As you read the recipe for the Mai Tai you may have been tripped up by one of the ingredients, Orgeat. Orgeat is a sweet syrup made from almonds and much like Grenadine is really easy to make at home. You’ll find as you explore the Tiki arts that lots of recipes will use Orgeat as a flavoring and sweetener. There are some Orgeats available commercially and although I have not tried any (making your own is really that simple) I’ve heard that the Fee Brother’s version is quite good.
We used a recipe from The Art of Drink, that slkinsey on the eGullet forums was kind enough to reduce down to a managable quantity. As a side note there is a lot of good info about Orgeat at the link above.
150 grams blanched almonds [or other nut] 1 blanched apricot kernel (optional) 250 ml water 200 grams table sugar 30 ml brandy 1-5 drops of orange or rose flower water to taste (optional)
1) Soak solids in ample water for 30 minutes 2) Discard water and grind nuts in food processor to a medium-fine paste. Add water to processor towards the end 3) Let mixture steep 1-2 hours 4) Place a thin tea towel or several layers of cheese into a strainer and pour mixture through cloth, reserving liquid. Twist and squeeze solids in cloth to extract maximum liquid. 5) (Optional) Return solids to liquids for an additional hour and repeat straining and squeezing. 6) (Optional) Repeat one additional time. 7) Add strained nut milk to saucepan with sugar and heat, stirring constantly, until sugar is disolved. Optionally, dissolve sugar in some percentage of the strained nut milk and then combine after the heated mixture has cooled sufficiently. 8) Once sweetened nut milk has cooled sufficiently, add optional orange flower water, rose flower water or other flavoring; add brandy for stabilization and bottle. 9) Keep under refrigeration
As we made the recipe we ran in to a couple of things that might help you in your Tiki journey. First I had a hard time finding whole blanched almonds. What I ended up using is whole sliced almonds (not slivered). As a rule the larger the almond pieces you find the less almond flavor will be lost on the store shelves. We didn’t use the apricot kernel as I didn’t have any apricots handy. The flavor they will add is a touch of bitterness, but I should also make you aware that they contain very small amounts of cyanide. Although, in the quantity called for here is very small and shouldn’t be a problem.
We chose not to do the multiple soaking method. I think the gains from this would be minimal. If you give the initial soak some extra time, perhaps the full 2 hours, I think you’ll get all the almonds have to offer. As for straining we used a bandana that I had (clean of course) which proved to be the perfect porosity to get out all the large almond bits. A dish cloth should work well too, but make sure its one that’s been washed a few times to minimize the lint. Finally we went with three drops of Orange Flower Water and two drops of Rose Water. These are very powerful mojo so add slowly and taste in between to find what you like. We used the Monteux brand of both and I was able to get them at Whole Foods in the spice aisle.
So now that you’ve got a wonderful batch of Orgeat whipped up, what exactly do you do with it? Make Tiki drinks of course! In our case we went with some Mai Tais, which I must say were fantastic. The Orgeat made the drink very smooth and added an almost creamy mouth feel, not to mention the great almond flavor.
In the spirit of full disclosure I must say I’m not 100% sure how one pronounces Orgeat. I’ve heard it as Or-shay and Wikipedia claims its pronounced Or-zhat. So I leave that one up to you. :)