italian, from Padua, and that is a country with a fine appreciation for bitter – a far cry from the sacharin-y sweet palate we Americans favor. (I do not resemble that remark.) Aperol is just about to celebrate its 100th birthday, and its secret formula is unchanged since two brothers took over the biz from their father and created this aperitif. It too uses sweet and bitter oranges, but it also includes flowers, rhubarb, roots, and herbs in the recipe. Taste the two side by side and you will find they make a real cute couple.
Santa’s Sparkler – a twist on the classic Prosecco Cocktail, Aperol Spritz
Think of this Prosecco cocktail as the UN of holiday cocktails – Italy meets France meets Iceland. The pomegranate and rosemary add a holiday vibe, but it’s festive and bubbly enough to drink all year round.
Vodka, I prefer Reyka or Ketel One
Prosecco or Sparkling Wine
Measurements by the glass:
2 Tablespoons Vodka
2 teaspoons Aperol
1 teaspoon Lillet Blanc
5 ounces Prosecco or Sparkling Wine
Measurements using one bottle of Prosecco:
5 ounces Vodka
3 Tablespoons Aperol
1 1/2 Tablespoons Lillet Blanc
1 750-ml bottle Prosecco or Sparkling Wine
If making by the glass, add one ice cube to a champagne flute. Add the vodka, Aperol, and Lillet Blanc to the flute and swizzle until chilled. I like to leave the cube in, but remove if you prefer. Top with Prosecco.
If making a pitcher, add the vodka, Aperol, and Lillet Blanc to a martini shaker filled with ice. Shake until chilled. Strain into the pitcher and top with Prosecco.
Garnish with orange slices, pomegranates and rosemary sprigs.
For the orange slices, slice as thinly as you can and then cut each slice in half, then the halves into three wedges, making sure that each is small enough to fit in a flute. I love to use Cara Cara oranges or Blood Oranges if they are in season…like now!
Making quantity: If I am making this for a party, I make enough of the vodka/Aperol/Lillet mixture for the number of bottles I plan to serve and keep it chilled. Then when I open a new bottle of Prosecco, I add just under a cup (7 ounces) of the mixture per bottle of bubbles.
Prep Time:5 minutes
Keywords: Prosecco cocktail
Hope you enjoy your holidays – responsibly – and find a little cheer in Santa’s Sparklers! And you might still be able to squeak in some Amazon orders from my Cook’s Best Gift Guide, if you click fast! I know for a fact you can make those charitable donations up to the very last minute.
Counting down the last five days of the sixth year of Facebook ornament “advent calendar”. If you haven’t seen it, please take a gander. Self-proclaimed world’s largest private food ornament collection!
Time to grab some tart summerfruit, squeeze a couple of lemons, and kick up your feet. Then close your eyes, take a sip of this frosty red currant lemonade treat, and go “Aaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh!” This might even inspire an Ahaaaaaa! It’s that time of year when the heat takes over and nothing calms the soul like a refreshing tart and chilly beverage. I won’t lie – after one glass of it au naturel – I spiked it with prosecco and it did not disappoint. Ok, class, let’s all try this together…..Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh!
Currants are always beautiful, but we are often faced with what to do? Yes, they make beautiful garnishes. I have even found them at the holidays and used them with rosemary sprigs to garnish cheese platters, or with mint on dessert trays. They are gorgeous. But let’s be real – where ARE they from in December? This time of year you can find them on the side of the road, at the market, and even in a decent grocery store.
Red currants are bright and shiny and very tart. Look for plump, full berries that hold to their stems. As they age, they shrivel, wither, and drop off. Those are on their way to being fermented, so not a good thing if you are making a red currant syrup. I’m not going to say don’t eat them straight from the basket, but brace yourself for a full-on pucker-up session.
And, currants come in more than red! Did you know that? Black currants are perhaps more familiar, because they are popular in jams. But there are also white currants and champagne currants, with a lovely pink hue. And gooseberries shown below at bottom left are also in the same family (kind of, sort of). Do you know what is not in the same family? The currants we get at the supermarket that are dried and raisin-y and confusingly also called currants, Zante currants. They are actually a dried grape, growing on a vine, unlike fresh currants which are a bush-fruit. It’s believed the dried fruit was mistakenly called a currant as a bad translation from “Corinth” about the time the U.S. started importing Zante currants from Greece in the early 20th century.
