It’s no surprise to anyone who knows me, but I love cocktails, and special drinks in general. Huge fan. I love the gemstone colors swirling in special glasses, the grinding pop of an ice cube thawing too quickly in a drink, the precision and ritual of making them, the stainless steel freezing your hands as you shake one up. And they don’t taste half bad either.
So when I got my hands on David Lebovitz’s most recent book, Ready for Dessert, a recipe for vin d’orange was one of the first things I put on my Make-As-Soon-As-Possible list. As a recipe for a fortified wine in a dessert cookbook, it certainly stood out, but the description sealed the deal for me: “a fruity and slightly bitter” drink, perfect as a “warm-weather apertif”. The promise of a cocktail ready-made from the bottle, a golden glass of homemade orange wine (preferably in some late-afternoon sun) was irresistible.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get the book until the beginning of September, just as the warm weather was beginning to fade, and it certainly wouldn’t hang on for the month of macerating the vin d’orange recipe required. I thought about trying it anyway, but then what would become of my spiced and brandied cherries, carefully put away earlier in the summer for my Winter Manhattans? The vin would have to wait.
Fast forward to March, and me chomping at the bit for any sign of Spring. Teasing moments of warmth appeared here and there, but always returned to the cold and gray. Like gardeners with scrappy branches of forsythia, I was going to have to force things. Re-enter vin d’orange.
The particular citrus called for in the recipe, Seville oranges, were of course nowhere to be found in mid-March. But fortunately, Meyer lemon season was in full swing, and I figured a blend of those and some darling little kumquats would be an adequate substitute.
Oh, and were you aware that a small bottle of vodka only holds 3/4 cup? I wasn’t, until in the midst of making the recipe, citrus already cut up and waiting, I tried to measure out 1 cup of it. I asked WWTFD*, gave my best Gallic shrug, and made up the balance with a good mixing gin. Capped off, the mixture retired to an upper cabinet to get its beauty sleep.
One month later, I was rewarded with a drink that exceeded all my expectations. Citrine yellow and just as clear, the depth of flavor was remarkable. As fabulous as it was to drink straight, the promise it held for cocktails was staggering. With my head still spinning from that first taste (not just because of the alcohol), I noticed the pile of vin-soaked citrus sitting nearby, plump and over-saturated from the month-long bath. No way was I going to throw those out.
About half of the kumquats got packed like sardines into a small jar and re-covered with vin d’orange, to be used as garnishes for future drinks. (Or, you know, snacks.) The other half, along with the Meyer lemons, after much hand-wringing and deliberation, became a marmalade. Sliced thin and cooked in a barely-sweet syrup, they turned out a pretty good marmalade, if I do say so. It was good enough to warrant a loaf of fresh-made soda bread for breakfast the next day.
It might still be cold outside, but I’ve got central heating and sunshine in a glass. I think I can make it till June.
* – What Would the French Do?
Adapted from Ready for Dessert, by David Lebovitz
Makes about 6 cups
For the white wine, being mindful of the recipe’s origins, I used a modest blend from the heart of Provence; the gin was my favorite mixing gin. I don’t have a favorite vodka, so I bought the second-least expensive one of the three kinds available in tiny bottles.
After straining the citrus from the finished vin d’orange, you could discard the apertif-soaked fruit, but the halved kumquats make a pretty garnish for a glass of it. Store them packed in a small jar, covered with vin d’orange, in the refrigerator. The Meyer lemons make a darn good marmalade to boot (see recipe below). Or you could just eat them. They’re full of delicious liquor.
2/3 cup sugar
5 cups white wine
3/4 cup vodka
1/4 cup gin
9 ounces Meyer lemons (about 2), preferably organic, quartered lengthwise
7 ounces kumquats, preferably organic, halved
1/2 vanilla bean
1. In a large non-reactive jar, stir the sugar, wine, vodka, and gin together until the sugar dissolves. Add the Meyer lemons, kumquats, and vanilla bean half. Cap tightly, and set aside in a dark and cool place for 1 month.
2. After the month has passed, strain the solids from the liquid. Either discard the solids, save for another use (see headnote), or eat immediately. Filter the vin d’orange through a triple thickness of damp cheesecloth (or a coffee filter for the clearest result), and transfer into clean wine or liquor bottles, and refrigerate. Enjoy for up to 6 months.
Vin d’Orange Marmalade
Makes 1-2 cups
About 10 ounces (300 g) citrus left over after making Vin d’Orange (250 g Meyer lemon, 50 g kumquat)
The vanilla bean half left over after making Vin d’Orange
1 tablespoon (20 g) corn syrup
1 cup (200 g) sugar
13 ounces (1 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon) water
A pinch of salt
1. With a sharp knife, thinly slice the soaked Meyer lemons and kumquats. Save any seeds that you come across, and tie them up in a bit of damp cheesecloth (if you wet cheesecloth before using it, it won’t soak up much of whatever delicious thing you put it in). Put a small plate or large spoon in the freezer.
2. In a small pan, stir together the sliced citrus, vanilla bean, corn syrup, sugar, water, salt, and the bag of seeds. Bring to a boil over moderately high heat, and let bubble away until the mixture reaches about 225º F, or until it sets when dripped onto the mostly-frozen plate or spoon.
3. When marmalade is ready, transfer it to a scrupulously clean jar. Let cool at room temperature before capping and refrigerating. Jam will last for quite a while in the fridge, but you’ll probably finish it off long before then.