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Can I substitute another liquor for Cointreau?

I am making a recipe calling for Cointreau, but I am making a large quantity and Cointreau isn't cheap. I know it is orange flavored, but I don't want to go the Grand Marnier route either due to cost. Do you think a Triple Sec would pass, or through a Google search I found "orange curacao" mentioned? Any help with this would be much appreciated.

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  1. I often buy the little "airplane" size bottles if I only need a small amount. Can't help on the substitution, though I think Cointreau/Grand Marnier have a much smoother taste than Triple Sec - don't know if it would make difference in the recipe. What are you making?

    1. mels - it is certainly possible that you could substitute triple sec and nobody would know the difference unless you told them. Curacao is also an orange flavored liqueur and is available in a wide range of prices. Some of them are quite reasonable.

      However, to get a truly informed opinion, it would help if you were to tell us what the recipe is that you are making.

      1. The recipe is for a cake where the Cointreau is to be poured over it and soak in (not cooked). I am wondering if the faux-Cointreau (whatever I may use) being it its "raw" state would have a different taste. Unfortunately I have to make a mass quantity of said cake for a non-profit event, so the budget for ingredients is limited. I would rather not spend $30 for a 750 mL bottle if I can help it!

        1. Gran Gala is a "faux-Cointreau/Grand Marnier" which is about half the price of either--more expensive than triple sec, but stronger in flavor (and alcohol, I believe).

          1. I'm not a drinker but I would go ahead with a less expensive liqueur. The cake's flavor will dominate so you just want a top note of orange and alcohol.

            1. You will notice some difference substituting Cointreau or Grand Marnier with triple sec or orange curacao for cake soaking. Given your budget, it is definitely an acceptable substitute. You cakes will taste fine. If you are using a moist filling/frosting, use a little less. Soaking a cake with straight liqueur can be quite overpowering. Many recipes call for a sugar syrup flavored with liqueur.

              1. Triple sec varies a lot in quality.

                To save money, make your own orange syrup and mix it with inexpensive brandy or rum.


                1 Reply
                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  That's a good recipe. Sounds tasty -- and you could always substitute regular oranges for the blood oranges.

                2. Good orange extract goes a long way. It's about 24% alcohol, and a lot cheaper than Cointreau.

                  1. You can also substitute orange juice. At least you won't get a 'cheap' alcohol taste to it.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: thenurse

                      Yep. Robert linked to a good recipe above. That's what I'd do -- I wouldn't use alcohol for a cake for this event, but that's just IMO.

                    2. In the past I've substituted a mixture of brandy and orange juice that seemed just fine.

                      1. Triple Sec is the closest thing to Cointreau. In fact, they are virtually the same, except Cointreau is just a higher quality and higher proof. You can make it work.

                        Do not use Grand Marnier, Gran Gala or Gran Torres; they are not the same, they are brandy/cognac based and much darker.


                        1 Reply
                        1. re: UptownKevin

                          To my taste buds, Triple Sec and Cointreau are quite different. Both orange of course, but
                          Cointreau is more vibrant, more orange in flavor, less alcoholic in flavor and much more beautiful.

                        2. IMHO, I think plain Triple Sec would be a poor, syrupy substitute - the reason the recipe calls for Cointreau is taste and quality. MAYBE Patron Citronge will save 30% on cost.

                          What ingredients (liquor wise) do you have on hand - maybe there's an improvised solution...

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: tdo ca

                            I have definitely subbed citronge in recipes calling for a small amt of cointreau. worked fine.

                          2. While both are orange flavored, Cointreau and Grand Marnier are two different spirits; Cointreau has a neutral base, Grand Marnier uses brandy and would change the flavor profile of what you are making. Depending on how much you're using, you *might* be able to substitute triple sec or orange curaçao. If you're only using a tablespoon or two to flavor a cake, you could likely do triple sec and nobody would be the wiser. If it's for something special, I would pick up a micro bottle of Cointreau for about 3 bucks.

                            Incidentally, if you see Cointreau in a recipe and want to play with a bit, you could substiture Licor Cuarenta y Tres (43), which has an orange-vanilla flavor. It makes for a nice twist in a margarita. You could also do a new darling in my bottle collection, Parfait Amour, a purple liqueur which is orange based with almonds, vanilla, and rose petals. Both of these are almost as expensive as Cointreau, so they wouldn't be good cost saving measures.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester

                              I've never noticed any orange flavor in Licor 43. Just vanilla. And it's really, really sweet.

