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Homemade Amaretto Liqueur from Apricot Pits

Homemade amaretto liqueur made with only 3 ingredients: apricot pits, vodka, and sugar. It’s a quick and fuss-free recipe for amaretto: Let the pits steep in vodka, add sugar and that’s it.

The addictive marzipan-almond flavored liqueur is perfect to drizzle over ice cream, to add to desserts, cakes, cookies, and pancakes, or to drink as a digestif – I’m sure you’ll love it. This DIY amaretto makes a great gift too.

No-waste recipe

Last summer, I made a looooot of apricot jam to find the perfect recipe for my cookbook. Hence, I had a lot of apricot pits that I would usually toss. But then, I love repurposing ingredients that are otherwise discarded, like watermelon rind pickles or apricot pits. So I was tempted to try this homemade amaretto. And guess what? It tastes so good, that I would actually recommend making some apricot jam just for the sake of getting the pits.

Oh, and by the way: You could use pits from other stone fruit to make amaretto too, like plum pits or cherry pits. The taste may vary slightly but the outcome will be a delicious liqueur as well.

Put apricot pits in a jar and pour vodka in. This jar has a volume of 500 ml (2 cups).

Advantages of homemade amaretto

You can tailor homemade amaretto perfectly to your preference. You love Amaretto with a hint of vanilla? Add a vanilla bean. Is the flavor too intense for you? ‚Thin‘ it with a little more vodka. You don’t like it overly sweet? Reduce the sugar. The biggest advantage of the homemade version is probably that you know exactly how much sugar goes in. There is no artificial color needed, nor are preservatives.

Apricot pits in vodka. Now, it is time to wait.

What is Amaretto?

Amaretto is an almond-flavored liqueur, which hails from Italy. The word amaro means bitter in Italian, amaretto means a little bitter. The subtle bitterness refers to the distinctive flavor derived from bitter almonds the liqueur was originally made from. Modern versions use regular almonds or drupe stone like apricot pits to imitate that distinctive flavor. Often times knock-offs (‚creme de almond‘) are made from extracts or almond oil.

However, the liqueur tastes somehow like marzipan and is rather sweet than bitter due to the added sugar. That is why Amaretto is a popular drink on its own, especially as an after dinner drink. It is a great mixer as well. Amaretto usually has an alcohol content of around 25 %.

The color will gradually darken. Picture: after about 1 month of steeping.

How to make homemade amaretto?

When making apricot jam or a cake, I collect the pits instead of tossing them. I put the pits in a sealable jar and let them steep in vodka for 2 months. The alcohol will gradually darken to an amber color and intensify its flavor. After steeping, I strain the pits and add a little sugar. Done.

After 2 months of steeping, the vodka will have an amber color.

How to prepare apricot pits for liqueur

In short: Wash the pits, dry them, and use them.

The long version: First of all, collect the apricot pits. You will need roughly 4-6 lb (2-3 kg) of small apricots to get 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups of pits. This depends largely on the kind of apricots – some have smaller stones, some varieties have larger ones. If I don’t make apricot jam, which requires a large amount of apricots, I usually collect the pits over weeks to get the amount needed.

After pitting the apricots, I will run them under water and rub off any fruit parts, since those can get moldy. You can use a vegetable brush or a sponge, but I usually just scrub them clean with my hands. This takes a matter of seconds per pit.

After cleaning the stones, I let them dry on a paper towel. If you have enough pits already, you can make the amaretto now. If not, collect some more pits. In the meantime, I transfer the dry pits from the paper towel to a small plate and cover them with a cloth – a light tea towel or even paper towels work fine. I do this to protect them from dust and to keep them airy. This way, I collect more and more pits over the following weeks. As soon as I have enough, I start making the amaretto.

I am using apricot pits as a whole for this recipe. No need to crack them open to get the kernel inside.

After 2 months, the homemade amaretto is ready.

Are apricot kernels poisonous?

Many traditional liqueurs like amaretto are made with stone fruit kernels. These recipes often date back hundreds of years, especially in Europe.

But: Stone fruit kernels, which you can find within the wooden pits of apricots, nectarines, peaches, cherries, bitter almonds (yes, this is a stone fruit as well), and plums contain small amounts of amygdalin. Amygdalin is a precursor to cyanide. Even apple seeds contain amygdalin. That’s why I am using whole apricot pits and not the kernels inside. I do not crack them open since this releases more amygdalin.

Our body can deal with small amounts of amygdalin but a high dose could be poisonous. Therefore, you have to decide for yourself if you consider making and drinking this amaretto is safe enough for you. If you are planning on drinking it on its own, I’d recommend you enjoy it within reason and do not get wasted on this liqueur. As we all know: The dose makes the poison.

Strain off the pits, then strain alcohol through a cheescloth, and bottle.

How to use amaretto?

