The almond tree, or el almendro as it is called in Spanish, can be found all over the Mediterranean region. Ever since the Phoenicians brought the fruit to these shores some 3000 years ago, they have been an important food source for the Andalusians. Almonds contain Omega 6, magnesium, potassium, calcium, Vitamin E, thiamine and niacin. In addition to its many food and beverage uses, almonds are also used in the cosmetics industry, while the oil from bitter almonds can be used as a natural flavouring.
In la Serranía de Ronda, the almond trees are some of the earliest bloomers, and also have some of the first nuts to be harvested. Due to climate change, blossoms can now be seen as early as January. The saying amongst locals is that the tree ‘improves the rock’, because it will grow on the most inaccessible crags and steepest inclines. Everybody who used to have a piece of land would grow almonds. In recent years however, I cannot help but notice that the nuts are left on the branches – nobody cares to pick them anymore.
Particularly the bitter almonds (which the locals line their properties with since nobody will steal them), which are basically left to rot. People prefer to buy packages of shelled almonds (likely from a mega-farm in California), to bringing out the hammer and cracking their own nuts.
Inspired by the current almond blossoms and the subtle smell of sweet spring, I decided to make another batch of my own version of almond liqueur. As the locals make liqueur, or licor, out of almost any fruit, herb and nut they can find, I was looking forward to finding the local variant of the famous Italian liqueur Amaretto di Saronna. To my great surprise, nobody in in our town or the surrounding villages seem to make almond liqueur, not even the most dedicated alchemists of local hooch. Not only that, but nobody knew anyone in the entire Serranía who did! In fact, they had never heard of such a liqueur!
This of course didn’t discourage me from the task at hand – making my own version of almond liqueur with a local Andalusian twist. You can find many recipes online, though most are far from home-made, merely requiring blending some booze with real or artificial flavouring, and presto, creating a cheer. But I wanted to do it the long and convoluted way. This meant that my planning of the liqueur had already started last summer, when I sun-dried the stones of a dozen or so of apricots.
This might sound surprising, but other than finding genuine bitter almonds, the soft core of these stones, called kernels, will help give your liqueur that special almond flavour.
Like anything I make, please be aware that the measurements are just general indications. As far as base alcohol is concerned, locals in Ronda tend to use sweet or unsweetened Anís to make their liqueurs, but I prefer the more neutral tastes of vodka and brandy, to ensure that almond is the main flavour. Finally, I strive to find all the ingredients as close to home as possible, even if I end up with a bruised finger from hammering the almonds.
So, what are we waiting for? Time to get to work!
Licor de Almendra with an Andalusian twist
What you need
A 1.5 – 2 litre glass canning jar (I use IKEA jars, as we cannot get Mason jars here)
A cup of water (purified/bottled)
A cup coarsely chopped dried unsulphured apricots (Ideally local and organic)
1/3 cup chopped dried local wine-grapes (Pasas de Málaga), plums or cherries
2 to 3 cups (ca 3/4 litre) of vodka – not the cheapest, nor the most expensive
A generous cup of brandy (we buy ours a granel or in bulk from a local store)
As an alternative to the vodka and brandy, use Spanish Anís (the best is the one with the monkey on the bottle)
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped raw almonds (Ideally freshly shelled and local)
A baker’s dozen of bitter almonds (Anyone who grows them will give you a few)
A handful of chopped apricot kernels
A pod of real vanilla in pieces
Add dried apricots and water to the glass jar and let sit for a couple of hours so the apricots rehydrate. Add the rest of the ingredients, shake and leave to macerate for 6 weeks, or as long as you can handle waiting (I suggest labelling the jar with the date you started, so you won’t forget).
After about 6 weeks, strain the contents from the jar through a cotton cloth into a large sturdy kitchen bowl. This process will need to be repeated a couple of times and is a bit messy. You can use coffee filters for the last few straining’s to ensure that all the ‘gunk’ remains in the filter.
To complete the liqueur
1 cup sugar (I use some stevia, and less sugar) If you use the sweet anís, you might not wish to add any sugar.
1/2 cup purified/bottled water
Another cup of vodka (or anís for that specially Andalu’ flavour)
A dash of genuine vanilla extract, unless you added the pod earlier
A few drops of bitter almond extract (unless you added bitter almonds earlier)
After you have separated the liquids from solids, make a sugar-syrup by mixing sugar (or sugar & alternative sweetener) and water in a pot. Heat it up while stirring until it thickens. When cooled down, add the last cup of vodka/anís and the strained liquid. Check the sweetness before adding all the syrup. If needed, add the vanilla and bitter almond essence.
Shake and stir, then decanter and enjoy!
NOTE: If you discover a local Andalusian recipe or have successfully experimented with other ingredients, please let me know so I can adjust my batch for the 2022 edition!