Before becoming the favorite commercial dairy substitute, homemade almond milk, almond syrup and a magnificent almond liqueur –called Crema alla Mandorla— were favorite Sicilian drinks.
In Greece and the Middle East we dilute our precious almond syrup (called soumada in Greek) with ice-cold water and traditionally offer it at weddings, engagements, and other special occasions. At one time this expensive delicacy was given to nursing women as it was believed to help them produce milk.
From my 1994, out of print book Mediterranean Pantry, with photos by the brilliant Martin Brigdale
To serve, stir 2 to 3 tablespoons of the syrup into a large glass filled with 1/2 to 2/3 cup water and some ice cubes. If you like, add a little liqueur Crema alla Mandorla.
You can also use this almond syrup as a sauce for chocolate ice cream or as flavoring when you make almond ice cream.
Makes about 3 cups
1 1/2 cups blanched and skinned almonds (about 8 1/2 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
4 cups warm water
3 cups sugar
Soak the almonds in 2 cups warm water for 4 hours or overnight.
Place the soaked almonds with their liquid in the bowl of a food processor and process at high speed until you obtain a fine, milky meal.
Pour the mixture in a fine-meshed sieve, lined with a piece of wet cheesecloth, and press hard to extract all the liquid.
Place the solids in a separate bowl and pour 1 cup warm water over them. Stir with a fork, then strain again through the cheesecloth-lined sieve into the bowl of almond milk. Press hard to extract as much almond milk as possible. Repeat once more, soaking the remaining solids in the last cup of warm water, then straining and pressing the solids in the cheesecloth.
You should now have 4 cups almond milk and some wet chopped almond meal (see Note). Place the almond milk and sugar in a nonreactive saucepan and simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the syrup thickens, reaching 220-230 F on a candy thermometer.
Pass the syrup through a fine sieve into a clean and absolutely dry, 3-cup bottle. Seal, let cool, and keep at room temperature.
Almond Syrup will keep for up to a year.
NOTE: Spread the chopped almond meal on a baking sheet and place in a warm oven (175 F) until completely dry. Keep in a bag or glass jar to sprinkle over ice cream, salads, sweets, or sauces.