Farmers market photo by Sally Shapiro
Interesting side note: black currants were outlawed in the early 20th century because they were thought to carry a disease that impacted the timber industry. 100 years later, the timber industry is still facing challenges, but now due to its impact on the environment, not the other way around. Full circle.
Making Red Currant Lemonade
This recipe does in fact have measurements, but its really bartender’s choice. It’s a simple combo of currants (or other summer berries), sugar, lemons and water. Or sparkling water. Or sparkling wine. Or something stronger. Please consume all fruit responsibly.
No need to pick the fruit from the stems since it macerates with sugar and then gets pushed through a strainer, leaving the stems and seeds behind.
Macerate or marinate? That is the question. No actually it’s not a question – this is maceration, pure and simple. Macerate often is used for fruits and vegetables (definitely non-animal) to release juices. Maceration may also help infuse flavors, like plumping dried cranberries with fruit juice or alcohol. For this red currant lemonade, we are macerating the fruit with sugar to coax the liquid from the berry, with a side benefit of added flavor (sweetness). Marination however, while sometimes used on fruits and vegetables, is primarily used on proteins and both infuses and tenderizes. It’s historical use was to preserve, as in pickling since it’s etymology traces back to the Latin word “marinas“, meaning sea water.
Just combine the fruit with the sugar and set aside in the fridge for an hour to allow for the juices to release, making it easier to express the liquid.
While that is macerating, prep your garnish and juice the lemons. Also do the crossword and check your email. These steps take no time at all.
Press out the currants’ ruby liquid, mix it with the lemon juice, then decide how to finish with four cups of liquid and ice. All water? Half water and half sparkling? Or some Prosecco? Or some vodka? I recommend adding at least 2 cups of water now, if you are going to serve it later. You don’t want the lemon juice to “cook” the currant syrup (that might change the vibrant red color), so diluting to half strength ensures that. At serving time, top it off with the chosen remaining beverage and add ice.
Time to grab some tart summerfruit, squeeze a couple of lemons, and kick up your feet. Then close your eyes, take a sip of this frosty red currant lemonade treat, and go “Aaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh!”
This recipe is inspired by one I got from my friends Russ and Linda at Maple Achers Farm. Starting with a combo of red currant syrup and fresh lemon juice, you can chose to finish with just water, a combo of water and sparkling water, or even top it off with Prosecco. So many choices!
Red Currant Syrup (for 1 1/2 cups syrup):
2 cups fresh currants (one pint will give you the 2 cups needed here, plus additional for garnish)
1 1/2 cups sugar
Red Currant Lemonade:
1 cup red currant syrup
1 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice (juice of about 8 lemons)
4 cups water with ice, or a combo of water, ice, and fizzy drink
raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, as desired
fresh mint sprigs
Make the red currant syrup:
Sprinkle the sugar over the currants and stir to combine. Refrigerate for about one hour.
Transfer to a mesh strainer set over a bowl or measuring cup, and press with the back of a spoon or a muddler (I like using the back of an ice cream scoop) to express the juice from the currants. Be sure to scrape the bottom side of the strainer to get the syrup clinging to the strainer. You should have about 1 1/2 cups syrup. If you are not using it all, freeze in an airtight container for future use.
Make the lemonade:
Combine the red currant syrup and lemon juice in a glass pitcher, stirring to combine. Top it off with the water/ice and, if desired, something bubbly – sparkling water or Prosecco. Taste for sweetness and concentration, and add more sugar or water as needed.
Garnish with sprigs of currants, lemon slices, fresh berries and mint sprigs.
This is delish with seltzer, Prosecco or dare, I say it, vodka. If you are supplementing the water & ice with another liquid in the 4-cup liquid/ice measure, start with 2 cups water/ice and then add the bubbles or adult beverage before serving.
If currants are not available, try raspberries, blackberries or strawberries (hulled and halved). Be sure to cut the sugar since all of these fruits will be sweeter than the currants. Start with 1/2 cup sugar and mix with the fruit, then set aside. You can always add more at the end.
The red currant syrup freezes well, so stock up on currants and make extra syrup for the freezer.