Sunday, March 10, 2013

Orange Liqueur Attempt

After the success of my Limoncello, I decided to branch out into other citrus fruits. This time I made a batch from oranges hoping for a drink that tastes like an orange smells.

This Attempt

  • Put 97g Orange Zest
  • 500g (546ml) Kettle One Vodka
  • 7 days Rest.
  • 500g Rich Sugar Syrup


It just was not flavorful enough. I am not sure if I needed more zest or more time or both. (I plan to use ten oranges in my next batch.)

Recovery Plan

With nothing to lose, I decided to see if I could extract more flavor from the existing peel. I poured the liqueur into my Blendtec blender and added the peel. I blended it on max speed for a minute, which blended the peel beyond recognition. (Most blenders would make ground orange zest. The Blendtec made orange dust.) I then spend a half hour pouring the liquid though various mesh strainers. I could only filter it about 100ml at a time before the mesh would clog and I would have to rinse it out. I gave up after three filter sizes. You could still see some sediment but if you shook it up you could not taste it.

New Results

It was delicious. The final product tasted like a screwdriver (O.J. + Vodka). Only it is the best screwdriver you will ever have. Everyone who tried it thought it was amazing. Unfortunately, it did not taste like an orange smells, which is how my limoncello turned out. Next time I will have to try different varieties of oranges or maybe a citrus blend. Does anyone else have some experience working with oranges?

Peeling Citrus For Making Liqueur

In my post on making limoncello, I glance over harvesting the zest. Making the zest is tricky because you want just the yellow part of the lemon. If you leave any of the white pith, it will impart a bitter taste. The size of the zest also matters. The finer the zest the cloudier the limoncello. Here are my notes on the various tools for removing the zest.


The microplane grater is the classic tool for making zest. Slow and steady wins the race here. As long as you are careful, there will not be any pith in your zest. The big downside to this method is the amount of work it takes to make the zest. In addition, because it makes fine pieces, the resulting limoncello will be cloudy. I am not a fan of this method.

Lemon Zester

A zesting tool removes the zest very fast. Because it uses a scraping mechanism, it will not remove any pith. However, lacking an actual blade like a peeler, it will make your thumb sore from the extra force required. Additionally, it wastes a lot of zest in between the five scrapers. Ultimately this tool makes decorative zest and is slow at zesting in bulk. Save this tool for when you are using extremely clean tasting vodka and cannot allow even the smallest bit of pith.

Vegetable Peeler

A vegetable peeler is my preferred method of removing the zest. It is quick due to the wide blade and you can remove nearly all the zest in one continuous stroke. (The picture is the zest of an entire orange.) While fast and easy, it can cut a little deep if you are not careful. If you are good with a knife, you can cut the pith off and if you are not, then just throw away the section with the pith. You can see some pith remaining on the right curl in the picture. Leaving zest in large pieces will make for a very clear limoncello. Unfortunately, you will always have some pith when you use this method but it will not be noticeable if you are only using mid-range vodka.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Making Limoncello

Recently a friend of mine brought me some fine limoncello from Italy. After one taste I was hooked. Unfortunately for me, I am unable to find a comparable bottle in my local liquor stores. Thus I decided to make my own.

The basic template for limoncello is to soak lemon zest in vodka for a while then dilute with sugar syrup. Be sure to clean off the wax coating from your lemons. You can use fruit wash from the store, or distilled white vinegar. I like to scrub them with a soft scrubber sponge (the blue one) to help get it all off. You can remove the zest with a microplane grater, a zester, or a vegetable peeler. Be careful not to remove any of the white part. It will make the liqueur bitter.

The sugar syrup I use is some home made rich sugar syrup, which is 2:1 sugar:water by weight. This is twice as sweet as simple syrup. In fact, that is the 20C saturation point of sugar in water so if you chill the syrup below room temperature it will start crystalizing. If you want to make the syrup in bulk, the syrup resulting from 1.5kg sugar dissolved with 750ml water  fits inside a 1.75L bottle.

Here is the recipe for my first batch. Note: I measured everything with a scale therefore the liquids are by weight not volume.
  • 36g Lemon Zest (from 5 lemons)
  • 500g (546ml) Kettle One Vodka
  • 11 days rest
  • 500g (385ml) Rich Sugar Syrup
ABV: 23.47%
Luckily enough this batch came out fairly good, though a tad too sweet for my liking. It will make a good reference recipe to compare future batches against. Despite the sweetness, everyone else referred to it as liquid crack which, contrary to the stories of recovering addicts, means it was very good. Let me know if you make a batch.

How to Open a Can Cleanly

I always hate the way can openers leave the lid stuck to the can by that last little fragment of metal. I'm sure you do to. The problem is the way the can opener bends the metal when it punctures the can. Here's how to avoid it:
  1. Puncture can with initial squeeze of can opener.
  2. Open can backwards for half a twist.
  3. Open can forwards normally.
The issue, as I discovered, had to do with the shape of the edge at the puncture site. By twisting it backwards you are providing a nice clean edge to finish the opening action.

