While researching recipes for our Eastern European tea recently, I came across one for a spicy Lithuanian spirit, Krupnikas. Not being a round-the-clock tea-totaller, the recipe intrigued me because of its use of all of the spices we associate with the smells and tastes of the holiday season. I opted to use Vodka instead of 190-proof grain alcohol in the batch I made. I like to photograph my cooking and baking endeavors and as it happened, while I was setting up the photograph below, our local listener supported radio station, KCPB was airing a classical concert program hosted by Alec Baldwin. He happened to be playing the music of eastern European composers as I staged my photo. A little shot of Krupnikas, and all I could hear was the passion of Shostakovich, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and Rachmaninoff. Krupnikas is often served slightly heated. Here’s the recipe:
10 Cardamom Pods
10 Whole Allspice
10 Whole Cloves
3 Three-inch Cinnamon Sticks
1 Vanilla Bean, split lengthwise
4-inch piece of Fresh Ginger, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
Thinly peeled rind of one orange
Thinly peeled rind of one lemon
(I use a zester and go once around the fruit from top to bottom, leaving some rind on the fruit, see photo)
Pinch of Saffron
4 Cups of Water
2 pounds of honey (too sweet for my taste–I used half that amount and it was better balanced in my opinion)
4 cups 190-proof grain alcohol (I used vodka)
Add the saffron to the water and allow to sit for 1/2 hour to release flavor and color, before adding the other spices. Hammer the cardamom pods and nutmeg to release their flavors. Boil them in the saffron water, along with all the other spices and rind strips, until the liquid is reduced by one half. Strain this mixture and set aside.
Bring the honey to a boil. Remove from heat and skim off foam. Pour the spice liquid into the honey and remove from heat. Relocate yourself far from the stove, especially if using 190-proof grain alcohol. Slowly add the alcohol. When all is added, return to a low heat and heat for 15 minutes, but don’t allow mixture to boil or simmer. Remove from heat and allow to sit overnight, covered. In the morning filter it through coffee filters and pour into sterilized bottles. You may need to filter it a few times over several days in order to achieve the desired clarity.