Every time I see apricots appear in season, my first instinct is to buy as many as possible. Admittedly, I have a variety of recipes sitting around that I’d like to try: this apricot tart, a smattering of apricot jams, and even grilled apricots (nevermind I don’t own a grill at the moment). The problem is this: Why mess with something that’s already so good? Why bother messing with it at all? Apricots are the perfect marrying of sweet and tang, juicy but not too juicy (ahem, Valencia oranges), soft but not too mushy (mangosteen!), and just a little fuzz (nothing like its behemoth cousin ack!-am-I-eating-a-mouse peach). Would making apricots into jam make their flavors sing even more when slathered on a piece of cinnamon-walnut toast? Would the sizzle of the grill wake up the floral, honey flavors with a carmelized undertone? Truth be told: overwhelmed by impatience, I end up eating them. Plain. No cooking. No baking. Just raw, unadulterated. Dare I say it: perfection?
But then there is alcohol. Perfection + hard alcohol = perfection in a tall glass and little ataxia. And so my apricot hoarding ended a couple of weeks ago, with 3/4 of a pound of them taking a long bath in some vodka. When I first read this recipe, the sunny color of the apricots and the chilled vodka together sounded like a dazzling summer drink. It was settled. My apricots had a new destiny. Immediately, I bought the vodka and started up chopping my sunny little friends.
Once soaked, the apricots oxidized some, so they looked a little brown and sad after 36 hours. But they were redeemed: the once-clear vodka took on a lovely muted yellow-peach color. The color alone is enough to be awestruck. The taste is light, smooth, and sweet, without the burn of the vodka as I expected (I used Absolut). It looks pretty in a small glass, such as a flower-etched sherry glass, with the light shining through.
And awestruck you might be, sitting and drinking this apricot liqueur into the late hours of some summery night, humid and heavy, bursting with fireworks. If you take awestruck to mean overdoing it, then I suggest a designated driver. Serve this with a fancy chocolate dessert (or with mattonella con biscotti sablée – coming soon). Or forget the fireworks: I’ll be enjoying this drink by the pink glow of my backyard’s trumpet flowers in the crepuscular light (post Grub and Peach bedtime). Happy Independence Day, America!
- 2¼ cups good-quality vodka (preferably 80 proof)
- ¾ pound fresh apricots, roughly chopped
- 1 vanilla bean (if fresh, it will be moist and smell like heaven)
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup water
- Special equipment: cheesecloth, fine mesh sieve, and 1 empty clean 750-ml bottle with cap, or jar with lid
- In a large bowl combine vodka, apricots, and vanilla bean. Cover and let stand at room temperature for 36 hours. (Some of my apricots oxidized a bit, starting at 12 hours.) Remove vanilla bean. Bean can be rinsed, dried and reserved for another use, like plunged into a bin of sugar for vanilla-scented sugar. I put mine into my homemade vanilla extract.
- Combine sugar and water in a medium saucepan and bring to simmer, stirring to dissolve sugar. Remove this simple syrup from heat and let cool to room temperature. Add to the vodka mixture.
- Line a fine-mesh sieve with cheesecloth. Strain vodka mixture through prepared sieve into a large bowl.* Transfer into 750-ml bottle with cap (or jar with lid). Refrigerate, covered, 2 weeks before serving. Serve liqueur chilled. If you want be less "awestruck," try a splash in lemonade topped with a couple of thin slices of apricot.