                              1. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester

                                JK--drooling over the flavors of the Parfait Amour--what do you use it in? May have to hit the liqour (or liquer?) store.

                                1. re: pine time

                                  Honestly, most of what was my new darling is still sitting on the shelf. It's a BEAST to mix with due to its unique (read: assertive) flavor profile. It goes nicely in an Aviation.

                              2. Cook's Illustrated had a comparison of orange-flavored liqueurs in the September 2006 issue, in an article on crepes Suzette. Their surprise winner in a blind taste test was Leroux triple sec.

                                Among orange-flavored brandies, La Belle Orange edged out Grand Marnier, and came in second in the crepes Suzette test.
                                Cointreau came in last out of five.

                                In a three-way taste test straight up, triple sec also came in first, Grand Marnier second, and Cointreau last (with a coment that it had only a faint orange flavor.)

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: Allstonian

                                  How interesting, thanks! I'm a lover of Cointreau and would hate to use it in food, cause I'd rather drink it, that's just me!
                                  So for cakes etc, I'd gladly look to Grand Marnier etc.
                                  Still, for the substitution question, the brandy & o.j. suggestion by bropaul seems like a good one.

                                  1. re: Allstonian

                                    Cook's Illustrated's taste-offs often produce incomprehensible results. I don't think their tasters have very good palates.

                                    1. re: Allstonian

                                      I thought the brandy & OJ was a good substitute as well since many cakes use brandy & rum. I just got a recipe for Cranberries for the holidays that called for an orange liquer and port and I was considering using the brandy & OJ or even the Grand Marnier because of it's brandy base because I was going to use a Late Harvest Zin instead of the Port (the difference mainly being that a Port is fortified with Brandy where a Late Harvest is not).

                                    2. Orange curaco & triple sec are the same thing. Leroux triple sec is actually really good for baking, but cheaper 3secs can be sugary and fake tasting. Organic orange extract is really good. also not cheap, so probably i'm being unhelpful.

                                      1. I would suggest being very careful about soaking a baked cake in any liqueur full strength.

                                        A sugar syrup flavored with a few TBS liqueur would be much better. Straight uncooked alcohol will only add a harsh taste and not much flavor.

                                        1. you all are making me hungry for a "Harvey Wallbanger" cake...IIRC, very popular in the late 70s. Vodka, orange juice and galliano in the cake and the glaze. That was majorly yummy.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: mshpook

                                            hmmm, do you have a recipe that you like?

                                          2. My recipe is long gone, but I found this one on line and it seems exactly the same.... It was a very moist and very yummy cake.


                                            1. Some of you need to study on cooking with spirets. Grand Marnier is a cognac based liqiure while Triple Sec is Vodca based. Cointreau is brandy based. Triple Sec although orange flavoured is much more fluid then the other two.
                                              Triple Sec is used very much in cooking main meals and deserts, but not as much in baking because of it's fluidness.
                                              If you use this on your cake, be prepared of a sougier cake. Than may be harder to handle.
                                              Both Brandy and Cognac are syrup and hold better with less run off.
                                              There are less expensive orange Liqiures that are brandy based and give great flavor. About the same price as Triple Sec. De Kuyper Dry Orange Curacao Liqueur
                                              Also known as Orange Cura ao, this liqueur belongs to the family

                                              1. I have a similar problem. I am trying a dressing recipe for Thanksgiving. Calls for dried apricot simmered in 1 1/2C of Grand Marnier. A bit pricey and I already have a bottle of Curacao. Any thoughts on how it would work instead??

                                                2 Replies
                                                1. re: sweetpeas

                                                  For simmering, I'd use about 2/3 curacao and 1/3 drinkable but not great brandy. Simmering in name-brand hooch is for the wealthy, in my opinion. I absolutely never put any heat to the top-shelf stuff. I simply don't see the point.

                                                  I'll also add my two cents to the Cointreau quality debate. My sister-in-law and I had a triple sec taste-off one time among about six or seven brands. Hiram Walker won the "best bang for the buck" award, hands down. It has a surprisingly natural orange flavor, considering the price (about $8). For a sweet mixed drink or soaking a cake, it would be my first choice. I liked it better than Cointreau, which I found not orangey enough.

