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Archive for April 19, 2017

FOOD 101: The History Of Amaretto Liqueur

Amaretto Disaronno

Amaretto Disaronno

Reina Store 1900

Old Amaretto Bottles

[1] Disaronno, the original amaretto liqueur brand (photo courtesy ILLVA). [2] A liqueur glass with the amber liqueur (photo courtresy Angela Bax | Pinterest via Flickr. [3] Domenico Reina’s store in Saronno. [4] Bottles of Disaronno from 1900

 

April 19th is National Amaretto Day. Earlier today, we developed a list of almost 40 ways to use amaretto.

You may find it hard to believe that one of the top liqueurs in the world (see the list below) was not imported into the U.S. until the 1960s.

The almond-flavored cordial quickly became a hit in the U.S., in cocktails and food preparation. By the 1980s, it was second in sales only to Kahlùa.

In Italian, amaro means bitter. Amaretto means a little bitter.

Why is this sweet, almond liqueur called bitter?

Surprisingly, no almonds are used to make most brands of amaretto. Rather, the marzipan-like flavor is achieved through apricot kernel oil, burnt sugar and a variety of spices.

Various commercial brands—but not the top two which “own” the market—are made from a base of apricot pits or peach pits (the source of the oil), almonds, or a combination.

Most likely, when it was first made, amaretto wasn’t as sweet as it is today. Older recipes use the bitter almond (mandorla amara) local to Saronno, Italy, which give the liqueur its name.

In Italy, almonds are grown in two basic varieties, sweet and bitter (mandorla).

WHO INVENTED AMARETTO?

Before the names DiSaronno or Lazzaroni ever appeared on a bottle, the amaretto legend was born.

In the Renaissance and earlier, many families would distill their own liqueurs and digestifs.

According to their history, here’s the scoop:

In 1525, the artist Bernardino Luini, a former pupil of Leonardo da Vinci, was commissioned by the Basilica of Santa Maria delle Grazie in the city of Saronno, in northern Italy near the Swiss border, in the region of Lombardy.

He painted a fresco of the the Adoration of the Magi (photo #5) in the sanctuary, which included the Madonna of the Miracles (photo #6). The fresco can still be seen today).

As the model for the Madonna, Luini hired a young widow, an innkeeper. As a gift, she gave him a flask full of an amber liqueur she made by steeping apricot kernels in brandy.

Her name is lost to history, but her likeness and her amaretto recipe live on.

Perhaps she was a member of the Reina family; for somehow, in 1600, Giovanni Reina (who had worked for the Lazzaroni amaretto cookie business) discovered the innkeeper’s old recipe. He made the liqueur, and the “secret” recipe passed from one generation to the next.

20th Century Amaretto Di Saronno

At the beginning of the 20th century, Domenico Reina decided to open a store in Saronno to sell food items, including the family liqueur, which he sold as Amaretto di Saronno Originale (Original Amaretto from Saronno, photo #4). The store was called Domenico Reina Coloniali (Domenico Reina’s Grocery—photo #3).

By 1940, liqueur production had grown into a large artisanal business. In 1947 was incorporated as ILLVA SARONNO. ILLVA is an acronym for Industria, Lombarda, Liquori, Vini & Affini (Industry, Lombarda, Spirits, Wines & Allied Products).

The product was called Amaretto di Saronno (Amaretto from Saronno), before returning to the latter part of the original name, Disaronno Originale, in 2001. It is still produced in Saronno, and sold worldwide (source).

It should be noted that Paolo Lazzaroni & Figli S.p.A., makers of Amaretti di Saronno cookies, claims that the Lazzaroni family created amaretto, in 1851.

 

That may be so, but their recipes are quite different. Disaronno’s is made from apricot kernel oil with “absolute alcohol, burnt sugar, and the pure essence of seventeen selected herbs and fruits” (i.e., no almonds or other nuts).

Lazzaroni’s amaretto contains their Amaretti di Saronno almond cookies, infused in alcohol (source).

