When I moved from London to the Basse-Normandie region of France, I discovered a new world of gastronomy. Known as the Bocage area of France, this region produces some of the finest dairy products in Europe. Few things can compare to the simple decadence of a slice of hot toast dripping with pale, creamy Normandy butter. The region is also world famous for its Camembert; what better comfort food than a round of this soft, rich cheese melted in a hot oven and served with hunks of crusty golden French baguette?
Living in the cold, albeit beautiful, countryside of Lower Normandy at this time of year, one feels compelled to create warming, home-cooked dishes in the coziness of a country kitchen. There are times, however, when I feel the need to create something a little more enlivening. What could be more satisfying than making your own liqueurs? But some recipes require storing these liquid gems for months. That’s too long to wait to taste, which is why I love this old French recipe for Quarante-quatre, literally meaning, 44. This delicious liqueur is ready to drink after only 44 days! And it’s easy to make no matter where you live.
I was recently invited to a neighbor’s house for an apero, which is a drink served with a variety of finger foods and lots of animated conversation. My host brought out a bottle of Quarante-quatre that had been secreted away for 14 years. The bottle of golden nectar was ceremoniously opened as the subtle bouquet of sweet oranges and coffee filled the air. A truly breathtaking moment! Drinking this local treasure produced a warm glow from the top of my head to the tips of my toes. If only I could keep it for longer than 44 days! This liqueur develops a certain magic the longer it’s stored. If Quarante-quatre could be kept unopened for as many years as its name, it would enchant even the most discerning of palates.
For this Quarante-quatre recipe you will need:
1 litre or a 2-pint glass jar with a tight fitting lid
A cocktail stick or skewer
1 large orange washed but not peeled
44 coffee beans
44 sugar lumps or roughly 44 teaspoonfuls of sugar
1 whole vanilla pod
1 litre of Vodka or Eau de Vie or Brandy
(In France we have Alcool pour Fruits – a 40? spirit used for fruit conservation but Vodka works just as well)
Take the cocktail stick and prick the orange 44 times. Place the orange into the glass container and add the coffee beans, vanilla pod and sugar lumps. Cover with 1 litre of your chosen spirit and stir well. Stir or shake for the next few days until the sugar has dissolved then leave sealed in a dark place for 44 days. Strain and bottle. Your Quarante-quatre is ready to drink. Cheers, or as we say in France, Santé!