  • Drizzle it over ice cream
  • Add it to desserts (think tiramisu), creams, and frostings
  • Add it to cake and cookie batters (like these amaretti cookies), waffle or pancake batters as an alternative to vanilla or almond extract
  • Sip it on its own as a digestif (dessert drink) after dinner
  • Make a boozy gift for someone special

The finished homemade amaretto liqueur will look like this 🙂

Yield: 1 1/4 cups (300 ml)

Homemade amaretto liqueur made with 3 ingredients: apricot pits, vodka, and sugar. The addictive marzipan-almond flavored liqueur is perfect to drizzle over ice cream or to add to desserts (tiramisu). It tastes great in cakes and cookies, pancakes, and waffles. Or drink it on its own as an after dinner drink. This amaretto also makes a great boozy gift.

Recipe: Ursula | lilvienna.com

  • 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups (170 g) clean and dry apricot pits (see note)
  • 1 2/3 cups (400 ml) vodka, 40 % alcohol (= 80 proof)
  • 3 tablespoons (40 g) fine granulated sugar
  1. Place the apricot pits in a large sealable glass jar or bottle, holding 2 cups /500 ml or larger.
  2. Pour the vodka in and seal the jar.
  3. Let the pits steep for 2 months. (I let them steep in my bookshelf in the living room.) The vodka will turn dark amber.
  4. Strain out the pits through a strainer. Filter the strained liquid through a multi-layered cheesecloth into a pitcher to remove fine sediment. This will make the finished liqueur even clearer.
  5. Add the sugar and stir until dissolved, a few minutes. Taste it and adjust the sugar if it is not sweet enough for you. If the almond-flavor is too intense for your taste, add more vodka to ‚thin‘ it, or alternatively use it as almond extract. Be aware that it will get milder and smoother over time.
  6. Bottle the amaretto. It will keep at least a year but usually longer.

How to prepare apricot pits for liqueur:

You will need roughly 4-6 lb (2-3 kg) of small apricots to get 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups (300-360 ml) of pits. The amount needed largely depends on the kind of apricots – some have smaller stones, some varieties have larger ones. Go and make some apricot jam 🙂

After pitting the apricots, rinse them with water and rub off any fruit parts with your fingers, a brush, or a sponge. Let them dry on a paper towel. If you have enough pits already, you can make the amaretto right away. If not, collect some more pits. In the meantime, transfer the dry pits from the paper towel to a small plate and cover them with a cloth – a light tea towel or even paper towels work fine – to protect them from dust and to keep them airy. Collect more pits over the weeks. As soon as you have enough, make the amaretto.

I am using whole apricot pits including the hard, wooden shell for this recipe. Do not to crack them open to use the kernel inside (note that kernels contain amygdalin, see safety notes in the article above).

Amaretto made with 3 ingredients: apricot pits, vodka, and sugar. Drizzle over it over ice cream, add it to desserts (tiramisu), cakes, and cookies or drink it on its own. It also makes a great boozy gift.

Amaretti and Amaretto

Bitter almonds differ from sweet almonds far more than in bitterness. Sweet almonds were born as a natural mutation of bitter almonds lacking amygdalin, a compound that is found in the kernels of many stone-fruits (apricots and peaches included). When such kernels are crushed, the amygdalin breaks down into glucose, the aromatic benzaldehyde (which is responsible for the sharp almond flavor), and the highly toxic hydrogen cyanide (HCN). Each bitter almond may contain an average of 6 mg of HCN, which, incidentally, is far more than the amount of HCN found in the smoke of one cigarette (0.01 to 0.4 mg).

Benzaldehyde

When amygdalin is not present, however, benzaldehyde is also missing – sweet almonds lack of a lot of the flavor of their bitter counterparts and are impractical for the use in the pastry and confectionery industry. In North America, bitter almonds are strongly regulated due to the cyanide content and not commercially available; almond flavoring (extracted from a variety of other sources) is used instead. In Europe, moderate amounts of bitter almonds as well as apricot kernels (called ‘armelline’ in Italian) are used despite their toxicity; the cooking process neutralizes the HCN, and, in small amounts, they can even be used raw (for instance to flavor marzipan).

Almonds are native to western Asia and the Middle East and adapted well to the Mediterranean climate, where they still grow naturally. Sweet almonds, possibly identified by the early farmers, have been cultivated since the early Bronze Age (3000-2000 BCE). Nowadays, according to the FAO, California is the largest producer (1.4 million tons in 2010), with Italy coming in 6th (85.500 tons), after Spain, Iran, Morocco, and Syria.