 

CORDIAL, LIQUEUR, EAU DE VIE: THE DIFFERENCE

Most people—including American producers and importers—use these terms interchangeably. But there are differences:

EAU DE VIE, CORDIAL, LIQUEUR & SCHNAPS:
THE DIFFERENCE

  • Schnaps/schnapps, a generic German word for liquor or any alcoholic beverage, is more specific in English, where it refers to clear brandies distilled from fermented fruits. The English added a second “p,” spelling the word as schnapps. True Schnaps has no sugar added, but products sold in the U.S. as schnapps may indeed be sweetened. As one expert commented, “German Schnaps is to American schnapps as German beer is to American Budweiser.”
  • Eau de vie is the French term for Schnaps. American-made brands labeled eau de vie (“water of life”) are often heavily sweetened, and have added glycerine for thickening.
  • Liqueur is an already distilled alcohol made from grain which has already been fermented, into which fruits are steeped. It is sweeter and more syrupy than a European eau de vie or schnapps.
  • Cordial, in the U.S., almost always refers to a syrupy, sweet alcoholic beverage, a synonym for liqueur. In the U.K., it refers to a non-alcoholic, sweet, syrupy drink or the syrup used to make such a drink. Rose’s Lime Cordial, a British brand, is called Rose’s Lime Juice in the U.S. so Americans don’t think it’s alcoholic.
  •  
    EAU DE VIE, “WATER OF LIFE”
     
    The distillation of alcohol may have taken place as early as 200 C.E., possibly by alchemists trying to make gold (alembic still history).

     

    Adoration Of The Magi - Luini

    Adoration Of The Magi - Luini

    [5] Adoration Of The Magi by Bernardo Luini, and [6] the detail of the Madonna.

     
    Because spirits were initially intended to be medicinal, “water of life” was a reasonable name for distilled alcoholic preparations.

    The Russian term zhiznennia voda, which was distilled down (that’s a pun) into “vodka,” also means water of life (the literal translation of vodka is “little water”).

    The Gaelic uisce beatha, pronounced ISH-ka BYA-ha, too, means “water of life.” The pronunciation evolved into the more familiar term, whiskey.

    THE TOP 10 LIQUEURS

    According to The Spirit Business, the top-selling liqueur brands in the world are:

    1. Baileys Irish Cream (whiskey flavored)
    2. Malibu (rum and coconut flavored)
    3. De Kuyper (assorted flavors)
    4. Lubelska (vodka-based liqueur)
    5. Southern Comfort (whiskey flavored)
    6. Kahlúa (coffee flavored)
    7. Amarula (amarula fruit flavored*)
    8. Disaronno Amaretto (almond flavored)
    9. Zoladkowa Gorzka (vodka-based liqueur, black cherry flavor)
    10. Cointreau (orange flavored)
    ________________

    *The African fruit from which this is made has been described as tasting like chocolate-covered strawberries. It is a favorite of elephants.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: What To Do With Amaretto

    Amaretto Di Saronno

    Homemade Amaretto

    Amaretto Preserves

    Coffee With Amaretto

    Shrimp With Amaretto Marinade

    [1] The grandaddy of amaretto: Amaretto di Saronno (photo courtesy Illva Saronno S.p.A). [2] Homemade amaretto (here’s the recipe from Mantitlement). [3] Amaretto preserves (photo courtesy Telltale Preserve Co). [4] Pour amaretto into your coffee, or serve it as a chaser (photo courtesy Coffee Door Country). [5] Shrimp in an amaretto marinade (photo courtesy Kansas City Steaks).

     

    Today is National Amaretto Day, in honor of an almond-flavored liqueur initially made with local bitter almonds in the area of Saronno, Italy.

    Amaretto is Italian for “a little bitter,” which it may have been back then. Today, it is sweet—and often made from apricot pits, which taste like almond and are a whole lot less expensive.

    But what to do with that bottle of amaretto?

    Gone are the days when a glass of liqueur would be a sweet ending to dinner. Has anyone had an after-dinner liqueur at home since, say, the 1970s?

    Don’t let the bottle of amaretto gather dust on a closet shelf. Today’s tip is: Take that bottle down and put it to good use!

    1. Revive the custom of the after dinner drink.

    Drink your dessert instead of eating something sweet.

    You don’t need to buy delicate, stemmed liqueur glasses: Rocks glaasses, even shot glasses, will do just fine.

    We use miniature brandy snifters.

    2. Bring out the bottle with after-dinner coffee…

    …or brunch coffee…or coffee at any respectable time of day.

    We have long followed our Nana’s custom of bringing a silver tray with four liqueur bottles (amaretto, anisette, Courvoisier, crème de cacao) and small cream pitchers to the table with coffee.

    Why the little pitchers? Nana was far too elegant to pour liqueur from a bottle into a coffee cup. It was poured from the bottle into the pitcher, and then into the cup.

    Why didn’t she serve the amaretto as a chaser in her crystal liqueur glasses? Alas, it’s too late to ask.

    But anyone who enjoys a shot of flavored syrup in their cup of coffee will appreciate the even greater depth of favor from a sweet liqueur—mixed in or served separately.

    3. Make cocktails.

    You can even throw a cocktail party with a menu of amaretto cocktails: Almond Joy, Amaretto Alexander, Amaretto and Coke, Amaretto Sour, Italian Sunset and others.

