Small Batch: A Warmly Spiced Autumn Liqueur, Made at Home

November 2, 2012

Every week, a DIY expert spares us a trip to the grocery store and shows us how to make small batches of great foods at home.

Today, Kitchen Konfidence's Brandon Matzek is back to share a recipe for a spiced butternut squash liqueur.

- Brandon

As I was sitting on my couch the other night, browsing through my feed reader, I couldn’t help but smile at the warm, autumnal fragrances wafting from my kitchen. Hits of cinnamon, clove, and star anise melting with caramel-y brown sugar. After a brief bubble, the source of this intoxicating aroma was finished cooking. I could barely wait for the hot mixture to cool. Nimbly avoiding the agitated mass of simmered spices, my spoon scooped up a dab of liquid gold. Following a few quick cooling puffs, I tasted, then let out an audible "mmm." My 5-Spice Syrup was complete. Putting aside all hasty thoughts, I returned to the couch to let the syrup cool before adding to a jar of Butternut Squash Infused Vodka.

Each year when the weather starts to cool down in San Diego, I find myself craving fall-flavored infusions: apple cinnamon, pear lemongrass, fresh fig, orange cranberry, and vanilla ginger to name just a few. Last year, I discovered a most intriguing autumnal flavor profile: Pumpkin and Chinese 5-Spice. I was quite obsessed really: Pumpkin 5-spice lattes. Pumpkin 5-spice cocktails. Pumpkin 5-spice pie. Made with cinnamon, fennel, clove, Szechuan peppercorns and star anise, Chinese 5-spice is similar to pumpkin pie spice, but with more savory notes. Because the two are so similar, you can use 5-spice anywhere you would normally use pumpkin pie spice. This year, I decided to put my pumpkin obsession aside and experiment with butternut squash. Butternut Squash 5-Spice Liqueur to be precise.

After patiently waiting 24 hours for my liqueur to finish resting, I eagerly unscrewed the lid. The fragrance that escaped shortly after was pure delight – sweet butternut squash accented by cinnamon, clove, star anise, fennel and black pepper. That evening I curled up on the couch with a chilled glass of liqueur in hand and fireside candle ablaze -- my autumnal cravings satisfied.

A liqueur is essentially an infused alcohol that is sweetened with sugar. In my last article on alcohol infusions, I outlined a number of things to keep in mind during the infusing process. Here are some additional tips for making liqueurs:

• There are two ways you can infuse flavor into your liqueur. The first is by flavoring the alcohol. The second is by flavoring the sugar syrup that you will add to the alcohol.

• When creating sugar syrup for liqueurs, start with a basic ratio of one part water to one part sugar. Add the sugar and water to a small saucepan, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Let bubble for one minute, then take the syrup off the heat and cool completely before using. This is the recipe for simple syrup.

• After you’ve mastered the basics, you can flavor your sugar syrup! Try switching out white sugar for something more complex (brown sugar, muscovado sugar, honey). Herbs, spices or zest are also great additions. You’ll want to let your flavorings steep in the syrup as it cools. Strain out solids before adding to the infused alcohol.

• The trickiest part of making a liqueur is figuring out how much sugar syrup to add to the infused alcohol. I like to test out ratios by adding small quantities of each to a glass, stirring and tasting. A general guideline is 1 cup of sugar syrup per 2 cups of alcohol, but really, you should do this to taste. If you’ve over-sweetened your liqueur, you can always thin it a bit by adding more alcohol.

• Be sure to let the liqueur rest for a day or two after adding the sugar syrup to the alcohol. Time is needed to let the flavors come together and marry.

Butternut Squash 5-Spice Liqueur

Makes about 1 liter

3 to 4 pound butternut squash
Good quality vodka
1 cup white sugar
1 cup packed light brown sugar
5 whole star anise
1 cinnamon stick, broken into smaller pieces
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon whole cloves
2 cups water


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Peel butternut squash, cut in half lengthwise, then clean out seeds and guts. Discard skin, seeds and guts. Cut the squash up into 1.5-inch chunks. Spread out in an even layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake until just tender (test by inserting the tip of a knife), 20 – 30 minutes. Do not overcook here. The squash should be tender, but not falling apart. Let the squash cool to room temperature, then transfer to a large mason jar.

Add vodka to the jar until it covers the squash by 1 inch (I used between 750 ml and 1 L). Seal the jar and store in a cool, dark spot.

Give the jar a gentle shake every few days. Start tasting the vodka after 1 week. The finished infusion should taste very strongly of butternut squash. I was pleased with the flavor after 2 weeks; however, this can vary based on taste. 



Once you are satisfied with the butternut squash flavor, pour the mixture through a medium-mesh basket strainer into a clean bowl or jar. Discard the solids. Strain again through a fine-mesh strainer into another clean bowl or jar. Set aside while you prepare the 5-spice syrup.

In small saucepan, combine sugars, spices and water. Bring mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Once the mixture comes to a boil, drop the heat to low, and simmer for 5 minutes. Let the mixture cool completely, then strain out all of the spices. Discard spices.

Pour syrup into the infused vodka, stirring to combine. Cover and let rest for 1 more day before serving.

See the full recipe at Food52.


Like this post? See last week's Small Batch topic: Cardamom Honey Caramel for Apples and Pears.

Photos by Brandon Matzek

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