I make no bones about the fact that I put the ‘kitsch’ in ‘kitchen’ – I fully admit that I revel in the retro campery to be had at the stove-side, and this love of all things déclassé reaches into the nether regions of my drinks cabinet too. There is nothing more satisfying than purchasing an oh-so unfashionable liqueur to realise that there are so many wonderful things to be made with it. Frangelico is a case in point. This Italian hazelnut liqueur is the early 80s in a bottle. It screams of the decade’s pretentious sophistication and the rising middle class’ aspirations towards worldliness and refinement à l’Europe. In many senses this liqueur and many other démodé tipples represent the worst excesses of food snobbery, however, I think it is important to see such drinks for what they are. Frangelico is frankly delicious. There is its warm nutty aroma, its full-bodied richness, and its comforting dessert sweetness. Whilst the hazelnut is at the foreground of this liqueur, there are also vanilla and chocolate notes. Dessert in a glass for those who have tired of Amaretto or Baileys.
The crucial factor in Frangelico’s irresistible noisette taste is the type of hazelnut that is used for the job. They possess their own name – Tonda Gentile – and are specific to the northern Italian region of Piedmont. These nuts are well known for being bigger, fatter, and more uniform, with a skin that sheds easily, a trait that allows for them to be toasted without a bitter taste. It is their sweet nutty flavour that means they are incredibly sought after by international confectionery brands.
These Tonda Gentile hazelnuts, grown in the Langhe, a rural area of hills and picturesque villages in southern Piedmont, are used to obtain the distillate for Frangelico. Once the hazelnuts are toasted and distilled with alcohol, they are married with other flavourings including cocoa, coffee, and vanilla according to a secret recipe. Indeed, these Tonda Gentile Delle Langhe are so special that they hold a protected status, akin to DOC or Appellation Contrôlée wine classification.
Frangelico’s distinctive monk-shaped bottle with its hand-tied rope waistband is an immediate clue to the liqueur’s fascinating origins. In 17th century Piedmont, it is said, a legendary hermit named Fr. Angelico used the best of local ingredients to create a unique liqueur that foregrounded the abundant local hazelnut. This innovative friar gave the necessary inspiration for the bottle design, which is supposed to resemble a friar in his habit, the small cord tied around the middle as a cincture.
Whilst ‘on the rocks’ is possibly the favourite way of enjoying Frangelico, it is also a versatile liqueur that can be used in a multitude of cocktails. What is more, it is an extremely useful ingredient in the kitchen, where it can be used to add bags of flavour to many a creamy dessert (Nigella Lawson’s Frangelico tiramisu is the winner of this category in my eyes). To fully get to grips with this special drink, however, it is best to appreciate it in liquid form, so here are a few of my favourite ways to enjoy it in a glass:
1. Frangelico and soda (on ice).
2. Frangelico and tequila. Mix 3 parts tequila with 1 part Frangelico.
3. Frangelico and sparkling wine. Mix 3 parts sparkling wine with 1 part Frangelico.
4. Butter Pecan. Mix Frangelico with vanilla ice cream and pecans for the milkshake of your dreams.
5. Hazelnut Martini. Combine vodka with Frangelico. To make this drink extra special, rim the glass with cocoa powder and chopped hazelnuts.