DIY Food

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.

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.

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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, it 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.

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.
Save and print the recipe here.

Brandon will be answering questions about butternut squash liqueur on the Hotline for those of you who want to take on this project at home. For the quickest response, go to his recipe and ask a question from there -- we'll email him your question right away!

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Kitchen Konfidence is a collection of recipes and techniques aimed to inspire the home cook to do more in the kitchen. About Brandon: I enjoy cooking with seasonal ingredients, making ice cream and shaking up some killer cocktails. When I am not cooking and taking pictures of my food, I am at the beach, carousing with friends, taking day trips up the 5, or engaging in all manner of computer geekery.


Debby R. November 30, 2012
I made something similar and added pureed pumpkin to the infusion. I made my simple syrup after i had infused the liquor for a week and added the "spent" squash to the simple syrup mix when cooking it. While most of the squash flavor was left behind in the liquor, the syrup had an added boozy dimension that mixed well when i combined them.
AnnaCarr November 11, 2012
I've already made some spicy, zesty mulling syrup intended for use in individual cups of mulled wine / cider (when you don't want to make a batch). This recipe & the large knobbly organic pumpkin I have in my kitchen have given me a WAY better idea. I'll let you know how it goes!

SusanRos November 4, 2012
This sounds great! I like to use a liqueur like this mixed with other things (proseco? rum? ) to create a pre-dinner cocktail. Would welcome your suggestions.
Kitchen K. November 10, 2012
Rum or brandy are great liquor accompaniments. Lemon juice wouldn't be a bad idea. Or bitters to balance the sweetness. Ginger ale, ginger beer, apple cider, sparkling water and sparkling wine are good mix-ins. Enjoy!
barbarac November 4, 2012
There is a butternut squash sitting on my counter right now, begging to be turned into liqueur! The recipe looks fantastic. Not a fan, however, of anise/fennel flavor. Do you think cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg would be sufficient, perhaps with a vanilla bean thrown in for good measure?
Kitchen K. November 10, 2012
Perhaps cinnamon, clove, ginger and nutmeg? Vanilla bean is good as well; however, sometimes it can over power an infusion.
kary November 4, 2012
This looks different -- and good. How long do you think this would last? If you want to give it as gifts?
Kitchen K. November 4, 2012
This should last several months in the fridge. The more solids you strain out, the longer it will last!
suzy P. November 4, 2012
And also, it will last longer if you increase the percent alcohol in it!
AntoniaJames November 2, 2012
Love it!! ;o)
Kitchen K. November 3, 2012
Thank you Antonia!
edamame2003 November 2, 2012
i can taste it already! yum--thank you for the great recipe!
suzy P. November 2, 2012
You can also vary the liquid for simple syrup. I love to use our hard cider instead of water, it adds a delicious depth to the flavor.
Kitchen K. November 3, 2012
That's an awesome suggestion Suzy. I'm going to give that a try.
SavvyJulie November 6, 2012
Ooh, this is a great idea!
Carla October 31, 2015
I can't wait to try this. We usually just make "apple pie". I also love using other liquids than water. When doing homemade limoncello I use the juice from the lemons instead of water. It is awesome. Thanks for the recipe!
Amanda H. November 2, 2012
Brandon, you and your excellent photos! Thank you for this post -- can't wait to make this!
Kitchen K. November 3, 2012
Thanks Amanda :)!!