                                                  1. re: dmd_kc

                                                    i love the triple-sec "taste-off" -- was it "double-blind"? ha ha!!!

                                                2. try Harlequin Orange Liquor, it's the same proof as Grand Marnier (something Triple Sec cannot claim) at about half the cost.

                                                  1. Some people have touched on this but no one has really stated it outright - Cointreau IS triple sec.

                                                    Cointreau is a name brand, that's all.

                                                    It's kind of like Kleenex. There are probably some better quality ingredients involved in the making of Cointreau and of course, like all brand names they can charge more because it is a recognized brand...

                                                    But to everyone who says you can't substitute triple sec for Cointreau, you don't really know what you're talking about because they are the same thing.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: HaagenDazs

                                                      >Some people have touched on this but no one has really stated it outright - Cointreau IS triple sec. Cointreau is a name brand, that's all. <

                                                      It's true that Cointreau is a brand-name triple sec, but what a huge difference in flavor there is in the Cointreau version than any "triple sec" I've tried. If you know of a "triple sec" that tastes as good as Cointreau (and is cheaper), I'd sure like to know about it.

                                                    2. la belle orange is a good substitute -- and about $10-15 cheaper per bottle, iirc.

                                                      look for this bottle: http://www.beveragewarehouse.com/sear...

                                                      1. Hi, well after all this imput from your fellow members, what did you finally end up using for that cake? I ended up here upon a search for a Cointreau substitute as we enjoy Ina Garten's Pom Cosmos. They are delicious, yet Lethal.

                                                        1. Tho original question is almost 5 years old, however, folks still google these questions. My advice (from my latest fiasco) Use whatever is recommended by the chef!

                                                          Last night I made a Raspberry Tiramisu from Giada De Laurentis and she recommeded Grand Marnier. I had Hiram Walker's Triple Sec on hand and used that instead. I'm throwing away my beautiful dessert (intended for a birthday party tonight) because the cheap Triple Sec flavor is so overpowering what should be a delicate and lovely combination of flavors! It's truly yucky and it's my fault.

                                                          I should have googled this and followed previous good advice- buy just a small airline size of the recommended liquor. In the long run, it saves money if you have to toss the dessert and start over!

                                                          10 Replies
                                                          1. re: ChicagoElle

                                                            What a great thread. This question is the one I entered cyberspace to ask.

                                                            I have a new recipe for Citrus Syrup Cake that I'm about to make, and I don't have a bar in my home, but I do have a small bottle shop close by. The recipe calls for Grand Marnier, but the bottle-o (that's Australian) didn't have any. I was going to buy Cointreau to substitute, but as it's a purchase specifically for this cake, it seemed that an outlay of AU$55 was arguably an overspend. (The local doesn't stock fun-sized bottles of liqueur). It was that or Triple Sec with which I'm not really familiar, but that was half the price.

                                                            I bought the Triple Sec.

                                                            When I came home and read this informative thread, I changed my mind. If I'd only had TS available, it sounds as though it would be worth a try if it is indeed just a type of Curacao. Of all the orange liqueur options for a cake syrup, though, it sounds as though Cointreau would be an excellent, can't-go-wrong choice. I went back to the bottle shop and swapped the TS for Cointreau, which I'm sure will be as unfailingly delicious on the cake as it is in a glass.

                                                            Thanks for the information, Chowhound contributors, because there's no right or wrong answer, but I think I've made the best choice for me. I'd rather spend more money and be assured of the outcome, than wing it on a cheaper choice that I'm not familiar with which may be very disappointing. ChicagoElle makes a good argument here..

                                                            1. re: NetMug

                                                              I've been buying a Gran Marnier "clone" called Gran Gala, it's from Italy. I actually like it better, as it's not so sticky sweet, otherwise the flavor profile is exactly the same. Costs half of the price of Gran Marnier, glad the liquor store employee pointed it out to me.


                                                              1. re: coll

                                                                i got a french clone and it too was very good at at least ⅓ the price. bought it at snyder's in dc.

