When I was a kid, I used to make orange pomander balls every Christmas. They are made by studding fresh oranges with whole cloves, which makes a fantastic smelling and all natural holiday I stopped the tradition for a few years, but recently started it back up because the balls smell so amazing. I’ve used the combination of orange and cloves together in other things, like Orange and Clove Snowball Cookies and this year I used the flavor combination in some homemade Orange, Vanilla and Clove Vodka, a spirit that is great for holiday entertaining and for holiday gift-giving.
I’ve made more than a few different flavored vodkas over the years, including a Homemade Cranberry Vanilla Vodka (another good holiday spirit) and Peep Infused Vodka (a fun Easter infusion), and they are easy to make. Alcohol in general is good at absorbing other flavors – that is why vanilla extract is alcohol-based, for instance – and since vodka has no real flavor of its own, it is almost like a blank canvas that you can use to create an entirely new product. This vodka is infused with orange zest, whole cloves and a vanilla bean. I lightly sweetened it with a sugar syrup to help those flavors stand out even more without making the infusion too sweet. Essentially, all the ingredients are added to the vodka and the mixture is left to steep for a couple of days. You’ll get some flavor in as little as one day, but you’ll have a much better product if you can wait at least 3-7 days.
The vodka takes on a beautiful orange color and has a great spice scent and flavor from the cloves. The vanilla is subtle here, since the clove is such a strong spice, but it takes some of the sharpness off of the cloves and gives the vodka a rounded overall flavor. The smell is almost enough to fill the room. It is very slightly sweetened, but not so much that you’ll want to drink it straight. Instead, use this in place of regular vodka in holiday cocktails to give them a whole new flavor. The vodka can be stored at room temperature for several months, so it also makes a wonderful homemade holiday gift option for friends who enjoy entertaining.
Update: Once you’ve made your vodka, you’ll want to use it in a cocktail! Try this Orange Pomander Drop – or include it on a recipe card if you are giving the vodka as a gift!
Homemade Orange, Vanilla and Clove Vodka
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1 tbsp whole cloves
1 vanilla bean
1 750-ml bottle of vodka
In a small saucepan, combine water and sugar. Bring to a simmer and stir occasionally until all the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat.
Peel the zest from an orange in thick 1-inch strips using a vegetable peeler and add zest and cloves to the sugar syrup. Split the vanilla bean in half and scrape out the seeds into the sugar syrup. Set the vanilla bean pod aside.
Pour vodka into a large mason (or similar) jar. Pour in the flavored sugar syrup and add in the vanilla bean and close the jar tightly. Keep covered and let infuse in a cool place for 3-7 days.
The solids can be strained out of the vodka before bottling (or left in for visual effect).
Makes 1 large bottle; 2 small bottles/jars.