There's something fascinating about the idea of a home-infused walnut cognac. Perhaps it's the combination of staid elegance and homegrown flavor. Maybe it's imagining an 18th-century monk undertaking the same process. It could just be the anticipation of a new combination of tastes. Whatever the cause, the thought of infusing your own walnut liqueur is fascinating. And although brandy and cognac are the best-known walnut lovers, don't overlook the possibilities of vodka. I've included a traditional Croation recipe below -- but let's begin with the brandy.
To infuse brandy (or its classy sister cognac), begin with two cups of raw, whole organic walnuts with the inner skins on. This is key -- the whitish, waxy skins of fresh-shelled walnuts contain a lot of the flavor that will go into your glass.
Toast the nuts in the oven at 350 F for five to ten minutes, until the skins turn dark. Place them in a large jar. Some recipes advise muddling them slightly, but if you have the skins you shouldn't need to. Pour a 750ml bottle of organic brandy or cognac over the hot walnuts, and cover the jar. Let it sit for at least 36 hours, agitating it every 12 hours or so.
Strain your liqueur through a mesh strainer, then again through a coffee filter, into a bottle for storage. Enjoy it on its own, or as part of The Nutty Monk.
Orahovac: Walnut Vodka Liqueur
Orahovac is a traditional sweet Dalmatian liqueur that's made with green walnuts -- yes, with the green shells on. In a large jar, combine a cup and a half of raw sugar with the rind of an orange and a lemon (please, make sure your citrus is organic!). Add a vanilla bean. Smash eight green walnuts and throw them in the jar, then pour in a quart of organic vodka.
Shake the jar, then let it sit for two months. Strain it into a bottle, cork it and let it age another 6 months to a year.