Flavored vodkas are growing in popularity, with dozens of flavors popping up where there were once only a few. Instead of basic lemon and lime-infusions, you can now find much more creative flavors like cake, whipped cream and marshmallow. After a pre-Easter Peep-buying spree, I set out to make my own marshmallow-infused spirit using the popular marshmallow chicks.
I filled up a large jar with Peeps, poured in a bottle of relatively inexpensive vodka (don’t get something terrible, but don’t sacrifice something very expensive for this kind of project) and let it steep in the refrigerator for a few days. I decided to use a lot of Peeps – not just two or three – to get in as much Peep flavor as possible. All of the exterior sugar of the marshmallows came right off, and the Peeps partly dissolved, infusing the vodka with a subtle sweetness. So when you taste the vodka, you will get a hint of sugar up front, followed by the flavor of whatever vodka you chose to use. It’s pretty good – and while it doesn’t have a distinct Peep flavor (do Peeps have a distinct flavor?),that doesn’t make the project any less fun.
You can use this vodka in just about any cocktail, and it actually makes a fun centerpiece for an Easter party. Peeps come in a variety of colors, but they all taste just about the same. The classic Yellow peeps are my personal favorite and I chose them to infuse my vodka. Feel free to work with blue, purple or pink Peeps, but I don’t recommend mixing and matching the colors because it will result in a less-than-pleasant-looking finished product as the colors mix. The yellow turn out a vodka with an almost limoncello color to it, which is easy to incorporate into drinks.
Once you’ve made a batch, try making some Peep Vodka Lemon Drops with it to celebrate!
Most of the liquor stores in my area stock a wide variety of mini bottles of various spirits near the registers. I like the mini bottles because they give you a convenient way to taste a liquor without splurging on a whole bottle of it – and they often give you just the right amount to add a splash of flavor to a recipe. This little bottle of Kahlua French Vanilla caught my eye a few weeks back, and it has become a favorite in my pantry ever since.
Kahlua is a rum-based coffee liquor with a strong and sweet coffee flavor to it. A splash can be great in a cocktail, but I frequently use it to amp up the coffee flavor in a tiramisu or in a batch of mocha frosting. The french vanilla version is lightly coffee flavored with a strong vanilla overtone to it. When I first bought it, I wasn’t sure how I was going to use it, but I discovered that the vanilla note is strong enough that this can be used almost like vanilla extract. When added to a batch of frosting or even a simple sugar cookie recipe, it contributed a nice vanilla flavor and just a hint of rum and coffee that made the flavor a whole lot more interesting and was a nice change of pace from regular vanilla.
The mini bottles are convenient to use and I got quite a few uses from each one, adding anywhere from a teaspoon to a tablespoon of liquor to jazz up a recipe that ordinarily called for vanilla extract. It’s not going to replace my regular vanilla extract any time soon, but it is definitely going to be included in more than a few icing recipes now that I’ve discovered that a splash goes particularly well in cream cheese frosting.
Many people think about breaking out a nice bottle of champagne on a special occasion, and a glass of bubbly definitely has a festive feel to it, but champagne is a drink that you can toast to all year round and winter holidays deserve their own special celebration drinks that you won’t see much at any other time of the year.
- Hot Caramel Apple Cider is a wonderful way to dress up apple cider. Cider – homemade or even store bought – is dressed up with caramel sauce and whipped cream for a real treat that practically shouts “happy holidays!” You could even spike this with a little alcohol for a more grown-up party drink, but I like to keep it simple because I never get tired of this treat.
- Eggnog is a holiday classic, a thick, dairy-based drink made with milk, sugar, eggs and spices, usually nutmeg and vanilla. You can spike it with a little brandy or rum for the grown-ups, too. You can easily buy eggnog, but nothing beats homemade. A cooked Homemade Eggnog is the most common kind of ‘nog recipe. This drink base is cooked like a custard, so it develops a thick and velvety texture. It is rich, but satisfying, and can actually stand in for dessert because it is quite indulgent.
Apple fans will notice that many apple recipes – from pies to preserves – often call for calvados as a way to further boost the apple flavor of the recipe. Calvados is an apple brandy from the Normandy region of France that can be used a bit like an extract can be used to give apples a little more complex flavor. Calvados starts out with fresh apples. The apples are juiced and then fermented into an apple cider, then that cider is distilled into eau de vie, a type of clear brandy that is made with any fruit that isn’t a grape. To turn it from eau de vie into Calvados, the liqueur is transferred into oak barrels and left to age for two or more years. Calvados that is aged longer typically is smoother and has a more complex flavor, with deeper notes of fruit and oak, as well as a darker color
Calvados is often called for in British and other European recipes, where it is a little more commonly used than it is in the US. In a recipe, it can be be used much like a flavored extract, and only a small amount of it needs to be added to a recipe to give it some extra flavor. For instance, you might add a tablespoon or so to an apple cake recipe to make it a little less ordinary, or you could add it to some caramelized apples before serving them with ice cream. With a small amount, most of the alcohol will burn off during cooking or baking, leaving you with just the flavor behind.
I don’t usually put Peeps into hot chocolate and prefer to simply eat them on their own, but I was inspired by some of the holiday Peeps that I tried recently since the holiday flavors seemed like they might be especially well-suited to drinking with a good cup of hot chocolate. I used the very cute Gingerbread Peeps as inspiration and made a Gingerbread Hot Chocolate to put them in.
Sometimes, I make hot chocolate with just cocoa powder, sugar and milk – a simple and easy to make blend. Since this gingerbread hot chocolate has some spice to it, I decided to add a little richness to the drink by adding real chocolate to give it a little more body and creaminess. I add both white chocolate and dark chocolate (you can use milk chocolate, instead, if you prefer), since I like the flavor of both but wanted a little extra sweetness from the white chocolate to counter the strong molasses flavor. The result is a nice fusion of gingerbread and hot chocolate, a lighltly spiced drink that is perfect for the holidays.
You don’t need a gingerbread marshmallow to enjoy this drink (even though they are adorable!), and you’ll find that regular marshmallows or even whipped cream make nice finishes, too.