Almonds with shell, shelled almonds, and blanched almonds

The best example of the use of cooked bitter almonds and/or apricot kernels is in the almond macaroons known as amaretti, of which they constitute 10-20% in weight. The earliest written recipes for amaretti (as early as 1725) describe them as crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside, and made with egg whites, sugar, sweet and bitter almonds. Nowadays, different kinds of amaretti exist – some that follow similar recipes, and some that also contain flour (wheat, rice, corn, or potato) for added body. Texture-wise, amaretti range from soft and mildly chewy to light and crunchy.

Ricciarelli

Amaretti vary substantially throughout the Italian territory. In Sicily, Pasta di Mandorle (almond paste) is very popular and used in many kinds of pastries. In Sardinia, well known are Sospiri, made with sweet almonds and lemon rind. In Lazio the Amaretti of Fiuggi and of Guarcino are made of sweet and bitter almonds, egg whites and sugar on a disc of wafer paper. Also from Lazio the Paste Reali are a typical Christmas cookie made with sweet almonds, sugar and baking powder. From Tuscany, soft and sugar-coated Ricciarelli are popular in all northern Italy. In Liguria, renowned are the soft almond cookies from Sassello (on the Apennines, at the border with Piedmont), made with sweet almonds and apricot kernels. In Emilia-Romagna, well known is the Amaretto di Modena, crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside, made with sweet and bitter almonds. In Piedmont, the crunchy Amaretti di Mombaruzzo are made with sugar, egg whites, sweet almonds and apricot kernels. In Lombardy, the soft and irregularly shaped Amaretti di Gallarate are also made with sweet almonds and apricot kernels. Also from Lombardy is the famous Amaretto di Saronno (from the homonymous town). Particularly well known is the version commercialized by D. Lazzaroni & C. called Amaretti Originali and made exclusively of sugar, apricot kernels (19%), and egg white.

Amaretti del Chiostro Autentici

Recently, a different but related company: Paolo Lazzaroni & Figli (PLF) also entered the amaretti market with Amaretti del Chiostro Autentici. PLF was founded by Paolo Lazzaroni in 1851; in 1888, his brother, Davide Lazzaroni, started “D. Lazzaroni & C.” (better known as Lazzaroni). PLF historically focused on liqueurs (especially Amaretto, see below), whereas Lazzaroni mainly produced cookies (especially amaretti), both following the original recipe that belonged to the Lazzaroni family well before both companies were founded (since to 1718, according to a legend). Despite the attempt of Lazzaroni to patent their amaretti recipe, PLF was authorized to market their cookies under a different name.

Amaretti, and particularly Amaretti di Saronno, are used as an ingredient in several preparations, either whole, crushed or crumbled. Among the many desserts, particularly famous is the Piedmontese Bônet, a chocolate pudding with crumbled amaretti and rum. Also well known are Pesche Ripiene (stuffed peaches), baked half peaches filled with crushed amaretti, egg yolks, sugar and dark chocolate. Amaretti are also featured in important savory dishes, such as Tortelli di Zucca (Lombardy), Gnocchi di Zucca e Amaretti (pumpkin and amaretti gnocchi), and Fritto Misto alla Piemontese (Piedmontese mixed fry), which consists of fried entrails and fried Amaretti di Mombaruzzo (softened in milk and breaded).

Disaronno Originale

Just like the amaretti cookies, the Amaretto liqueur is also made with bitter almonds or with apricot kernels, this time in the form of an infusion. Since alcohol is particularly effective in extracting the benzaldehyde, there is no hydrogen cyanide in the liqueur, and even no traces of nuts in it, making it safe for those who have allergies. Amaretto has nothing to do with ‘amaro‘, a distinctly bitter herbal liqueur usually had as a digestive.

Being an infusion, the Amaretto liqueur can be easily made at home. Just like for Limoncello, many Italian families make their own by soaking minced bitter almonds (and/or apricot kernels) in pure alcohol (although brandy can also be used).

The historical origin of Amaretto is unknown, but the legend goes that it was invented in Saronno in 1525. According to the tale, a young innkeeper created a concoction of almond and brandy as a gift for the painter Bernardino Luini out of gratitude for choosing her as a model for the painting dedicated to the Virgin Mary, in the city’s sanctuary. The story is also endorsed by ILLVA Saronno S.p.A., the firm that makes the world-famous “Disaronno Originale” (28% vol.), an “Italian liqueur flavored with herbs and fruits soaked in apricot kernel oil”. The company’s name is the acronym of “Industria Lombarda Liquori Vini e Affini”, literally: Lombard Factory of Liquors, Wines, and Similar goods.

Less known outside of Italy, Disaronno’s main competitor is the “Lazzaroni Amaretto” (24% vol.) by Paolo Lazzaroni & Figli (PLF), officially produced since 1851. PLF’s Amaretto owes its “delicate almond/apricot flavor” to an infusion of crushed amaretti cookies, which were made according to the Lazzaroni family’s recipe.

Amaretti cookies and Amaretto liqueur are both well known in Italy and have been gaining popularity worldwide. Discover how they are made.