Festive cordials featuring seasonal produce like apples, pears, and cranberries are a delicious way to celebrate the holidays, both to serve at gatherings and give as gifts. Fruit and herbs combine beautifully in simple, delicious recipes with limitless possibilities. You won’t believe how easy they are to make!
Here are the basic recipes to get you started. Be sure to use the best quality alcohol you can afford. I really like Flag Hill’s General John Stark Vodka made with New Hampshire apples and triple-distilled in Lee, NH. It’s available at select liquor stores and at Flag Hill Winery. But any good vodka will do -- the better quality it is, the better your cordials will taste. Also feel free to experiment with brandy, whisky, rum, tequila, cognac... depending on what goes with the the flavor profile of the herbs and fruit, though 80-proof (40% ABV) is best for preservation and flavor.
Basic Cordial Recipe (~25% alcohol)
- 1 part simple syrup, honey, or maple syrup (ie: 2 2/3 ounces)
- 2 parts quality vodka, brandy, or other 80-proof spirit (ie: 5 1/3 ounces)
- Chopped fruit, herbs, spices, etc.
Make your simple syrup (if using – see recipe below). Loosely fill your jar with desired fruit and herbs. Pour in your syrup and alcohol. Let sit for up to one month, shaking daily. Taste every day or two and strain when it tastes good to you. Strain through a cloth-lined colander or strainer, and squeeze as much out as you can with your hands. Store in glass in a cool, dark, dry spot.
Simple syrup without herbs will last in the fridge for at least a month. It’s an ingredient in
cordials, elixirs, and some herbal syrup recipes. If you add herbs, it should be preserved with alcohol or frozen to give it a longer shelf life.
- 2 part sugar
- 1 parts water
- Handful herbs (optional)
Simmer until the sugar is dissolved. You may infuse (steep) or decoct (simmer) this with herbs (just eyeball it) for about 30 minutes, then strain.
What to Do With Cordials?
- Drink them in a cordial glass for or with dessert.
- Serve with seltzer.
- Add them to mixed drinks.
- Add them to hot tea or coffee for a kick.
- Drizzle them over ice cream, cakes, and fruit.
- Heat them up and thicken with cornstarch to use on desserts for a thicker, sauce-like consistency.
- Serve them in chocolate cups.
- Use them in marinades and sauces.
- Give them as gifts in cute bottles
Spiced Pear Cordial in Maple Syrup
This recipe makes about one pint of cordial and will keep for at least one year in the liquor cabinet.
You can easily double or triple the batch. It’s a little unusual in that it’s a cooked cordial. It takes a little extra time, but it really brings a richer flavor from the pears and spices.
- 2 small, ripe pears (or 1 large), sliced
- 4 ounces of local maple syrup, preferably grade B
- 2 ounces of water
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 1 pinch grated nutmeg
- 6 whole cloves
- 1/4 to 1/2 vanilla bean, sliced lengthwise (or 1-2 teaspoons vanilla extract added at the end)
- 2 cardamom pods, crushed
- 8 ounces quality vodka*
Simmer the pears and spices in the maple syrup and water for approximately one hour. Remove from the heat occasionally if it seems to be boiling too hard. Pour all the ingredients into a mason jar. (Remove the cinnamon sticks if you want the cinnamon flavor to remain subtle.) Cover with vodka, cap, and let sit on the counter for one to four weeks, shaking daily. Taste it every few days. The flavor will gradually change, becoming more spicy and less fruity/nutmeg-y over time. When it tastes good to you, strain your cordial into bottles, and enjoy! I find this is often good in just one or two days and that the spices become stronger (which is less desirable to me) over time.
Quick Cordial Recipe Ideas
- Lemongrass Cordial: Loosely fill with fresh or fresh-frozen snipped lemongrass stalks (thick bottom parts). Cover with a 1:2 ratio of syrup:alcohol. Let sit for 2+ days, tasting daily.
- Apple Cinnamon Cordial: Use a similar recipe as the pear cordial, swapping in apples, double the cinnamon, omit the cardamom. Good simmered (as in the pear cordial recipe above) or raw/cold-infused.
- Cape Codder: Pulverize fresh cranberries in the food processor, sprinkle well with sugar, then cover with vodka. If desired, add a sprig or two of fresh rosemary for herbacious, pine-y complexity. Taste after one day and add more simple syrup if desired. Strain when it tastes good, often 2 to 14 days. This is both beautiful and delish with seltzer and a floating cranberry or pomegranate seeds, and perhaps a wedge of lime. Quite lovely on its own sipped from a cordial or shot glass.
- (Bitter) Lemon Cordial: Lemon's white pith is quite bitter, so you can simply use the juice and yellow zest (for something more lemony) or (for a digestive bitter lemon cordial), use the zest and sliced blocks of the fruit (with the membrane around the pulp but not the white inner peel). Done in just a day or two. Sip or add to seltzer in small quantities or add a dash to cocktail recipes.
- Cinnamon Blueberry Cordial: Simmer blueberries, mashing them, with simple syrup. Put 1 cinnamon stick in the jar. Cover with a ratio of 1:2, let sit to taste. Remove the cinnamon if it is getting too strong but does not yet have the blueberry flavor you want.
- Winter Toddy Cordial: Cover chopped ginger, lemons, and thyme with a 1:1 or 1:2 ratio.
- Sweet Fennel Cordial: Perfect for Sambuca-lovers! Fill your jar about a quarter to halfway full with equal parts dried Korean licorice mint (from the garden, if you don’t have any, just stick with star anise and fennel), star anise pods, and fennel seeds. Cover with a ratio of 1:2 simple syrup and vodka, and let sit for a few days before straining. Longer is fine, too.
- Strawberry Vanilla or Peaches & Cream: In summertime, pick fresh, ripe, aromatic fruit. Slice thin, cover with quality vodka with one whole vanilla bean. Stir several times daily (fresh fruit gets funky on top) and strain within 1-2 days. Oh my gosh, so good! Peaches and apple mint go nicely together, too -- very refreshing.