This is one of those recipes that takes a long time from start to finish, but the work load is fairly low. In fact, the most frustrating thing may well be getting the skins off of the nuts. Needless to say, however, if you have any patience at all, you should try this recipe. Well, provided you like liqueurs. I'm not a huge fan, myself, of sipping liqueurs; to me they are too sweet to drink alone, so I enjoy mixing them and using them in cooking. There are a lot of folks out there though that really enjoy a good sipping liqueur, and this is one of them... another grand gift idea!
Of course, it starts with the nuts. I based this recipe from one I found in Linda Amendt's Blue Ribbon Preserves book. She was making an almond liqueur, but not once did she mention toasting the nuts. I think this is a crucial mistake.
You always want to toast the nuts, in my opinion. Toasting is what brings out their true nuttiness. For hazelnuts, toasting also allows you to remove most of their papery skin. Throw the nuts on a sheet pan and bake at 250 until the nuts are very fragrant, just slightly browning, and there are plenty of cracks in their skins. Remove from the oven and pour into a kitchen towel. Close the towel up and let the nuts steam themselves for a bit to loosen the skin. To remove the skin, simply rub the nuts together with the towel. You won't get all of the skin off, but you will remove a large portion of it.
Chop the nuts up and pour into a large glass jar. I used a half-gallon canning jar that can be found at Michael's or similar craft stores. Heat the vodka and sugar together, gently, until the sugar is completely dissolved. Let the mixture cool slightly and add to the nuts. Throw in the chopped up vanilla bean. Cover the top with a double layer of plastic wrap and put the lid on. Gently swirl the jar to mix the ingredients. Place in a cool, dark place for a month.
After a month, the mixture will have taken on a lovely hue. It will also be full of a bunch of goopy stuff. Have no fear! It will all strain off, leaving you a gorgeous liqueur.
Use a fine mesh strainer to remove the nuts and vanilla bean. Then set up a filtration system with a coffee filter. The first filtration will be the slowest since the filter fills up with goop the fastest. I did find that keeping the filter full results in a faster filtration. Filter the liqueur four or five times. If there is any remaining cloudiness, let the liqueur sit undisturbed for a week and then carefully pour off the top of the liqueur, leaving any sediment behind. Bottle the result in pretty bottles and enjoy!
Yield: about 3 cups
Adapted from Linda J. Amendt's Blue Ribbon Preserves
4 cups hazelnuts
3 cups vodka
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 whole vanilla bean, cup into pieces
Toast the hazelnuts on a sheet pan in a 250° F until they are fragrant, slightly browned, and the skins are well split, maybe 15-25 minutes. Remove nuts from oven and immediately pour into a kitchen towel, wrapping it closed so that the nuts can steam. After 10-15 minutes, rub the nuts with the towel to remove most of the papery skin. You don't want to remove all of it, as I believe the skin is what helps give the liqueur its gorgeous color.
While the nuts are toasting, place the vodka and sugar into a sauce pan and heat gently just until the sugar is dissolved. Do not heat the liquid to a boil. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.
Chop the nuts coarsely and place in a large glass jar. Add the cut up vanilla bean and then pour the warm vodka/sugar mixture into the jar. Swirl to mix. Cover the top with some plastic wrap and then close with the lid. Place in a cool, dark place for a month.
After a month has passed, the liqueur should have a nice golden hue. Pour the mixture through a fine mess sieve to remove the nuts and vanilla bean. Filter the liqueur through paper coffee filters four or five times to remove all sediment. If the liqueur still has sediment after four or five filterings, let it sit in a cool place for a week to let the sediment fall to the bottom of the bottle and pour off the clear top liquid. Decant the final product into pretty glass bottles and enjoy!
NOTE: I have doubled the amount of nuts this recipe uses compared to how I first posted it (four cups instead of two). While the finished product was good with the two cups, I later decided it was not as nutty as I would like. If you're going to go to the trouble of making this, you want it to come out with a robust flavor!