    Here are “the 10 best amaretto cocktail recipes.”

    Everything old is new again.

    And for dessert: a DiSaronno Milkshake, which is just as it sounds: amaretto and vanilla ice cream, tossed into the blender.

    MORE WAYS TO USE AMARETTO

    We have almost 40 different ways to use amaretto.

    While the biggest opportunity comes in adding a tablespoon or two to sweet foods, there are also savory uses.

    Amaretto In Desserts

  • Almond cookies
  • Anything that uses almond flour
  • Applesauce
  • Any chocolate recipe, including chocolate truffles
  • Baked or sautéed apples or pears, or sautéed stone fruits
  • Cake: sprinkle directly onto angel, pound and sponge cakes, or reduce into a sauce
  • Cannoli cream
  • Cheesecake
  • Compote or stewed fruit
  • Cookie dip (make a sweet dip, or just dip the cookies in straight amaretto)
  • Crêpes
  • Dessert sauce (butterscotch, caramel, chocolate, fruit)
  • Fresh fruit and fruit salad (pineapple or peaches and amaretto are inspired pairings)
  • Frostings and fillings
  • Ice cream: churned into homemade (really delicious!), or poured over a scoop of ready made
  • Jam and preserves
  • Maraschino cherries (replace half the sugar syrup with amaretto)
  • Marinate dried fruits (as a garnish for proteins or desserts)
  • Pudding (almost any flavor)
  • Sautéed bananas
  • Tiramisu
  • Whipped cream
  •  
    Amaretto In Beverages

  • Beertails (yes, add some to beer, especially a bland one)
  • Cherry, peach or pineapple Jell-O shots
  • Cocktails
  • Cherry, cola or lemon-lime soft drinks
  • Coffee, hot or iced
  • Floats and milkshakes
  • Hot chocolate
  • Neat or on the rocks
  • Tea, hot or iced
  • Sparkling wine
  • Spritzer (club soda and amaretto)
  •  
    More Amaretto Uses

  • Almondine sauce for chicken, duck, fish, pork and vegetables
  • French toast, pancake and waffle batter
  • Peanut butter or chocolate spread (e.g. Nutella)
  • Marinades for meat and seafood (delish with grilled shrimp—here’s a recipe)
  •  
    What if you simply have too much amaretto?

    Give it away. Our Dad, who didn’t drink alcohol, had four bottles in his closet—and didn’t understand the concept of re-gifting.

    Tie a bow around the neck; and if you feel you need to buy something, add some liqueur glasses.

    Not enough amaretto?

    Make your own with this recipe.

     

    RECIPE: AMARETTO BROWNIES WITH AMARETTO FROSTING

    Thanks to Rosie Bucherati of King Arthur Flour for this yummy recipe.

    Ingredients For About 4 Dozen Small Squares

    For The Brownies

  • 1 cup (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter
  • 4 ounces bittersweet or unsweetened baking chocolate
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 tablespoons amaretto
  • 1-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Optional garnish: 1/3 cup tablespoons sliced or slivered almonds
  •  
    For The Amaretto Frosting

  • 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
  • 2/3 cup natural or Dutch-process cocoa
  • 3 cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons amaretto
  • Optional: 1/2 teaspoon espresso powder (for enhanced flavor)
  •  
    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 400°F. Lightly grease a 9 x 13-inch baking pan.

     

    Amaretto Brownies

    Amaretto Pound Cake

    Anything baked tastes good with amaretto. [1] Amaretto brownies (photo courtesy King Arthur Flour). [2] Amaretto pound cake with amaretto glaze (photo courtesy The Baker Chick).

     
    2. MELT the butter and chocolate in a heavy saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly until melted (or you can microwave). Add sugar, stirring until combined. Remove from the heat, and cool to lukewarm. Stir in the eggs and amaretto.

    3. ADD the flour, salt and espresso powder, beating gently until thoroughly combined. Spread the batter into the pan. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

    4. MAKE the frosting. Combine the butter and chocolate in bowl, stirring until smooth. Add the sifted confectioner’s sugar alternately with the milk, beating on medium speed. Stir in the amaretto and espresso powder.

    5. SPREAD the icing on the cooled brownies. Garnish with almonds. Cover and refrigerate the brownies for at least 1 hour before serving; this will help the icing set, and make cutting a lot less messy.

    6. CUT the brownies in small squares to serve. Cover any leftovers, and store at cool room temperature. If it’s warm in your house, you can wrap them airtight and store in the fridge for a day or so; or freeze for longer storage.

      

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