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Amaretto Cardamom Cocktail – the Semla

5 from 8 votes

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Amaretto Cardamom Cocktail with ice in a sherry glass garnished with flowers and some almonds/cardamom
Amaretto Cardamom Cocktail

If you love cardamom, this Amaretto Cardamom Cocktail reels you in with its strong cardamom aromatics and keeps you sipping. It combines an infused amaretto, cardamom bitters, and just a dash of rose water. A few weeks ago I had a cardamom/rye sweet bun filled with almond paste called a semla. It’s a Nordic treat popular as a sweet before Lent. My friend got it from Smor Nordic Bakeri.

As soon as I opened the bag they were in a rush of cardamom filled my nose and brought a smile to my face. All I wanted to do was breathe in that scent of sweet, almond, cardamom flavor. And I knew that a combination of cardamom, almond, and a touch of floral rose would make a perfect cardamom whiskey cocktail. 

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What is Cardamom?

Cardamom (sometimes spelled cardamon)  is a highly aromatic spice made from the seed pods of a perennial plant grown in India, Guatemala and Sri Lanka. It’s commonly used in South Asian, Middle Eastern, and Swedish cooking. You’ve probably seen two main kinds – black cardamom and green cardamom – identified by the color of the outside of the cardamom pods. Green cardamom is far more common in the US.

Its scent and flavor are unique and hard to describe. To me, it’s very aromatic, even more so than nutmeg, and much sharper than the smell of nutmeg. Some describe it as citrusy, but that’s not quite right either. It’s one of those spices that you learn by consuming, and it’s fabulous in both sweet and savory dishes. 

Sometimes it’s used whole, and sometimes it’s ground and added into foods. However, if you want to experience the full potency of cardamom, toast the whole pods and grind them yourself. Commercially ground cardamom may seem more convenient, but it doesn’t pack the punch of cardamom you toast and grind yourself.

When I do grind my own, I use a small bullet blender as my spice grinder. It requires less effort and time.

Cardamom’s quite expensive by weight, not far behind other spices like saffron and vanilla. That’s because harvesting must be done by hand, and the plants take a few years of maturity before they’re producing.

Health Benefits of Cardamom

Like most spices, there are claims for many health benefits of taking the spice. Studies point to a high antioxidant content of cardamom. And there is anecdotal evidence that it aids digestion. Healers dispensed it for centuries to treat bad breath and poor digestion in India, and scientific evidence points to it having antibacterial properties towards some oral bacteria as well (which might be how it was helping treat bad breath.) 

Flavors in the Semla Cardamom Cocktail

Amaretto Cardamom Cocktail with ice in a sherry glass garnished with flowers and some almonds/cardamom
Amaretto Cardamom Cocktail

A semla is a cardamom-flavored sweet bun filled with almond paste and whipped cream that originated in Sweden and is popular around the beginning of Lent. In Sweden, perfect semla recipes are a matter of contention, much like we in Kentucky argue about our Derby Pie. 

The scent of cardamom infuses the bun, and the center is filled with a sweet almond paste. The baker glazed mine with an infused syrup. Together, the two practically take me to another planet with the floral aromatics of the cardamom and the sweet nuttiness of the whipped cream/sweet almond paste center. Each bite is heavenly. 

For this cocktail, I infused the amaretto with cardamom, then added cardamom bitters and Irish whisky. I tested Irish whisky, rum, and bourbon as a base spirit, and of the three, the Irish whisky, with its malty grain flavor, added that bit of “breadiness” the cocktail was missing. 

In the end, I added just a touch of rose water. My semla had smelled just slightly floral. Adding just a small dash of rose water tied the almond, cardamom, and wheat together into a flavor experience close to that semla. This tastes like an almond cardamom old fashioned – with the almond amaretto standing in for a cardamom simple syrup.

I’ve created a Blueberry Cardamom Old Fashioned – you can find it here on the website.

How to Make Cardamom-infused Liquor

For this recipe, I wanted more than just the cardamom bitters. (And by the way I highly recommend Scrappy’s Cardamom bitters as my favorite ones to use in cocktails.) I decided to infuse the amaretto – standing in for the sweet almond paste – with cardamom – rather than use other ingredients like a simple syrup/almond extract or orgeat.

To cut down on prep time for the infused liquor, I bruised 10 green cardamom pods and put them in the microwave with 6 oz (¾ c) of amaretto in a heat-safe mug. I put a cover over it and heated it for 1 min. Depending on the strength of your microwave you might need less time. Then I let it steep while cooling to room temperature. 

This technique is similar to one Ryan Chetiyawardana uses for his batched Nuked Negroni. Once cooled the amaretto is both sweet and pungently aromatic from the cardamom. Strain and store in a cool dark place. But to be honest, this won’t last very long. It’s good enough to sip over ice by itself.

Making the Amaretto Cardamom Cocktail

Amaretto Cardamom Cocktail with ice in a sherry glass garnished with flowers and some almonds/cardamom
Amaretto Cardamom Cocktail

To make the cocktail, I added the Irish whisky, the cardamom-infused amaretto, a dash of rose water, and the cardamom bitters in a mixing glass and stirred it as I would an old fashioned. I strained it into a rocks glass and served it over ice. 

For garnish, you can use some fresh green cardamom pods, a few almonds or an organic rose from your garden. I had some flowers from a fresh bouquet I used to give the garnish a little height because of the glass.

Other Cocktails You Might Enjoy

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Amaretto Cardamom Cocktail with ice in a sherry glass garnished with flowers and some almonds/cardamom
Amaretto Cardamom Cocktail
Amaretto Cardamom Cocktail with ice in a sherry glass garnished with flowers and some almonds/cardamom

Amaretto Cardamom Cocktail

Picture of Heather Wibbels, Cocktail Contessa, pouring a cocktailHeather Wibbels
Delight in this cocktail reminiscent of the Swedish sweet bun called a semla. With cardamom-infused wheat buns stuffed with sweet almond paste and whipped cream with a tiny bit of rose, it's a fragrant and unusual combination to turn into a cocktail. Here we'll infuse amaretto with cardamom pods, add in cardamom bitters, a healthy dose of Irish whisky and just a dash of rose water.
5 from 8 votes
Course Drinks
Cuisine whiskey cocktail
Servings 1

Ingredients
  

  • 1.5 oz Irish whisky
  • 1 oz cardamom-infused Amaretto
  • 10 drops Scrappy’s cardamom bitters
  • 1-2 drops rose water
  • Garnish: cardamom pods, edible florals, almonds

Instructions
 

  • Combine whiskey, amaretto, cardamom bitters, rose water and ice in a mixing glass. Stir 30 seconds, or until well chilled. Strain into a rocks glass with one large cube and garnish as desired.

Notes

Cardamom-infused Amaretto
  • 10 cardamom pods
  • 6 oz Amaretto
Combine bruised cardamom pods and amaretto in a heat-safe vessel and microwave them for 45-60 seconds. Let steep while it cools to room temp. Strain before using.
Keyword almond, cardamom, irish whiskey, rose, semla
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!
By on March 5th, 2021
Picture of Heather Wibbels, Cocktail Contessa, pouring a cocktail

About Heather Wibbels

Heather Wibbels is a whiskey enthusiast (Executive Bourbon Steward, no less) with a passion for cocktails. She loves researching and designing cocktails, drinking cocktails, and teaching cocktails. Mostly whiskey cocktails, given her Kentucky location

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