                                                                1. re: alkapal

                                                                  Is it called L'Orange or something like that? My Mom is fixated with the stuff and drives over the border to Canada to stock up regularly.

                                                                  1. re: coll

                                                                    it very well might be, coll! it has been a while since we had it, though.

                                                                    this blog tested 23!!!! http://ohgo.sh/category/cocktails/ora...

                                                                    i found this interesting:
                                                                    I’ve seen triple sec described as meaning “triple dry” or “triple distilled”, while others claim the name comes from the fact Cointreau’s recipe is the third one they tried. Whatever the actual meaning the first use is generally attributed to Cointreau, though the Combier distillery claim they invented it first in 1834 – a full 41 years before Cointreau was first sold.

                                                                    Though the meaning of triple sec is fairly uncertain, the spirit it labels is easier to define. Triple sec is a drier version of curaçao, and uses sweet as well as bitter oranges. Like Curaçao, the triple sec name became tarnished by poor quality products, leading Cointreau to drop the triple sec label and sell by its brand name alone. Curaçao Marnier followed in similar steps, dropping Curaçao from its name and becoming the now famous Grand Marnier."""

                                                                    1. re: alkapal

                                                                      I'm not going to look it up, but wasn't Gran Marnier made by monks for centuries?

                                                                      Well I couldn't help it, I looked it up and no monks involved. Benedictine maybe? What do I think, that God is smiling on certain brands?

                                                                      1. re: coll

                                                                        i always enjoy a little B&B when it is that time (of course, a fave of my parents back in the day). Benedictine & Brandy. "i got your monks right here!" LOL

                                                                        oops, i lie: ""Bénédictine is a herbal liqueur beverage developed by Alexandre Le Grand in the 19th century and produced in France.
                                                                        It is claimed that at the Benedictine Abbey of Fécamp in Normandy, monks had developed a medicinal aromatic herbal beverage which was produced until the abbey's devastation during the French Revolution, but in fact Alexandre Le Grand invented the recipe himself, helped by a local chemist, and he told this story to connect the liqueur with the city history and to sell his liqueur the best as possible.[1].
                                                                        He began production under the trade name "Bénédictine", using a bottle with an easily recognizable shape and label. The family eventually sold the company to Martini and Rossi, which was in turn bought by Bacardi." wiki

                                                                        1. re: coll

                                                                          You may have been thinking about chartreuse..

                                                                          1. re: King of Northern Blvd

                                                                            No she always says the name L'Orange, maybe only available in Canada? I've sort of looked around my liquor store out of curiosity, but never have spotted it here. I see a Grey Goose vodka with that name but she says that's not it. Next time I go up I will make sure she has some on hand so I can see it with my own eyes.

                                                                          2. re: coll

                                                                            Frangelico (hazelnut liqueur) isn't made by monks, but is named for one (Fra Angelico) and has a bottle shaped like one.


                                                              2. Ha, I am HORRIFIED that I am the original poster on this thread and I can't recall what I ended up using for that cake. Granted, it was 6 years ago...but still (!).

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: mels

                                                                  Too funny - 6 years ago? I came here via google as well, am going to make a Williamsburg Orange Cake which calls for Cointreau in both the cake and icing. I enjoyed this post so much I joined the site! Cheers all! Pat

                                                                2. reading a recipe for aummer pudding today http://www.dessert.net.au/summer-pudd... reminded me of this thread. it includes cointreau, and included this info:
                                                                  ""About Cointreau

                                                                  Cointreau is a brand of triple sec liqueur, and produced in Saint-Barthélemy-&#271;Anjou, a suburb of Angers, France. Cointreau sources its oranges from all over the world, usually Spain, Brazil and Haïti.
                                                                  In addition to being imbibed as an apéritif, Cointreau is sometimes used as a digestif. Cointreau is considered to be either a premium brand triple sec or a unique category of liqueur. With a 40% alcohol content, Cointreau is strong for a triple sec which usually has an alcohol content around 23%."""
                                                                  i've often wondered about the differences in triple sec, curacao, grand marnier and cointreau.

                                                                  1. Just to add to the confusion here are two more extreme approaches. On the frugal side I'd make an orange equivalent of limoncello with very cheap vodka. On the expensive end, I love Mandarine Napoleon. It is tangerine based. I can't believe thtat in another life I injected rack of lamb with it.