Popping Perfect Popcorn

Last year I was on a popcorn kick, and I made it my goal to pop the perfect movie theater style popcorn. After countless batches, I succeeded. It turns out that there is a lot more going on with popcorn than you would expect.

Popcorn Selection: Butterfly vs. Mushroom
Butterfly popcorn is your basic popcorn. When it pops, it has wings sticking out in random directions. It is the standard popcorn available at most grocery stores and in microwave bags. Mushroom style pops in nice round balls and is more durable, which makes it the ideal for coated popcorns like caramel corn. Unfortunately, this comes at the expense of chewiness and more hulls. Get the Butterfly unless you need the strength Mushroom for coated popcorns.

The greatest popping oil is coconut oil. In fact, it was the go to popping oil in theaters until the mid 90's. It is light tasting and slightly sweet. Corn and Vegetable oils impart a slight earthly taste to the popcorn. Do not worry about it being a saturated fat. Not all of its constituent fats are saturated. Being a vegetable fat, it does not have any of the hormones or chemicals that bio-accumulate in the saturated fats of higher food chain animals.

The ideal ratio of fat to corn is 1:3. So 1/3 cup oil with 1 cup corn. You can use less, but if you go too low, the flavor will not stick. I typically round down to the nearest whole measure so that I do not have to dirty too many measuring cups.

The key flavors for popcorn are butter and salt. Nothing defines popcorn flavor quite like Flavacol - pre-mixed artificial butter flavor and salt. This is what I use. If you are worried about getting popcorn lung (unlikely) and want to avoid using artificial butter flavor then there are alternatives*. Just be sure to get "Popcorn Salt" which is just extra finely ground salt. The smaller grains make a difference.

The art of popping
Popping perfect popcorn requires even heating and ventilation to get rid of the steam that will make the popcorn chewy. Wabash Valley Farm’s Whirley Pop is a special popcorn popping pot that does all this. It has a stirring arm attached to a crank to get even heating and vents in the lid to let the steam out while keeping the popcorn in.

To get a good pop, you want an evenly distributed high heat. This it requires so much oil: it spreads out the heat. More heat means bigger flakes but more risk of burning (both the popcorn once it pops and the oil which can smoke). I typically use medium high heat on my stove because after that point, the flame spreads out to wide and I do not get even heating. If you have a dual ring open burner stove, you can turn it up higher.

My (formerly) Secret Popcorn Recipe**
  • 1/2 cup Butterfly-style Popcorn
  • 2.5 tbsp Coconut Oil (I use one flat and one with a little extra)
  • 1 1/4 tsp Flavacol (1/2 tsp of orange box Flavacol)
  1. Place Oil and Flavacol in Whirly Pop on Medium-High heat until the oil shimmers.
  2. Pour in popcorn and shut the lid.
  3. Turn crank slowly (about 1 turn/sec) until popcorn starts popping.
  4. Shake pot to keep kernels on the bottom.
  5. Pour into bowl and Enjoy.
 Let me know how this works out for you!

*Alternatives to Flavacol
If you prefer to use real butter I recommend that you make clarified butter. Use the clarified butter to pop the corn and use the leftover milk solids to flavor it. (The milk solids are the flavor, but are also what cause the butter to burn.) You will need a lot more milk solids than butter fat so make a whole stick (or two) and save the extra butterfat for something else. Here [link] is a great method for making clarified butter fast.

**Full Size Recipe for 8oz Popcorn Machines
  • 1 cup Popcorn
  • 1/3 cup Coconut oil
  • 1 tbsp Flavacol (1 tsp of orange box Flavacol)

How to peel an Orange

Just over a decade ago, a co-worker of mine showed me the art of peeling an orange. Peeling oranges tends to be tricky due to the way the pith adheres the peel to the flesh. When peeling an orange, most people wind up with a pile of orange peel fragments and segments with a layer of pith left on them. With a little prep work oranges can be easy to peel. Here is how:
  1. Roll the each end of the orange around the like you are rolling a ball of dough. Be firm.
  2. Roll the orange around the equator.
  3. Feel for any spots that are still firm. Rock the orange back and forth with these spots against the table.
  4. Using the tip of a knife, cut around the center of the orange. You want to cut through the peel, but not into the flesh of the orange.
  5. Pull the peel back a little bit and use your finger to loosen the peel form the orange. Start with the stem end and twist it off for show after you loosten it.
  6. Loosten the peel on the navel half then, as you pull it off, pinch the navel with your index finger inside the orange and you thumb on the peel.
  7. Align the two peel halves and place back in fruit bowl as a joke for the next person.